Why you should hike Mount Heng in China (Hint: It’s kind of beautiful)

Why you should hike Mount Heng in China (Hint: It’s kind of beautiful)

Fanyin Valley is lush, even in December I’ve hiked all five sacred mountains, but Mount Heng (in the Hunan province, not the one in Shanxi. Confusing, eh?) was where I felt most connected with nature. Not in a hippy type of way, just in a relaxed, listen to the world around you type of way. Or is that hippy? Whatever. Yes, there are stone stairs, but that’s standard in China, especially when hiking a sacred mountain. What makes Mount Heng different is the 4.2 km section near the trailhead that follows the river. Known as Fanyin Valley or Buddhist Sound Valley, this area is filled with pavilions perfect for relaxing and contemplating your experiences in China; like how scorpion tastes surprisingly good and why you have to take at least five selfies with strangers a day. Additionally, there are some cool accoutrement that you can scope out along the way – namely, weird little elephants and scowling masks. A stone at the trailhead describes this area as a “Fairyland”. And you can’t argue with something written in stone… To contemplate some Chinese Poetry At the belly of the mountain, just before the gondola, is the aptly named Rock Passing Poetry Forest. In 1986, at the behest of the Nanyue Administration, over 50 poems were scribbled on the side of some rocks. If you head off the main trail, you can explore all the words of wisdom. Well, you can at least look at them. I don’t understand a lick of Mandarin so I just pretended they were something very deep, like a tattoo on an NBA player that says “Evil Bird Camphor” or “Can-Do. Okay”. There are several sections where the...
Descend Sparrow Hawk Flipping Over on Mount Hua (travel experience of the week)

Descend Sparrow Hawk Flipping Over on Mount Hua (travel experience of the week)

Your sweaty hands tightly grip the rusty metal chains.   You wedge your right foot into a small 4 in. deep cubby hole on the cliff face. The left foot dangles freely and paws at the wall, searching. Unfortunately, the steep angle of decent makes it impossible to get a visual on your left foot’s next landing pad.   You find it. Surprisingly, it’s off to the right side of your right foot, making your legs criss-cross each other.   Continue this way for another 15 meters, flailing and prodding blindly for the next recess chiseled into the mountain. As the path snakes and almost “flips” over on itself, you’re not sure where you’ll land if you fall. Thank God you’re wearing a safety harness.   Finally you reach the bottom.   Congratulations, you’ve just conquered Sparrow Hawk Flipping Over. Now go collect your reward – a sweeping view of jaunty mountains atop a lonely chess pavilion. How much does it cost, How to get there, Safety: Sparrow Hawk Flipping Over is a steep rock face on the East Peak of Mount Hua. The trail was dangerous in the past, however with the recent addition of a safety harness, it’s become much less so. Entry into the park costs 180 Yuan, or 90 with a student ID. The harness costs 30 yuan and if you want a picture, tack on an extra 20 spot. High speed trains depart 12 times a day from Xian North station and cost 35 Yuan (42 minutes). A 20 minute taxi ride from the town’s train station to the mountain is between 20 and 30 Yuan. What...
Bike the Xian City Wall: Travel Experience of the Week

Bike the Xian City Wall: Travel Experience of the Week

What do a perfectly engineered kill zone and a bicycle built for two have in common? Answer: You can find them both on the Xian City wall. Well, let me be more precise. The kill zones are actually outside the wall. Ramparts, or defensive protrusions, are positioned every 120 meters along the perimeter. Each rampart is 60 meters from the crossfire point, which is just within the range of throwing weapons and firearms like crossbows and bows (the wall features 24 watch towers erected on top of the ramparts). Which brings me to my next point, never get involved in a land war in Asia! But you already knew that, right? As for the bicycle built for two, the entire wall has a perimeter of about 14 kilometers. It is 10 to 12 meters high and 12 to 14 meters wide at the top, giving you plenty of room to ride that bike built for two without fear of hitting a rampart or fellow bikers. The city wall didn’t start out looking soooo good. It took years of engineering and a couple of different dynasties before it achieved its present glory. 2,000 years ago, when the city was known as Chang’an it started as just mounds of rammed earth. The extant wall was built in the third to eleventh year of the Sui Tang dynasty (1370 AD to 1378). If you fancy seeing the wall, but don’t really feel like paying the dough to get inside, the outside of the wall features some green areas, occasional ping-pong tables and tai chi dancing as well. Particulars: How much does it cost: 40 Yuan...
Travel Experience of the Week: Dumpling class Beijing

Travel Experience of the Week: Dumpling class Beijing

Ah, Dumplings – my default food of choice in China. If I am unsure what to eat for dinner, dumplings are there to rescue me. Until now, I haven’t met one I don’t like. In fact, after 20 days in China, I would consider myself a pro at eating them (if you can be a pro at eating something. Wait professional eating is a thing, right?) I do not, however, consider myself a pro at making them. For how small and innocent they look, they sure do require a lot of effort to manufacture. The cooking class I took was about two and a half hours long and we needed that entire time to finish our little bundles of deliciousness. We made both boiled dumplings and their tastier pan fried version, pot stickers. When making a dumpling, you should start from the outside in. The dumpling dough is flour based and the idea is to knead it until there aren’t any cracks. Obviously I’m no Emeril, but no worries as the dumpling shell is not the main attraction here, the filling is. I won’t go into all the ingredients we used (cilantro, ginger, mushrooms, onions, carrots, minced pork to name the bulk), but we needed to finely chop them all; you don’t want to bite into a phatty chunk of ginger half way through your dumpling. The key is balance and subtlety here. For the coup de grâce, comes the folding of the dumpling. I kind of fat fingered a couple of them, but I think mine didn’t look too bad in the end. And remember, the filling is the...
Which part of the Great Wall near Beijing should I see?

Which part of the Great Wall near Beijing should I see?

History of the Great Wall: The Great Wall of China is one of the world’s great engineering marvels. The original wall was started over 2,000 years ago and an estimated 180 million cubic meters of earth were used to build it. Officially, the wall is 8,851.8 km (5,500 miles) long, although in many places the wall is non-existent or just mounds of earth. During the years, needy villagers have pillaged the wall and have reduced many of the sections to nothing more than rubble. Where to go near Beijing: There is over 550 km (342 miles) of wall in Beijing, so you have literally miles of choices. Here are three choices that I researched: Badaling This is the most popular choice, and is overrun with tourists. Expect lots of touts and souvenir hawkers as well as restored brickwork, but since it’s the closest to Beijing, it’s a good choice if you have a time crunch. 45 Yuan / 25 Yuan for students. Open 6 am to 7 pm in the summer and 7 am to 6 pm in the winter. Take a tour or local buses 877, 919 or 880   Mutianyu Less touristy than Badaling, Mutianyu is a better option if you have a bit more time. It still has great views, cable cars and is easily accessible from Beijing. Plus it has a pretty cool toboggan ride. 45 Yuan / 25 Yuan for students. 7 am to 6:30 pm summer, 7:30 am to 5:30 pm winter. Take the special bus 867 which leaves at 7 am and 8:30 am from Dongzihmen bus stop (near the metro station) and returns...
Travel Experience of the Week: Witches Market La Paz

Travel Experience of the Week: Witches Market La Paz

The Witches market in La Paz Bolivia is an interesting tourist destination. Love potions, cursing powder and other spells can be bought here. Although it sounds like something out of bad B movie, locals buy many products here for daily use. One of the more interesting purchases are Llama fetuses, which are used to consecrate construction sites. Say you are building a new home, well then you better give Pachamama (Mother Earth) a blood offering. Enter in Llama fetuses.  But what happens if you have a huge sky scrapper? You would need an even bigger sacrifice. This is where urban legend enters in. Supposedly, drunks and homeless people are lured into a conversation with a Yatiri or Witch Doctor (so that’s where the word Witch Doctor comes from, huh). He then drugs them, takes them to the construction site and promptly buries them underneath the foundation!  Which brings me to my mental note of the day, don’t pass out in...