Archive for the ‘China’ Category

Part 2: Easter Long Weekend @ Jiuzhaigou

We got up early and were seriously pumped and ready to go to the Jiuzhaigou National Park. We got there at 7.30am (park opens at 7am) and there were a queue already! I thought we were the only crazy people, clearly NOT! Whilst Hubby purchased the tickets, I took a photo of the map of the National Park.

We then got on the national park bus (no cars were allowed in the national park!) and went to our first stop – the Virgin Forest.

The forest reminded me a little bit of the movie ‘twilight’ – I stupidly said this to Hubby and the moaning and eye rolling started… *sigh* he just doesn’t get it!

I’m certain there is a shot of the forest like this in the movie!

Anyway, we caught the bus back to the first stop which was Swan Lake, got off and made our way down to the Tourist Centre. It was quite a lengthy walk – a good 2 hours walk but it was worth the 2 hours walk!

Some photos of during our walks…

Arrow bamboo lake…

Panda Lake…


We got to the Tourist Centre about lunch time and caught another bus to the other side of the national park – Ze Cha Wa Valley – which stretches 18km from Nuo ri Lang to Long Lake (Chang Hai) at the joint highest point of the park. The view was stunning and the photo doesn’t do justice! We found a log, sat down, soaked in the view and were mesmerized!

We had a rest here, and realized how exhausted we were..

We got on the bus and stopped at the five coloured pool. I really wanted to see this but when we got there, I was disappointed! It wasn’t as beautiful as I have imagined and it seems like it was going to fade away shortly – which was sad. The worse thing about it was you had to go down to see the five coloured pool – the way back up to the road was  painful! I think that walk / climb to the top really killed it for me! It was a pretty steep going down, so you can imagine walking up – it wasn’t pleasant.

There was nothing really good to see on the Ze Cha Wa Valley side, so we took the bus all the way down to the town centre, and then we stopped at Tiger Lake and made our way to the Entrance of the park. This was a long walk! A good 3 – 4 hour walk but we did see some of amazing sights which again made the walk worthwhile!

We made sure we took photos of the map so we didn’t get lost! Those who knows me well knows that I am prone to getting lost… anywhere and everywhere!

A snap of one of the village we walked pass.

Part of sparkling lake…

I was absolutely exhausted by this stage, as we walked a good 5 – 6 hours! We got back to the entrance at about 4pm and thought about an early dinner.

We went back to the village and found a different place to eat – Hubby wanted noodles and I wanted some more of those xiao long baus and that is exactly what we got.

Xiao long bau – as good as yesterdays!

Got Hubby some beef noodles with chili and this was extremely spicy! The soup was drinkable unlike that hot place that we went too in Chongqing.

We also got another noodle soup –  vermicelli, egg and tomato soup – which was just as good! The vermicelli was thin and cooked to perfection, the soup tasty. The meal in total costs 30RMB which was incredibly CHEAP!

We were so tired that we had to catch a taxi back to the hotel and both got a foot massage! We both really needed the foot massage and needless to say that we both slept well that night.

This was an amazing weekend away. It wasn’t about the food – it was about the scenery and what mother nature has to offer. Hubby had such an amazing time that he wants to come back.. but this time to camp / hike for 2 – 3 days and I have stupidly said YES! I have to admit though – I think it would be unreal. I wouldn’t go camping for more than 3 days max – anymore than that and I will go insane!

Jiuzhaigou – if you have never been – I strongly advise you to go. Its beautiful, amazing, simply breath taking – the photos really don’t do any justice. My favourite photo would have to be below.. now how can you say NO to something like this?!?!?

Part 1: Easter Long Weekend @ Jiuzhaigou

I was in Xi’an when Hubby told me that we were going to Jiuzhaigou for our Easter long weekend. I have never been but have heard my mother rave about it. She originally wanted to go to Jiuzhaigou instead of Xi’an and didn’t understand why – but after going to Jiuzhaigou – I totally utterly understand!

Jiuzhaigou is not the easiest place to get too. Jiuzhaigou is located in the northern of Sichuan Province.  It is known for its many multi-level waterfalls and colourful lakes and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.

There are many ways you get to Jiuzhaigou. You can drive, catch the bus, catch the train or even fly to Jiuzhai Valley. We flew to Jiuzhai Valley from Chongqing which took a good hour, and then a 2.5 hour drive from the airport to the National park itself.

Hubby and I flew to Chongqing on Good Friday, and we arrived at Chongqing quite late. We didn’t really do much at Chongqing except to have a late dinner – which was hot pot! Sichuan is well known for the spices and hot pot. So we found the nearest hot pot place across the street from our hotel and OMG – it was the spiciest and hottest beef hot pot I have ever had. If you are not used to eating spicy food then this is definitely not the dish for you!

We even asked for medium level of spiciness and it was quite hot. I noticed that the spices they use are quite different – it leaves that tingly feeling on your tongue. Drink water after it and the flavour will be infused!!! Hubby thinks it’s best to drink coke… I beg to differ. As you can see from the photo below – even the soup was red – it was seriously undrinkable! The soup was a tad bit oily but the hot pot itself was tasty. I’m not a big beef eater so only had a couple and it was tender. The mixed vegetables, mushroom and potatoes were fantastic.

We went to bed that night full and I for one slept like a baby. We got up early the next morning to catch our flight to Jiuzhaigou and were super excited!

We arrived at Jiuzhai Valley airport and it was absolutely amazing! I would have to say it is one of the best airport s (in terms of scenery) I have ever seen. The airport was surrounded by mountains, and snow was still visible on some of the highest mountains. It was seriously amazing and seriously cold!

To get to the national park itself its about 2.5 hours drive, which is about 200RMB cab ride. You can catch a bus for 45RMB each but the bus will not leave unless they have a minimum of 7 people. There were 4 of us – we found 2 other travelers who wanted to catch the bus. One of the cab drivers approached us and asked if we wanted to go together – all of us looked at each other and thought – why not? They were going staying at the Intercontinental and we were staying at Sheraton.

The Intercontinental Hotel is the newest hotel in Jiuzhaigou and it looked utterly amazing! We originally wanted to stay there, but it was further away from the national park and Hubby wanted to be closer. Sheraton is probably a good 30 – 40 mins away from the Intercontinental. It’s not as bad as some people have claimed, however, it’s definitely not a resort!

We got to our Hotel around about 2pm and were going to venture to the national park but were told that it was not worth going, as it was already 2.30 – 3pm. During peak season, tickets are 220RMB not including bus tickets which was 90RMB. Off peak is definitely cheaper at 80RMB and there were no two day passes during peak season. It would have been costly, so we thought we’d get up early tomorrow and just check out the villages and either have a late lunch or early dinner!

Even the surroundings of the national park were gorgeous! There are mountains everywhere you look.  Below is a photo of a lake … gorgeous.

Here’s a path from the national park to one of the villages.

We haven’t had breakfast or lunch so I was seriously hungry! We found this little place in one of the villages – I don’t remember the name unfortunately but all the restaurants looked great.

We ordered a serve of xiao long bau – I almost forgot to take a photo of it – took a bite of my bau, placed it back and took the photo. They were incredibly tasty – the bun soft and the meat juicy! With vinegar and chili, these baus really went down easily and nicely.

We also got sizzling beef – which was fantastic! Better than any sizzling beef I have ever had. The beef tender and succulent, veggies fresh!

Hubby wanted fish – so we got fish with preserved vegetables soup. This was amazing – one of the best fish soup I have ever had. The fish was fresh and soup full of flavour with a hint of chili, which was perfect. My only gripe would be that the fish was a little boney but overall it was fantastic!

Full and satisfied after a day of not eating, we waddled around the villages to buy some snacks for our walk at the national park!

Found a great bakery and stocked up on bread / biscuits / chocolate and drinks for our hike. Yes, we purchased all the below for the hike – it’s our breakfast / lunch / snack!

We didn’t do much that evening, thought we would get an early night so we can start early. I was seriously looking forward to the National Park!

Xi’an – Day 2 – Huashan and eating

I was absolutely exhausted that I didn’t even hear my alarm. I was in total deep sleep – which I think I needed!

Day 2 started off with breakfast from across the streets again, which suited me fine! We still got some bau’s but different ones. The one below is made out of rice with pork and vegetables, it was a little spicy but GOOD!

We also got some pastries with pork, which was a favourite amongst the travelers!

Today we decided to go to Huashan – we had enough of the history and wanted to see nature and what China has to offer. Huashan is a good 2 – 3 hours drive away from Xi’an, about 120kms away. Mt Huashan is known as ‘the number one Preciptious Mountain under Heaven’.

We arrived near Huashan about 1pm and believe it or not was quite pekish! So we ate at one of the local restaurants there. I have to admit – the food was extremely ordinary – so not sure if its worth writing about it! We had sweet and sour pork, stir fry spinach and soup which were all below par. It was just so unsatisfying!

Anyways, back to Mt Huashan. The driver couldn’t take us up to the mountain as no cars were allowed in, so we caught a bus and then a cable cart to one of the peaks. As I was with my family – walking was just not an option! They weren’t keen on the idea of walking 2.5 hours to the top so we caught the cable cart. If Hubby was with me, we would have DEFINITELY walked up! Here is the start of the stairs… I was tempted to go up on my own but that probably wouldn’t be a smart move.

Here is the view from the cable cart – it was quite magnificent!

We did have to walk these set of stairs to get to the top though… which was quite easy I thought, but the family seemed to have struggled!

The mountain has five main peaks, of which the tallest is the South Peak. We only went to the North Peak, which was the lowest of the five peaks. From here you can see a series of paths rise up to the four other peaks, the West Peak, the Centre Peak, the East Peak and the South Peak.

It was good to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy nature. The air was fresh and the scenery fantastic! Bit out of the way but a must see if you are ever in Xi’an.

We arrived back in Xi’an city late at night and were seriously ready for some food! Our driver took us to this restaurant which served traditional Xi’an food. After a disappointing lunch, I was absolutely ready for something GOOD, more than just ‘good’ food actually and this place did not disappoint!

It was a set meal, for about 10 ppl, which consisted of 6 entrees and about 8 main meals – I kind of lost count with all the different types of food!

We started off with these fish fillets – which was served warm and with sweet and sour sauce. It was surprisingly tasty!

Then these mixed vegetables which was refreshing.

Traditional Xi’an beef – tender and moist – it was extremely flavoursome!

Pork spare ribs – these were served cold which I thought was a bit weird but was indeed meaty and tender.

Xi’an vegetables (not sure what it is called) but I thought these tasted a little rubbery. It had a lot of flavours though which was good.

Honey snap peas – a favourite of mine! It was crunchy and a tad oily but TASTY!

This believe it or not is not soup but CHILI! It wasn’t as hot as I thought but it was incredibly yummy!

Main courses: fried chicken – skin utterly crispy, and meat succulent.

Chicken with cashew (sorry picture is a bit blurry!) – this was so so – only cause I know I can make this dish myself! Lol

Curry Lamb – deep fried – I didn’t enjoy this – only cause I don’t appreciate lamb as much as the others!

Rice noodles, supposed to be eaten with the sauce – I didn’t have any of this as I wanted to eat others, but F thought this was very very good.

The below was rice – again I didn’t try this as it didn’t look very appetizing. Dad said it was ‘nice’ – not a man of many words!

Shredded pork with man tao – this was a favourite of mine. Pork was tender and succulent, and the man tao was soft.

Next came the soup – this was incredibly tasty… it had full of flavour. Fish soup – although there were a lot of bones in the fish which was a pain.

We also had celery stirfry which I didn’t take a photo off but it was refreshing!

Dessert: this is Xi’an’s most famous dessert – handmade – its red bean and the pastry were thinner than a piece of paper. It really just melted in your mouth. It had the right amount of sweetness to it and was one of my favourites! I could easily have eaten more than one!

Chestnut pudding – this was not a favourite of mine. I had a bite and had to politely put it away. It was too gooey for me, but my parents seemed to have enjoyed it!

Another dessert that I enjoyed – these red bean fuji apple thingy – the outer layer is made from fuji apple and the inside was extra sweet red bean. It was unbelievably sweet!

Eating this made me go beyond full… I was beyond stuffed.. I was about to burst into tiny pieces!

Clearly we didn’t finish everything – it was virtually impossible to finish it all really! It was a meal for 10 ppl, and there were only 6 of us! Thankfully, we could ta pao (doggy bag) and E took it home for his family!

We all waddled out of the restaurant, believing that we have all gained about 2 – 3 kgs from this trip! We thought about going for a walk around town but when E suggested a foot massage how can we say no? So we all got one. I’m not usually big on reflexology – for me – it HURTS!! But surprisingly it was really good and I really enjoyed it! It was certainly a great way to end the trip.

We got back to the hotel a bit before midnight, and like the night before, crashed and missed my alarm again in the morning!

We didn’t really wander around Xi’an city itself. It was a jammed pack weekend, full of history, sightseeing and eating! I, for one, didn’t want the holiday to end but was missing Hubby and Hong Kong! The flight back wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. I fell asleep… again! As much as I love to travel… it was definitely good to be home!

Xi’an – Day 1 of Sightseeing and eating

My brother loves history – all sorts of history, so when we were trying to organize our China family trip, he couldn’t resist but suggest Xi’an. I didn’t know much about Xi’an except for the Terracotta Warriors but I knew I was in for a real adventure!

We arrived late Friday night in Xi’an and luckily I organized a pick up from the hotel. I just couldn’t imagine haggling taxi drivers at that hour of the night with my parents, brother and sister in law. With the five of us traveling (hubby couldn’t make it as he had to work!) we would have ended up with two taxis anyway, so a pick up was the best solution! Little did I know that the driver became our ‘tour guide’ for the weekend as well as our driver! He was indeed one of the best driver / tour guides I have ever had. He took us to our hotel (we ended up staying at Citadines Xi’an and was near town. It was ok, bit old but for the price, it wasn’t too bad!) and then offered to take us around for a couple of hours!

Xi’an is absolutely gorgeous at night, with all the bright lights.

The streets and trees were all lit up – it was just stunning.

In the morning, our driver was going to take us around – to see the Terracotta Warriors amongst other things. We agreed to meet at around 8.30am (that’s EARLY!) but we managed to get up a little bit earlier than that to get breakfast. I really didn’t want to eat breakfast at the hotel, I mean, come on… We were in China and there are heaps of food, especially street foods!

Across the street from our hotel there were a row of shops that sold food. Below is a photo of a man who made my breakfast every morning I was in Xi’an!

His specialty, as you can see are bau’s (which are steamed buns). He made all sorts of bau’s – vegetables bau’s, pork bau’s, red bean bau’s – you name it – he had it and it was unbelievably cheap!

At 0.50 Yuan each, these were incredibly cheap and incredibly tasty! Let’s just say that we bought many different types of bau’s – all costing us about 8 Yuan!!

We also got something that resemble an omelette but was served with lettuce and chili. My brother absolutely loved this! He seriously ate two on his own!

Here is a view of the Bell Tower from the streets across our hotel.

Our first stop was Xi’an city wall and it was absolutely amazing. “The wall was started by the Ming Dynasty in 1370. The wall measured 25.7km length, 12 -16m in thickness at the base, and the area within the wall was ca. 36 km squared”.

Here is a photo from a different angle.

And one last one…

Next stop was the Terracotta Warriors factory – where they are all made. The terracotta army figures are manufactured both in workshops by government laborers and also by local craftsmen.

“Studies show that eight face moulds were most likely used, and then clay was added to provide individual facial features. Once assembled, intricate features such as facial expressions were added” it was quite amazing to see how these were made and there were many different sizes – they all vary in height, uniform and hairstyle in accordance with rank.

We then visited a temple. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any photos inside, so I only took a photo of the gate

and the entrance of the temple.

By this time we were absolutely starved as it was past lunch time! Our driver / tour guide, E, took us to this restaurant which was near the Terracotta Warriors. This restaurant is famous for their noodles – which is apparently handmade. Since it was their specialty, we ordered noodles with chicken and potatoes. The sauce was a bit curry like and the noodles were extra thick rice noodles. I thought this dish was a bit ‘meh’ – it didn’t really do it for me, it was nice but nothing ‘special’ about it.

We ordered some vegetables and mushroom stirfry. I thought this was definitely better than the noodles.

We also ordered chicken in some sweet sesame sauce, which was quite ordinary. The chicken was deep fried, it was tender but the sauce just wasn’t right. It had a funny after taste which I didn’t really enjoy.

Overall, lunch was a pretty ordinary, I would have been happier with my bau’s from this morning!

After lunch, we finally went to visit the Terracotta Warriors and OMG, I was totally and utterly amazed. This place was HUGE! We spent a good few hours here.

By way of background, “The Terracotta Army was discovered in 1974 in the eastern suburbs of Xi’an. The Terracotta Army is a form of funerary art buried with the First Emperor of Qin in 210 – 209 BC. (He declared himself the first emperor of China in 221 BCE). There are seriously 3 pits.

Terracotta Pit No.1 – discovered by local villagers in March 1974 who were drilling for wells on a piece of barren land. The east-west rectangular pit, measuring 252 yards long, 68 yards wide and 16 feet deep – it was absolutely huge! There are over 6,000 terracotta warriors and horses in Pit 1, of which 1,000 have been unearthed.

From memory we went to Pit 3 straight after Pit 1. Pit 3 is the command center or headquarters for all the groups in the other two pits. Pit 3 measures 19.2 yards long from east to west, 23.4 yards wide from north to south and 15.7 feet deep.

By this stage I was overloaded with history and my feet were aching. I think we were all exhausted and skipped Pit 2. It didn’t seem long but we spent a good 3 hours here and were ready to go!

Our next stop was the garden and a place we could have hot baths. The garden was gorgeous but seriously by this stage we were just so buggered that all we wanted to do was sit and enjoy the view. I felt sorry for the tour guide, not E, but garden’s tour guide telling us what each of the places meant. I found a place to sit and sat there, observing the tourists and admiring the scenery.

Our driver, E, suggested that we have the Jiaozi (dumpling) banquets and Tang Dynasty performance. The performance had beautiful costumes, dances and live music. It was delightful to watch especially after our meal.

The jiaozi are well known for their different tastes as well as their attractive shapes. The materials of fillings are made from seasonal vegetables, poultry meat, fish, red meat and other delicacies from land and sea. Little did we know that we would all eat about 80 dumplings all up! No joke… we were first presented with a basket of 10 dumplings – 2 types – one pork and one vegetables, one each.

As soon as we finished these, another basket was placed in front of us.. and no kidding, there were 8 baskets in total.

Basket 2: chili pork dumplings (left) and pork and chives dumplings (right)

Basket 3: swan like dumplings – which were chicken dumplings (left) and lamb and vegetable dumplings (right)

Basket 4: pork dumplings (left) and spinach dumplings (right)

Basket 5: vermicelli and vegetables dumplings (left) and vegetables curry dumplings (right)

Basket 6: prawn dumplings (left) and fish dumplings with peas (right)

Basket 7: red bean dumplings (left) and chicken with vermicelli dumplings (right)

Dumpling 8: a plate of braised pork dumplings.

As you can see we all had over 10 dumplings each. All the dumplings were boiled and some were tasty and others were a ‘meh’. My least favourite ones were the curry dumplings and the fish with peas dumplings – it was just weird. I never thought I could ever OD’ed on dumplings but that night I certainly did. We were all stuffed! Luckily we had an hour and a bit to sit to watch the performance. Dinner was definitely more enjoyable than lunch!

We got back to the hotel at about 11pm and we were all absolutely exhausted. I showered and before I knew it was sound asleep! I was THAT tired!

Weekend away in Harbin

Hubby and I went for a long weekend in Harbin a while back now to see the ice festival. I am not sure what possessed me to go somewhere where it was sub zero – and I am not talking -2 or -5. It was -25 when we were in Harbin that weekend and believe me, it was the coldest place I have ever been too and nor would I be crazy enough to go anywhere that cold again! However, I have wanted to go to Harbin for a while and if we were back in Australia, we would not even consider going there.

The Harbin ice festival was established in 1985 and is held annually from January 5 and lasts for over a month. Zhaolin park is where the ice festival is held. Thousands of exquisitely-made ice lanterns, ice carvings and snow sculptures grace the snow covered parks. The ice and snow art works come in all shapes and sizes – they can be as small as a mouse or as big as a bus. The design ranges from life size human figures, animals and flowers to towering castles.

The cold was a little overwhelming! I had my ski gear on and that was ok, however, we had the wrong foot wear. We had to stop and have something warm to drink every 30 mins as our feet were practically frozen! It was definitely a ‘good’ excuse to drink ‘nai cha’ which is warm milk tea! It was indeed an experience and one I will never forget. Great for those who has never been, as it is an experience! We had a fabulous time. I would like to say that the cold didn’t bother us too much but for me – I was COLD! Regardless, I had a tremendous time and would recommend it to anyone who has never been.

It wouldn’t be a weekend away without some food! Below are a few places that we ate in Harbin.

Dongfang Jiaozi Wang

This was recommended by the Lonely Planet. It was our first evening here and we were both starved! We ordered 3 different types of dumplings, soup and potato vegetables.

Dumpling 1: boiled pork and fennel dumplings. These were unbelievably tasty! The dumplings were juicy and the combination of pork and fennel were divine!

Dumpling 2: seafood dumplings – these were also tasty.

Dumpling 3: prawns and veggies – these had to be my favourite – prawns with veggies. Generous serving of prawns in the dumplings.

Pork and vegetables soup – I wanted something warm, like a soup. This was ok, I could have made this at home. The pork was a little hard and dry for my liking, however, the soup did make me warm.

Their specialty is definitely the dumplings. We definitely ordered way too much, however, it was definitely delicious. We were utterly stuffed and it satisfied my cravings for dumplings.

GA’s ratings: 7 / 10

Dongfang Jiaozi Wang

39 Zhongyang Ave

Harbin China

PH: ++86 451 8467 3920

Café Russia 1914

This café was highly recommended by a couple of friends who have been to Harbin. The café is small and cosy and was crowded when we went there but thankfully we didn’t have to wait for long. The walls were all covered with photographs of old Harbin. There were glass bookcases which held old cameras, clocks, porcelain, glassware and nick-knacks galore.

The menu I thought was quite limited but there was a good selection of Russian food which we were keen to try.

Vegetable and beef red soup – this was tasty however it was served luke-warm which was a little disappointing. It tasted more like tomato soup with vegetables. I have to admit, there weren’t a lot of ‘beef’ in the soup. Regardless it was quite tasty but would have been better if it was a little bit hotter.

We wanted to try some Russian sausages. These sausages were a little salty to my liking, however, hubby seemed to have enjoyed it. I think if we had eaten this with bread it would have been a lot better.

The beef cabbage roll was to die for! It was absolutely delicious and I totally utterly enjoyed it.

The cabbage was cooked to perfection, the mince beef was mixed with onions, carrot and rice. It was definitely flavoursome.

GA’s ratings: 7.5 / 10

Café Russia 1914

57 Xi Toudao Jie

Harbin, China

Ph: +86 451 8456 3207

Ding Ding Xiang

One of my favourite winter meal is hot pot. This place is fantastic and you get your own individual mini hot pot which means that you can each order your own soup! I ordered something a little more spicy, whereas hubby ordered something less spicy.

Their signature dipping sauce (jinpai tiaoliao), a flavourful sesame sauce so thick they have to dish it out with ice cream scoops!

We ordered beef – which was fantastic

three types of different tofu – my favourites were the white and green – the yellow one tasted a little like sponge! Regardless it was still tasty!

We also got some tripe, a seafood platter and some noodles.

This place is definitely a hotpot paradise. We were both deliciously full and could not move! Hubby had extra noodles – not quite sure how he managed to fit everything in! It was indeed a fantastic meal!

GA’s ratings: 8 / 10

Ding Ding Xiang

58 Jingwei Jie

Harbin, China

Ph: +86 451 8300 000

We found a fantastic indoor market next to our hotel and they had one of the best egg tarts I have ever had.

Also they had great snacks – buns, dumplings, cooked food, uncooked food, you name it, they had everything – it was fantastic! I was in food heaven!

Definitely a wonderful weekend gateway in Harbin.