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By this Author: fredno

Lhasa - Day 1


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Our guide picked us up at 9.30 am and took us to the Drepung Monastery, the biggest monastery in Tibet. It was founded in 1416 by one of the disciples of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the yellow hat sect and the first Dalai Lama. We walked the pilgrim route (kora) around the monastery, always going clockwise. Lots of prayer flags could be seen in the nearby mountains.

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Our next stop was Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama Summer Palace. This was a nice and quiet park containing several palaces and chapels. There were several large paintings on the walls showing the Tibetan history, from monkeys to farmers and building of bridges and palaces. The Dalai Lama bedroom and meditation room has been kept exactly as he left them when he fled to India in 1959.

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We had a Yak-burger for lunch in the Barkhor area before heading to the 1300-year-old Jokhang Temple which is the spiritual center of Tibet. Jokhang means "chapel of the Jowo" and the golden Jowa Sakyamuru Buddha statue is the most revered in all of Tibet. The views from the roof was also very nice, both towards the roofs and halls of the temple but also to Barkhor and the Potala Palace.

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We enjoyed coffee, tea, orange juice and great views from a terrace bar on the corner of the Barkhor square before heading back to the hotel for some travel arrangements and relaxation. There was a charming Tibetan restaurant in the hotel, so we decided to eat there. Most of the other guests were playing some sort of dice game (probably a drinking game, since the waiters were bringing loads of beer). We had two different Yak courses which were very good, and also tasted fried yogurt after recommendations from the waiter. Surprisingly good!

Posted by fredno 17:13 Archived in China Comments (0)

The world's highest railway


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We woke up around 8:30am and the views from the train were amazing. We could see snow capped mountains, large desert plateaus, small villages, beautiful lakes, nomad tents and wonderful colors everywhere. 80% of the Golmund to Lhasa stretch is over 4000 meters, and the highest point is the Tanggu-la pass (5072 m) There were oxygen available on the train, but after drinking liters of water we did not need it. The train track itself is quite impressive as well. It was opened in 2006, has 160 km of bridges and elevated track and is mostly built over perma frost where some places cooling pipes has been inserted to keep the ground frozen in summer.

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The further we got into Tibet the more villages, Yak herds, antelopes and pilgrims could be seen. We spent most of the time sitting in our cabin looking out the window, reading guide books and discussing travels with Tore and Elisabeth. They had been to several places we had been, like Peru and Australia, and we had a lot to talk about.

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Since the train was delayed from Xining and the guide told us it was usually an hour extra delayed into Lhasa we laid down to relax when the sun went down, expecting to be in Lhasa no earlier than 10 pm. But at 8:30 pm the train suddenly stopped and we could see people getting off. So we had to pack up in a hurry and get off the train.

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Our guide met us at the train station, but Tore and Elisabeth were not as lucky. They came with us to our hotel while trying to figure out what happened. There had been some mix-up, but the guide were soon located and came to pick them up. We went to bed early and really enjoyed our "soft" beds. All beds in China are extremely hard, but these were quite ok.

Posted by fredno 03:08 Archived in China Comments (0)

Xining


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We got up at 6 am (again!) to take the 8:05am flight to Xining. All we had was an address in Chinese to where we should pick up the tickets. We were dropped off outside an office building but did not know the name or the floor of the company. With some help from the locals and some qualified guessing we found the office, but it was closed. Using "sign language" we were able to borrow a cell phone on the street and call our travel agent in Xi'an. After a while someone showed up and we got our train tickets and Tibet permits.

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The reason we took the first flight was to have enough time to arrange everything before the 4 pm train. But the tickets were for the 7:33pm train, so suddenly we had a lot of time in Xining. We had lunch at a local restaurant close to the night market and walked around in the area trying to find somewhere we could connect to the internet. This was a bit difficult since most streets were under renovation, we had our suitcases with us and the taxi drivers refused to take us where we wanted to go. So we went to the train station and stored our bags while shopping supplies for the train journey. We sat down in the soft sofas in the soft sleeper waiting room, and after a while we heard someone speaking Norwegian and went over to say hi. It was a nice couple from Trondheim and we sat down with them and their guide. The train was delayed and it was close to 9 pm before we could board. Luckily the guide's girlfriend helped us out, because boarding was a complete chaos with people running around and yelling. Our beds were already taken, so in the end we ended up sharing a cabin with our Norwegian friends Tore & Elisabeth. By the time the train left Xining it was already dark, so after a quick dinner (beef & vegetables) in the dining car we went to bed.

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Posted by fredno 03:04 Archived in China Comments (0)

Leshan


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After a 2 hour bus-ride from Chengdu we arrived in Leshan and took a tour boat to get a panoramic view of the Giant Buddha (Dàfó) from the river. The 71 m tall Buddha is carved into a cliff overlooking the river, and with a shoulder span of 28 m and 7 m long ears it was quite impressive.

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After getting back to the docks we entered the Giant Buddha park containing several temples, tombs and museums. We walked up the hill to the Buddha's head and lined up for the steep stairway down the cliff to his feet (each big toe is 8,5 m long!). When leaving the park we found a local bus back to the bus station and were back in Chengdu around 7.30 pm. We walked from the bus station to the hotel and stopped for dinner on the way.

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Tomorrow morning we are traveling to Xining, and will catch the train to Lhasa in the afternoon.

Posted by fredno 07:13 Archived in China Comments (2)

Chengdu


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We started the day with a huge, western breakfast at a cozy place called Grandma's Kitchen. We took a taxi to the Giant Panda Breading Research Base, home to nearly 50 giant and red pandas. We only got to see some of them though, because parts of the park were closed off most of the day. Frustrating!

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But we got to watch several pandas up close and it was fascinating to see them eat and climb around. One even got stuck hanging upside down a couple of times. At the end of the day we were finally allowed to go to the nursery as well, but it was no longer possible to hold a panda as we had planned. The new born pandas were cute, the smallest one was only a couple of weeks old and had a birth weight below 0,1 kilo.

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In the eventing we went for pizza and got to taste our first dark, Chinese beer (Jintebeer). Not bad! We continued to an Irish Pub to give Guinness a try in China as well. Based on the taste we're pretty sure it's shipped from Dublin. We met a nice American who was in Chengdu on business, and had a great evening chatting over a few pints.

Posted by fredno 11:07 Archived in China Comments (0)

Xi'an - Chengdu


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Most of this day was spent waiting and traveling, but we had time for some city sightseeing in the morning. We walked by the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower before going into the Muslim quarter. The first part was mostly souvenir shops, but we managed to find a more genuine part as well where all kinds of food where cooked in the streets.

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We also stopped at the Great Mosque, founded in the 8th century. Very peaceful and an interesting blend of Chinese and Islamic architecture. The minaret was disguised as a pagoda.

After a lunch buffet (35 NOK) and a beer at the hotel we took a taxi to the airport. Our flight was quite late by the time we reached Chengdu. We also had a little trouble finding our hotel since it was located on the 27th floor in the back of a shopping mall. But both the room and the view was nice.

Posted by fredno 16:02 Archived in China Comments (0)

Xi'an


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We were picked up by the brother of our taxi driver from yesterday at 9 am. He took us to The Army of Terracotta Warriors - known as the 8th wonder of the world. This is a huge archeological site still being excavated, and they have found more than 7000 full sized terracotta warriors and horses. Each soldier is very detailed and they all have individual features, hair and facial expressions.

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On the way back to the city center we stopped at two other archeological sites. The Tomb of Qin Shi Huang is believed to be one of the grandest mausoleums ever. The tomb reputedly took 38 years to complete and required a workforce of 700000 people! But it is considered too dangerous to excavate, so there wasn't really much to see. The Banpo Neolithic Village feature the 6000-year-old ruins of a village, the earliest example of the Neolithic Yangshao culture.

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Back in Xi'an we booked a meeting with a travel agent and went for a bike ride on the city walls. They are around 12 meters high, wide and 14 kilometers long. Half way around the wall, we saw very dark smoke coming up from just inside the wall 3 kilometers away, it was a big fire!

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At 6 pm we met with the travel agent in the executive lounge and finally managed to arrange our trip to Tibet. It wasn't cheap but we got it exactly as we wanted. Soft sleeper (which is very difficult to get) on the train from Xining to Lhasa on Sunday, 2 full days for sightseeing in Lhasa and a flight from Lhasa to Chengdu.

We have updated our travel map!

Posted by fredno 19:27 Archived in China Comments (0)

Beijing - Xi'an


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After an early evening and a late morning we checked out of the hotel in Beijing and headed for the airport. After a 2 hour flight we arrived in Xi'an and took a taxi to our downtown hotel. On the way we organized a tour for tomorrow which was a bit challenging since the taxi driver only spoke Chinese. But with a phonecall we were able to confirm that we had agreed on what we thought we had agreed on.

The hotel in Xi'an was very cheap so we had booked an excecutive room. This was a bit more fancy than expected, and it took us nearly 10 minutes to turn on the bathroom lights... ;-) The best part was access to the executive lounge where we spent quite a bit of time drinking beer and making travel arrangements.

We found a very nice Chinese restaurant just down the street and had a great, spicy, vegetarian dinner. We had a table close to the kitchen area and were quite facinated by watching the five chefs prepare the food.

We did not take a single photo today (!!) but the rest of our photos should be available under "More photos" (to the right).

Posted by fredno 07:49 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Great Wall


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As the morning people we are we got up at 6 am, put on our hiking gear and left in our prebooked taxi with destination Jinshanling, a 2,5 hour drive. We were a bit worried for the views since it was very foggy in the morning, but when we arrived in Jinshanling the sun came through. We had to argue a bit with both the driver and all the "local experts" regarding our route, because we wanted to take the long hike and they tried to convince us to take the shortest route using the cable car. We did it our way and walked the westernmost path to the wall, and even walked further east from there to see the view from The West Tower with Five Holes. On a clear day you should be able to see the Simatai range from here, but we had some haze and couldn't see quite that far.

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We walked back east to the Zhuandou pass where we started and continued east from there towards Simatai. A few other tourists had entered the wall by now, but most of them went back down to Jinshanling using the cable car. The wall close to Jinshanling was restored in the 80's but after an hour of hiking most of the wall was in it's original condition. Still we only had to leave the wall shortly on two occasions to get around areas/towers that were not secured.

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One of the reasons we started early was to beat the crowds everyone was telling us about. We knew that this part of the wall was probably not as busy, but having the wall pretty much to ourselves was not expected. We met a couple of other groups doing the hike, talked a bit to some people from New Zealand and also shared experiences with a dutch couple walking in the opposite direction.

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The haze disappeared slowly during the day, the sun got warmer and warmer, the wall got steeper and steeper and the views were absolutely amazing the whole way. By the time we reached the highest point we were sweating in shorts and t-shirts, our legs were a bit sore, our cameras were running warm but we were still smiling from ear to ear. We enjoyed our lunchbox from the hotel and started our climb down to Simatai. This part of the wall was not as hard as the first part but it was still some steep climbs both up and down. Just before arriving in Simatai we heard some thunder, but we had time for both t-shirt shopping and a beer before the rain came.

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By the time we arrived at the hotel we were too tired to go out for dinner, so we went to the Italian restaurant at the 20th floor of our hotel. We were quite hungry after a long day and enjoyed a three course dinner with the views of Tiananmen Square.

Posted by fredno 14:12 Archived in China Comments (2)

Beijing - Day four


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Based on the experiences from yesterday, we decided to try the same approach for the Summer Palace, and got up early to take a taxi from the hotel. There were no queues and hardly any tour groups when we got there, but they poured in throughout the day. We started in the area around the East Palace Gate with the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, The Great Stage and The Heralding Spring Pavilion. We had a coffee and some cookies on the shore of the lake before walking over the top of the hill to the Hall of the Buddha Confirming his Doctrine, and down to Suzhou Street, a charming area around the Back Lake.

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We went back up to the top of the hill to see the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha and several pavilions, halls and gates on the way down to The Long Corridor (728 meters). From the end of the corridor we took a boat to the South Lake Island and walked the Seventeen-Arch Bridge back to where we started.

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Some of the buildings were impressive, but most of them were very similar to what we saw yesterday. But the lake were beautiful and on the hill there were plenty of caves and interesting stone structures. We even did some geocaching in the woods.

When we got back to the hotel we had an email from Mr. Liu waiting, and getting into Tibet is not easy. So we need some more time to get everything in order and have booked flights to Xi'an and Chengdu for now, and will probably go to Guilin as well before Tibet.

In the evening we went to a restaurant not too far from the hotel to taste the famous Peking Duck. After trying to figure out the details of the menu, we ended up with ordering a "package meal" which included 1 duck, special pancakes, sauce and different vegetables. Very good!

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Tomorrow we will spend the whole day on The Great Wall!!

Posted by fredno 07:55 Archived in China Comments (3)

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