Tag Archives: China

Shanghai: Dueling Skylines along The Bund

Pudong, Shanghai. Photo by Richard Varr

Pudong, Shanghai. Photo by Richard Varr

Walking along the Bund. Photo by Richard Varr

Walking along the Bund. Photo by Richard Varr

By Richard Varr

The sun peeks through a hazy sky, reflecting off the curving glass of the twisting Shanghai Tower, its narrowing apex still flirting with wispy cloud cover.  I’m strolling the Bund, the broad pedestrian walkway along the Huangpu River, with great views of the 21st century downtown Pudong District.  It had been raining for two days, so a bit of clearing and some blue sky made my first visit here all the more special.

Customs House with clock tower and historic bank building along the Bund. Photo by Richard Varr

Customs House with clock tower and historic bank building along the Bund. Photo by Richard Varr

Before coming to Shanghai, the Bund was foremost in my mind as the place to visit – even if you only have an hour in the city.  It’s perhaps Shanghai’s signature landmark reminding me of, for example, what La Ramblas is to Barcelona, Broadway to New York or the Champs Élysées to Paris.

21st century skyline. Photo by Richard Varr

21st century skyline. Photo by Richard Varr

The Bund’s riverside promenade juxtaposes two skylines a century apart.  On one side, there’s the early 20th century business district with its stately brick bank towers and the Customs House with the city’s signature clock tower.  “It’s a typical British-style building,” explains Shanghai tour guide Qiao Yong Gang, whose English name is Charlie.  “Let’s wait a few minutes and we’ll hear the tower’s bells sound off with a melody,” he adds.  While there, I hear the bells ring every quarter hour.

Pudong from across the river. Photo by Richard Varr

Pudong from across the river. Photo by Richard Varr

VIDEO: A quick clip of my walk along the Bund.

Cross the river via ferry or the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel and behold the exact opposite – Shanghai’s futuristic glass and steel towers of the Pudong district including the Oriental Pearl TV Tower offering stunning views, the pagoda-topped 88-floor Jinmao Tower and the spiraling Shanghai Tower with the world’s fastest elevators.

The neon glitz of Nanging Road at night. Photo by Richard Varr

The neon glitz of Nanjing Road at night. Photo by Richard Varr

Another pedestrian thoroughfare just a 10 minute walk from the Bund is Nanjing Road, one of the city’s foremost shopping streets with a stream of shoppers and sightseers seemingly day and night.  I pass storefronts which pulse at night with neon lights, and where sales people standing in doorways chant their pitches into portable loudspeakers.

Saleswoman on Nanging Road. Photo by Richard Varr

Saleswoman on Nanging Road. Photo by Richard Varr

Centuries old ceramic figurine in the Shanghai Museum. Photo by Richard Varr

Nanjing Road stretches from the Bund to People’s Park with its green lawns accented with manicured patches of flower beds.  One edge of the park is home to the Shanghai Museum, displaying some of China’s best relics spanning 5,000 years.  I was particularly impressed with some of the 1500-year-old, hand-painted ceramic figurines looking like they just came out of a specialty shop.

Yu Gardens in the rain. Photo by Richard Varr

Yu Gardens in the rain. Photo by Richard Varr

Yu Gardens. Photo by Richard Varr

Yu Gardens. Photo by Richard Varr

Another must-see is Yu Gardens and Bazaar, a complex of buildings with Chinese-style architecture laced around small ponds that are crisscrossed with foot bridges over rocky shorelines.  To one side is a bazaar where bold salespeople will approach you on the alleyways and try to sell you jewelry and watches – a good way to sharpen your bargaining skills.  The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum tells the story of how Shanghai became a safe haven for 18,000 Jews fleeing the Holocaust, and how they lived peacefully with Chinese residents.  After World War II, most had survived and returned to their homelands.  The museum includes the Ohel Moshe Synagogue, the primary temple used by the refugees.  Exhibition halls include items from that period and highlight some of the survivors’ stories.

Yu Gardens. Photo by Richard Varr

Yu Gardens. Photo by Richard Varr

As a westerner, I also appreciated my visit to the so-called French Concession, a once separate district with narrow alleyways and old brick architecture.  Upscale shops and cafes are now situated in those buildings.  The complex is a great place to enjoy coffee or beer on outdoor tables along pedestrian packed courtyards.

French Concession. Photo by Richard Varr

French Concession. Photo by Richard Varr

Charlie with Richard at the Shanghai airport.

Charlie with Richard at the Shanghai airport.

TOUR GUIDE “Charlie” Qiao Yong Gang

Shanghai independent tour guide Qiao Yong Gang, whose English name is Charlie, led our writers’ group during our visit.  He’s an excellent guide and I will look him up when I return.  I recommend him as a private or group guide!

Email: Chinese_charlie@hotmail.com

Wenzhou and China’s Spectacular Yandang Mountain World Geological Park

 

Pagoda on Jiangxin Islet, Wenzhou. Photo by Richard Varr

Pagoda on Jiangxin Islet, Wenzhou. Photo by Richard Varr

A boat ride across the Oujiang River brings us to Jiangxin Islet, the historic heart of Wenzhou, a coastal city about an hour’s plane ride south of Shanghai in the Zhejiang Provence.  Flanked by two pagoda towers on either end of this elongated island, Jiangxin is the so-called “Island of Poetry,” where poets have for successive dynasties written about the island’s tranquil riverside and lakeside gardens now dotted with camphor and maple trees and tiny potted pine trees.

Jiangxin Islet. Photo by Richard Varr

Jiangxin Islet. Photo by Richard Varr

“The poets liked to come here to enjoy the scenery and write poems, so all together there have been more than 800 poems written by renowned poets from all over the country,” says Hu Nianwang with the Wenzhou Tourism Administration Bureau.  Also on the island sits Jiangxin Temple, rebuilt in 1789 with a Buddha, and other pavilions.   The two towers are called East Pagoda and West Pagoda, dating back to 869 and 969 respectively.  “When there was no light at night, the fishermen would look for the two pagodas to steer their boats,” says Hu.

The "Five Horses" shopping street, Wenzhou. Photo by Richard Varr

The “Five Horses” shopping street, Wenzhou. Photo by Richard Varr

In the afternoon, I visit Wuma Street or “Five Horses” Street, the city’s main pedestrian shopping thoroughfare.  To one side is a statue of five charging horse leading a chariot of sorts, highlighting how the street got its name when a magistrate first rode through in a carriage.  Today, salespeople lure shoppers into brightly lit stores selling jewelry, clothing, shoes and more.  “Wenzhou is regarded as a shoe capital in China,” says Hu, as we pass both Adidas and Skechers shoe outlets.

Nantang River at night. Photo by Richard Varr

Nantang River at night. Photo by Richard Varr

Artist in the Wenzhou Cultural Heritage Hall. Photo by Richard Varr

Artist in the Wenzhou Cultural Heritage Hall. Photo by Richard Varr

In the evening, I take a boat ride on the Nantang River flanking yet another pedestrian area along adjacent Nantang Street.  It’s a popular spot for locals with restaurants, cafes and stores.  Arched pedestrian bridges cross the waterways, with strings of lights along storefronts reflecting off the water.  The Wenzhou Cultural Heritage Hall showcases the area’s art forms including traditional puppets, stretch drums, marble carvings and bamboo filament lanterns, to name only a few.

I visited Wenzhou in October for the Society of American Travel Writers’ (SATW) 2016 Annual Convention where our hosts, the city’s municipal and tourism staff, had arranged sightseeing tours and impressive cultural presentations and performances during our evening dinner events.

Yandang Mountain World Geological Park

Artist capturing the hazy image of the Two Bamboo Peak rock formations. Photo by Richard Varr

Artist capturing the hazy image of the Two Bamboo Peak rock formations. Photo by Richard Varr

Wenzhou is a great base to explore the imposing peaks, deep valley views and spouting waterfalls of the Yandang Mountain World Geological Park.  Jagged, steep mountains dusted with green vegetation feature huge cracks in their faces, looking like the giant mastiffs could seemingly break apart with a seismic jolt.

Buddist Temple in Lingfeng Mountain. Photo by Richard Varr

Buddist Temple in Lingfeng Mountain. Photo by Richard Varr

Our group hiked up more than 400 steps to reach Guanyin Temple, a Buddist shrine dating back to 265 AD within a hillside cave in Lingfeng Peak.  Inside, a central golden Buddha is flanked by smaller such figurines placed on rocky ledges.

Big Dragon Waterfall. Photo by Richard Varr

Big Dragon Waterfall pool. Photo by Richard Varr

Big Dragon Waterfall. Photo by Richard Varr

Big Dragon Waterfall. Photo by Richard Varr

We make another stop to see the so-called Big Dragon Waterfall, with water spewing down 197 meters into a pool at the base of a mountain.  “The view looks like a dragon drinking from the valley,” reads an informational tablet, noting that the waterfall is one of the four most famous such natural wonders in China.

The Two Bamboo Peak rock formations reflect off a peaceful stream in the valley, where I see artists trying to capture the two slabs against a backdrop of morning haze.  In the afternoon, we stop to see the so-called “Flying Man” acrobat suspended from a cable traipse down the mountainside.

Lingfeng Peak, Yandang Mountain World Geological Park. Photo by Richard Varr

Lingfeng Peak, Yandang Mountain World Geological Park. Photo by Richard Varr

 

Guilin’s Dramatic Karst Landscape and Cruising the Li River

 

On the Li River. Photo by Richard Varr

On the Li River. Photo by Richard Varr

We behold more of Asia’s dramatic scenery both above and below ground in Southwest China.  It’s where karst mountains – steep, weathered limestone formations – shoot straight up from the ground like crooked teeth, some with pointed peaks and others at 90 degree angles with flat mountaintops.  My trip to Guangxi Province included stops in Guilin, a bustling tourist destination along the Li River, surrounded with the beauty of these karst formations.

Guilin's twin pagodas. Photo by Richard Varr

Guilin’s twin pagodas. Photo by Richard Varr

Cormorants were once used for fishing. In front of Elephant Trunk Hill. Photo by Richard Varr

Cormorants were once used for fishing. In front of Elephant Trunk Hill. Photo by Richard Varr

The town’s signature twin pagoda’s along the Rong and Shan Lakes help frame Guilin’s scenic urban setting, especially at night as the waterside towers and trees are bathed in bright orange and brilliant green hues from powerful spotlights.  But the real draw is the area’s natural beauty.  Sights to see include the city’s most famous rock formation, the 100-meter-high Elephant Trunk Hill with a cavernous hole along one end resembling, with a bit of imagination, an elephant’s trunk dipping into the Li River.

Reed Flute Cave. Photo by Richard Varr

Reed Flute Cave. Photo by Richard Varr

Reed Flute Cave. Photo by Richard Varr

Reed Flute Cave. Photo by Richard Varr

Karst mountains formed when the softer layers of the limestone plains were eroded by rainwater over the millennia, leaving harder limestone formations intact.  Erosion also carved sinkholes and caves, including Guilin’s Reed Flute Cave, one of the most spectacular and spacious subterranean vistas I’ve ever seen.  It’s where 30-foot-high passageways snake within Guangming Hill.  Illuminated with colored lights, I walk along dramatic underground panoramas of dangling stalactites melding with stalagmites, spurring on a spelunker’s imagination with shapes resembling rock gardens, rock palaces, contorted faces, creatures and more.

On the Li River. Photo by Richard Varr

On the Li River. Photo by Richard Varr

Yangshuo waterfront. Photo by Richard Varr

Yangshuo waterfront. Photo by Richard Varr

The next day, we hop on a riverboat for an afternoon cruise along the Li River, from Guilin to Yangshuo, another scenic waterside town.  We pass karst formations along the way including so-called Bat Hill, a formation resembling bat wings; the Painted Hills of Nine Horses, and a rock formation resembling a woman carrying a baby – figures, no doubt, maybe discerned with a bit of imagination.  One rock looks like a dragon’s head, and we see a large opening in the base of one mountain.  “This cave is one of the biggest in Guilin, and we call it Crown Cave because on the top is a rock shaped like a crown which the emperor would wear in ancient times,” says tour guide Lisa Bai.

On the Li River. Photo by Richard Varr

On the Li River. Photo by Richard Varr

Our cruise is taking place in October, the time of year when the water level is waning and thus tranquil.  On this day, the sun at times peeks through hazy cloud cover.  While blue skies might set a clearer backdrop for photos, I learn the locals actually prefer seeing the mountains shrouded in haze.  “In China, people like legendary stories and with mist we think it’s so mysterious,” Lisa tells me.  “Like there are fairies and gods staying there reminding us of imaginary stories, and that’s why we prefer to look at the view with a misty background.”

VIDEO:  Short clip while on the cruise boat.

Longji Rice Terraces. Photo by Richard Varr

Longji Rice Terraces. Photo by Richard Varr

From Yangshuo, we drive north along the Mao Ming Highway for a couple of hours to the mountain village of Ping An and the surrounding Longji rice terraces.  They’re called terraces because the farm land is actually layered along sloping mountainsides where golden rice stalks sway in the wind before the fall harvest.  We hike more than 1,000 steps to the top of the mountain for the dramatic views below.

Mountain Town of Ping An. Photo by Richard Varr

Mountain Town of Ping An. Photo by Richard Varr

VIDEO:  Tour guide Lisa Bai explains why one hillside with rice terraces is called “Seven Stars with the Moon.” 

TOUR GUIDE LISA BAI

img_7759Lisa led our writers’ group.  She is an excellent tour guide and I would recommend hiring her when visiting the area.  You would be fortunate to have her assigned to your tour!  Email: 443891070@qq.com