Onward to Da Nang, but not by train

Onward to Da Nang, but not by train
[Classes began last week, so please accept my apologies for delaying this post.] HANOI, VIETNAM — Now that I had settled on visiting Da Nang, in hopes of finding some warmer weather and an ocean view, the question was how to get there. My first plan was to take the overnight train from Hanoi to Da Nang. With that in mind, I figured lodging at the Mango Hotel (above), which is right next to the Hanoi train station, made sense. It was only about $22 a night and offered free breakfast, and I could walk to it from my Airbnb. Once at the hotel (which is not bad, by the way), I set about finding out how to buy train tickets for a departure two days later. The cost ranged from $40 for a soft seat to $60 for a soft sleeper berth, and the trip would take about 15 to 16 hours. On a lark, I also checked airfares from Hanoi to Da Nang. It was cheaper to fly! Only $36 for a round-trip ticket to Da Nang. So guess what I did. My lodging in Da Nang was another Airbnb within walking distance to My Khe beach. For ...

On the first part of the journey …

On the first part of the journey ...
CHANGSHA, HUNAN — There was football. More about that later, though. I left Zhengzhou on Jan. 25 as a heavy snowstorm was just picking up steam. The snow was so bad that even the high speed CRH trains, which run on schedule 99% of the time, had to slow down or even stop, because of poor visibility and slick trackage. My train to Futian station in Shenzhen would normally have taken seven hours. We arrived four hours later. Second-class ticket: 735.50 yuan ($116). My plan was to stay overnight in Shenzhen anyway, and my flight to Hanoi was in two days, so no big deal. There are many bargain flights out of Hong Kong, and I love Hong Kong, so I spent the second night there. My Jetstar ticket was $180 round trip, including an extra checked baggage fee. I stayed in a guest house near Causeway Bay for $65. My Shenzhen hotel near Futian train station was $60. [I’ve blogged about visiting Hong Kong before, but briefly, you can walk from Shenzhen’s Futian checkpoint to the Lok Ma Chau checkpoint in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, passing through two immigration and customs control points. That takes about an ...

Italian races Ferrari up twisty Tianmen mountain road in record time

Italian races Ferrari up twisty Tianmen mountain road in record time
JISHOU, HUNAN — About two hours from here is Tianmen Mountain (天门山 tiānménshān in Zhangjiajie, the home of a twisty mountain road with no less than 99 switchback turns. On Wednesday, Italian driver Fabio Barone raced his modified Ferrari 458 up the 1.1 km (6 mile) long road in a record time of 10 minutes 31 seconds, taking home a suitable trophy and putting Zhangjiajie in the news once again. Besides Barone’s hill climb, Tianmenshan has held drifting events for other racers, and several years ago, hosted an air show in which a jet flew through the mountain’s signature keyhole rock formation. A few miles away, the National Forest Park’s karst mountains were supposedly the inspiration for the mountains in James Cameron’s Avatar. Regardless of the truth in that claim, local authorities renamed one of the mountains Hallelujah, to cement the connection to the movie. According to the BBC, Barone lightened his car by swapping some metal parts with carbon fiber units. You can see more photos at this English-language Chinese site. And here’s a video of his run.

BBC Click features new glass-bottomed bridge in Zhangjiajie 张家界

BBC Click features new glass-bottomed bridge in Zhangjiajie 张家界
JISHOU, HUNAN — But the news service misspelled the city’s name in the video. Zhangjiajie 张家界 is about 90 minutes from here. It’s already the home of several tourist attractions, including the first national park in China, Yellow Dragon Cave, and the “Grand Canyon,” which is a deep crevasse cut through the limestone here, but not quite as grand as America’s Grand Canyon. The new bridge spans the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon, and is reported to be the longest and highest glass-bottomed bridge in the world. It’s due to open next month, and I might just give it a go. More details at CNN. [paypal_donation_button align=”center” price=”5.00″] Donate Bitcoins

2015 Winter Holiday travels on $67 a day

2015 Winter Holiday travels on $67 a day
JISHOU, HUNAN — So, I spent two and half weeks — 18 days — traveling around southern China. How much did it cost? About $67 day, for a total of $1,200, almost as good as those “travel on $50 a day” books say. As I’ve told my friends and family, the biggest expense in traveling around China is getting there. Once you’re in country, costs are remarkably affordable. Had I not set myself a strict $1,000 budget (yeah, I went over, mostly because I stayed in Hong Kong two days), I could have traveled for several days more. Also, if I had avoided taking the high speed rail and been more frugal in choosing hotels, I could have traveled even more cheaply. The regular trains in China are slower, but priced lower. So, if you don’t mind spending half the day or even more on the train, you can see a lot of China for very little money. Here’s the breakdown by category for the trip. Lodging $520 Transport $347 Food $282 Miscellaneous $55 (including entry fees for attractions) TOTAL $1,204 For lodging, most of the time I was mostly staying in three-star or higher-rated hotels. I like to be ...

2015 Winter Holiday travels: Beihai and Nanning

2015 Winter Holiday travels: Beihai and Nanning
Since I came to China, I’ve had two opportunities to visit Beihai, but instead chose to go elsewhere. This time, I decided I should go see whether this coastal city is as wonderful as some of my Chinese friends say. Well, I hate to say it, it’s not that wonderful. If you want quality beach time, especially in February, skip Beihai and ante up for a more expensive visit to Sanya in Hainan. Beihai is nice enough for one or two days, but after that it’s pretty boring. Before I get into details, here’s some perspective. Beihai is in Guangxi Province, one of the poorest provinces in China. During the 19th century, Beihai was an important international port, but went into decline during the 20th century as other cities in China — like Guangzhou — became more important international ports. Development of Beihai as a tourist city is still underway. There’s now a high-speed rail line linking it to the larger city of Nanning; its airport is new and modern; and there are new hotels and condos going up all over the city. In addition, the government is trying to develop Beihai into a passenger seaport, with daily departures to ...

2015 Winter Holiday travel: Shenzhen, again, and its tired Soviet aircraft carrier

2015 Winter Holiday travel: Shenzhen, again, and its tired Soviet aircraft carrier
BEIHAI, GUANGXI PROVINCE — OK, OK, I know I just blogged about visiting Shenzhen, but that visit was before Hong Kong. This blog is about visiting Shenzhen after Hong Kong. I know, I messed everything up by starting in the middle. I lead with Hong Kong because there was some important current events happening while I was there. My bad. So, my plan after Hong Kong was (1) stay a night in Shenzhen, where hotels are cheaper, before (2) flying to Beihai to stay a few days with a Couchsurfing.com friend. Originally, I had planned to take the high speed train from Shenzhen to Nanning, then the high speed train to Beihai. But those plans went awry, due to the coming Spring Festival travel crush. My attempts to book train tickets online were foiled, as there appeared to be none available on the days I wanted to travel. (In retrospect, the website was probably just having problems updating availability, but I didn’t realize it at the time.) Rather than deal with long lines at the Shenzhen North Railway station, which I had already witnessed dropping Sophia off there a few days before, I opted to fly to Beihai from the ...

My winter holiday journey around southern China

My winter holiday journey around southern China
BEIHAI, GUANGXI PROVINCE — It’s winter holiday time again, and time for me to venture out in the wider world. My holiday travels this time were not as far ranging as I had hoped or planned, but still I’ve had a good two weeks of travel. Here’s my itinerary in brief: Jishou – Changsha – Hengyang (all in Hunan), Guangzhou – Shenzhen (in Guangdong), Hong Kong, Beihai – Nanning (in Guangxi), then back to Hunan, for 17 days in all. The map above shows where I’ve been. My original plan was to go someplace really exotic, like Hanoi or Jakarta, but a friend asked me to travel with her for a week at the end of January. Also, my tutorial student wanted more lessons, so rather than leaving right after exams ended Jan. 6, I stayed in Jishou till the 24th. Meanwhile, I made up my mind not to exceed my budget, as I have managed to do the last three journeys. This time, I was determined to have at least a month’s pay in the bank when I returned. This decision required me to return to Jishou once my funds dipped that low. So, after scoping out my options ...

Someday, kid, you’re gonna be a star!

Someday, kid, you're gonna be a star!
JISHOU, HUNAN — So, I’ve been a little busy these last three weeks. Classes started just two days after I arrived, then the freshmen started two weeks later, doubling my class hours. Oh, and then I was asked to act in a movie. Before you all get too excited, this is probably not a movie you’ll see in America, on TV, the theaters or DVD. It’s what they call in China a “micro-movie” — a 45-minute teleplay for the web only. In fact, it’s half a promotion for the local tourism scene and half a comedy-romance. Two weeks ago, my foreign affairs officer Cyril Hu called me to ask if I had time to appear in a movie about Xiangxi, the prefecture of which Jishou is the capital. I agreed, figuring it would be a one-day TV thing, no big deal. Then I met the director, 陈晓曦 Chen XiaoXi, and a few members of his crew, all from Beijing. His assistant, Xiao Hong, and one of my seniors, Li Dongling, served as interpreters. I was to be a foreigner who comes here looking for the “empress of Xiangxi.” It would not be a speaking part, and I would have to ...

BASE jumping off the Aizhai Suspension Bridge 4

JISHOU, HUNAN — No, not me, but as I write this post, about 40 enthusiasts are BASE-jumping off the Aizhai Suspension Bridge to land 330 meters (1,150 feet) below in the town of Aizhai, about an hour from here. The bridge opened only a few months ago, and to attract attention to this engineering marvel, Chinese organizers created the 2012 Aizhai Bridge International BASE Jump Festival. It’s a three-day weekend affair that they hope will be an annual event. Although Aizhai is a short hop from here, I didn’t go see the event live. I heard through the grapevine that all the buses from Jishou were jam packed and the roads were about the same. So, I am watching it on a live feed on my computer. The Atlantic has a short article and a jumper’s video here. It’s more interesting than what I’m seeing, which is jumper after jumper doing basically the same thing. However, about a dozen of my students are having a more interesting time serving as interpreters and assistants for the jumpers. They’ve been excused from classes for the last week, and report being very tired but enjoying every minute of their liaison duties. I may ...

Bridge engineering marvel in Aizhai near here opens

Bridge engineering marvel in Aizhai near here opens
JISHOU, HUNAN — Big news events are few and far between here, but the Aizhai Suspension Bridge — the longest tunnel-to-tunnel bridge in the world — opened today for traffic. The bridge, which is about 45 minutes’ drive west of here, has a main span of 1,146 meters (0.7 miles) and its deck is 350 meters (1,150 feet) above ground, making it the sixth-highest and twelfth-longest bridge in the world. It spans the Dehang Canyon and connects two tunnels through adjacent mountains. The official opening will be tomorrow, but apparently traffic is already passing over the bridge. On Sunday, I accompanied one of my freshmen classes to the Dehang Miao Village and Geopark. On the way back, we stopped under the bridge for a photo op. Here’s two I took, shooting into the afternoon sun. Work on the bridge started in 2007. It’s part of a still-incomplete national expressway linking Inner Mongolia to the north with Guangdong to the south. Closer to home, it connects Jishou to Chadong, Guangxi province, cutting what was a four-hour drive over switchback mountain roads to one hour over a divided four-lane expressway. The construction of the highway across the rugged terrain here is quite ...

Team JiDa takes on Beijing 6

Team JiDa takes on Beijing
BEIJING — I’ve been to Beijing now on four other occasions, two because I had to visit the US embassy and two just for kicks, hardly adequate qualifications to be a tour guide. Nevertheless, I am “leading” two Chinese students and three newly arrived Americans around the capital like I know what I’m doing. Hoo boy. A few months ago, my son told me he was going to visit me in China, so I advised him to come in through Beijing. Shortly afterward, I learned that Max, Karen and daughter Haley would be coming to Jishou U. So, I suggested they could arrive about the time my son would leave from Beijing, so I could drop him off and pick them up. Instead, ticket prices rose, and James couldn’t come this year, but I decided to stick to the second part of the plan and visit Beijing anyway. While I was riding around in a car in Anhui province the week before, I was chatting on QQ. The foreign affairs office at JiDa wants us to fly in and out of Changde now, instead of Changsha, since the Changde airport (though small) is two hours closer to Jishou than Changsha’s. ...
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