Korean New Year (설날)

Korean New Year coincides with Chinese new year. I had the opportunity to attend, as in Asia, this is the time to come together. We wear formal clothes, or traditional clothes (hanbok,) and bowed to our elders, we performed ancestral rites, and the children received a personal grace and money from their elders after performing a formal bow. We also eat traditional food, with tteokkuk 떡국 (soup with sliced rice cakes).

Lhasa, Tibet

Visited Lhasa in Tibet with my dad. In the past year I visited many Tibetan communities in Sichuan and Yunnan (1,2), Lhasa represents to me the centre of Tibetan culture and definitely an important visit. We took the train, saw a beautiful lake and learned about history and Buddhism.

Xining (西宁) to Lhasa ལྷ་ས་ (拉萨) by train We flew to Xining and took the train to Lhasa from there. We wanted to avoid altitude sickness, landing by plane above 3,000m can lead headache, dizziness. We figured the train would take us up slowly and limit the effects. Xining is a city located between Chengdu and Mongolia. It’s centre is completely rebuild around the new train station. Majority of population is Muslim, we had the opportunity to visit biggest mosque of China, on the inside too. From Xining, we took the world’s highest altitude train line. Most of the track is above 4,500m, with a peak at Tanggula Pass at 5,200m. The special train has an oxygen supply in the cabin, emits a hissing sound. (Picture below, right bottom)

The 1,960km long train ride from Xining to Lhasa took little less than a day.

  • We took a soft sleeper (slightly more expensive, but good place to sleep)
  • We shared the cabin with two others going to Golmud (first stop), the wake up service woke me up as well! (Woman suddenly opening door and shouting to them to get ready) – I was sitting up straight before I realized what was happening.
  • There is good food on the train.
  • Watched the sunrise above the moon like landscape.
    The train left in the evening dark, but the moon light revealed the mountains outside. The next morning we enjoyed the sunrise and just looked outside for hours on end. Left my book alone, no need. The mountain moonlight silhouettes changed to blue sky with green hills, then rolling yellow hills with grass. Here and there some yak. Nomads fetching sheep with motorcycles, then finally snow-covered giant mountains in the distance. We read a book about the construction of this train line. Build above permafrost, which ice can sink meters at any time, they put most of the train line on poles, elevation and put isolating stones at critical places. Since it’s a plateau above 4,500m, there are no trees, the stretched out hills have snow on them. There is a highway being constructed along the way. A few hundred kilometers before Lhasa we passed the holy Namtso Lake (གནམ་མཚོ།) even though I took the picture though the train window, you can imagine how vibrant it was.

Lhasa ལྷ་ས་ (拉萨) – Finally we arrived in Lhasa. We had to get permits checked and our guide picked us up at the station. We had read up about this place, but didn’t know that KFC and Burger king opened up in Lhasa. I guess that can tell you enough about how this city is changing. In a lifetime, it went from a secluded place and grew tenfold and construction is everywhere. But there is still a lot authenticity to explore, and particularly trace roots of Buddhism that came here from India. We enjoyed traditional Tibet food, but also Indian and Chinese food is available. There are local restaurants that sell momo (yak dumplings) and yak butter, yak butter tea, yoghurt and meat based dishes. Potala (ཕོ་བྲང་པོ་ཏ་ལ་) (布达拉宫) Ah, the iconic the Potala Palace. There are many written books about this place, and they explain it better than I could so I won’t go into it’s significance here, just very brief. The king of Lhasa meditated in a cave in this hill. Then later the white part was built by the fifth Dalai Lama, and later the red.

  • It’s a nice mix of tourists and pilgrims visiting this time of year. (After harvest)
  • It houses eight Dalai Lama mummies inside beautiful golden tombs.
  • Tourists can only visit the red-painted wall parts, all white wall areas are off bounds.
  • The white part paint with lime and milk.
  • No pictures are allowed inside. (Fear of replicas to be switched with real artefacts)
  • In the past, up to 6000 visitors came each day, now it’s limited to 2300. Also each tourist must be accompanied by a guide. Inside you can spend 50 minutes.
    Some wise words from the 6th Dalai Lama that stuck: You need compassion, wisdom and energy to achieve anything.

In the evening there is light and fountains show. We enjoyed beers in the park. The Potala looks flat if you look up from front.

Johkang temple (ཇོ་ཁང།) (大昭寺) The center of Lhasa is Johkang temple. Our guide explained that you can compare it to Mekka but then for Buddhism. It is the original center of Lhasa. He was right, hundreds of people walk around the and pray in and around the temple, even late at night. Some bow constantly while going around, kneeling and putting their forehead on to floor. Knee protectors to keep going. Inside the temple, the monks from red, white, black, yellow sects (in order of creation) come down here to maintain the temple for several months at a time. Currently the yellow (Gelug) sect is maintaining it but they accept worshippers from all sects. The Jowo Sakyamuni statue represents Buddha at age twelve. There are many chambers with statues and art. Our guide explained that other Buddha statues everywhere are modeled after this one. When they make a statue, they come here to bless it.

Yamdrok lake (ཡར་འབྲོག་གཡུ་མཚོ་) (羊卓雍錯) We visited one of the holy lakes in Tibet, Yamdrok lake. It’s a hundred kilometers south of Lhasa, close to Bhutan.  The lake is turquoise coloured and lies at 4,441 meters. Our guide and our driver took us the 3 hour ride there.

To get to the lake, you have to cross a 4,800m pass by car. We met some Chinese tourists and took some silly photos. Then we drive down and felt the ice-cold water. Enjoyed nice Tibetan noodles. On the way back the sun was out and the fall colours came out. The lake trip offered some new sights from the bus. And you can pose with Tibetan dogs for 10 RMB.

Drepung འབྲས་སྤུངས་ (and Sera)

Two important monasteries close to Lhasa. Drepung hosts 7700 monks and nuns. This is where the first five Dalai Lama resided before Potala was build (between Drepung, Lhasa and Sera) by the fifth.

  1. Lots to see inside including an 800 years old Buddha from India.The amount of monks is decreasing. Now they all assemble in the central Hall, instead of their building. Before most young monks have teacher, and when teacher get old, they take care of them. Now amount of students are decreasing. So they put all old monks together close to assembly house to take care for them. A bit like a retirement house.

Songpan (松潘)

Visited Songpan in north Sichuan. Getting in was little slower due to damage by the terrible rains in this region recently. 

It was worth the long journey immediately on entering, the small colourful town seemed a bit more calm than others, this small town at an elevation of 2867 meters is a center for trade and quite diverse compared to other cities with Tibetan, Han, Qiang and Hui living side by side. Songpan old town is a surrounded by a wall and a gate on each direction. North is the main gate. South is more touristic with it’s original structure with bullet holes from WW2. Then all the way on top of a hill was the west gate. As the bad road put my schedule a bit behind, I immediately found my new goal: climb up to west gate and check the view! I had no idea where I was going so I just started walking upwards and with some help found the path up from the alleyways. It takes a good hour or so to walk up. I sat a bit here and there. I felt a bit short on breath due to the altitude, took it easy. From the alleyways there were bushy pathways, followed by rocky stairs, followed by wooden stairs. I met a grand of three tourist on the way up. (That’s crazy quiet in China) only thing I could hear was the sound of a cricket or a crow. All alone on the top. Turns out, The gate is not used apart from light display. It looked quite new, a local told me west gate is rebuild in late 90s, just like large parts of the old city. Standing on west gate, I was happy i reached the top, but then i noticed another hill beyond that, with some Tibetan artifacts. So climbing continues.Horses just roam the hill freely it seems. The sheep and yak were less free but still wanted to share here. On the way down took a different path and passed a newly build Dabei temple. It was closed off for the public but it looked impressive from outside the wall. Down the hill from there is the older Guanyin Pavilion. This pavilion features a lot of interesting details, like the vase with flowers on top here.

The old town came alive in the cooler evening. Buy fruits, dried meats. Most people busy at hotpot restaurants. I only stayed one night, but with the nearby tourist attractions I would recommend to stay a bit longer. Next year there will be a train here from Chengdu, it will be more convenient but also – I suspect – busier.

Ma’er kang (马尔康)

Home alone in Chengdu last weekend so I packed my backpack to do some travelling. I visited the Zhuokeji (卓克基) Tibetan village, a few km east from Ma’er kang (Barkam).

Zhuokeji means supremacy in Tibetan language. originally build in 1286, it housed the regions highest official for politics, economy and martial power. Every room has a story, opera, guest rooms, execution hall, one notable conference room as the red army and Mao Zedong stayed here for a week in 1935.  After the visit, I wandered around town with it’s beautiful bridge and hillside alleyways and found the Dandalun Temple.





Hilltop picnic – Outside again, I passed a group of villagers, calling me over. The group – a mom with four years old twins, a CPC army soldier, an engineer and a yak cow farmer – all early thirties, old friends enjoying the summer day outside. They treated me to some raw spicy yak meat (delicious), and local green veggies dishes. And lots of Chinese lukewarm beer. I didn’t want to overstay but they were just so cheerful, hospitable, patient and interesting. There is a pride of their cultural heritage, they sang traditional songs, dance, which they learned directly from their parents, and they tried teaching me some of their native language. (See below). When they asked me to sing one of my cultures songs, I could only think of the Dutch kids song “Berend Botje”. Yep, sang that, no dance though. Whilst connected to their past heritage, all are connected as anyone else about international pop, news, sport culture. It’s not one or the other.

rGyalrong Tibetan language Learned some ‘Jiarong’ (Zang) or rGyalrong (Tibetan: རྒྱལ་རོང).

  • Me – N’ah*
  • You – Cho
  • Nice to meet you – Cho dé mo
  • Really nice to meet you – N’áh dé mo
  • I love you – N’áh cho gah
  • Cheers – da ghi de lech

* Compared to Mandarin Chinese, has more tones. This one is compressed and hard. There is a hard (not rolling) “N’áh!”



Zigong dinosaur museum

We visited the dinosaur museum in southern Sichuan. This was on our bucket list for a while as our kids love everything dinosaur related. The museum is a three hour drive from Chengdu in Zigong. There are three areas in the museum, first is an exhibition hall with whole dinosaur skeleton fossils, with the Tianfuensis with has a 20 meters long body. There were a lot of skeletons in one place, you didn’t know where to look. All of them from the Sichuan region. Second was the burial site, which explains the first findings and the process of excavation. And lastly there were tons of fossils on display.They also put some moving dinosaurs on the hills for kids.

World Earth Day, Camping in Andaman

A twenty minute drive past Dujianyan train station is Andaman park. We joined QSI school on a camping trip. Andaman is supposed to host the only organic lodges in China. Sleeping in these adult sized tree houses must be an experience is expensive. Andaman quickly seemed like a weekend park for the elite. Just recently they changed strategy, adding a couple of camping sites, and a hostel in order to receive more visitors. The park features a lot of activities in nature, mountain biking, horse riding, archery. Everything is band new, and the staff is nice and attentive, clearly they knew we were coming and wanted us to have a great time. We were received on Saturday morning by a friendly host called John. He also took us on a hike through the forest. After lunch we got to explore the rest of the park, my wife tried zip lining and we all went to a trampoline park. It’s like a heaven for kids, they are all bouncing around. Then we had a barbecue. As it was earth day, the power went off at eight pm, there was live music and a bonfire. During the party I met Dino, a Brazilian and the architect and builder of the ‘adventure park’. After setting up zip lining and rock climbing, he proceeded with a miniature version these activities but then for kids. This was the second time sleeping in a tent but last time Mia was really a baby. This time she is older, just hanging around the tent with a pocket light provided heaps of fun. Our little one slept surprisingly well in the tent. We slept later then usual and were awoken early by the birds.

We immediately tried the kids adventure park that Dino made. First Kids need to wear helmets, gear, the works. They get all dressed up and whilst tethered, walk down the track. Starting low and going up about two meters eventually. The grand finish is a zip line down. Zooom! Mia gained a lot of confidence walking that track today. Andaman was really a great family trip. Not only a first camping experience, we also experienced a lot of nature (saw frogs, gekko’s) and enjoyed clean air. For Chengdu residents I would surely recommend!

Pujiang (蒲江) flower garden and ceramic village

In Chengdu’s hot summer days, there is nothing much to do but sit inside a building or at the pool. Since this early spring weather is still really nice, we – compared to last posts, I am traveling with the family – are in Pujiang! (蒲江县), visiting a flower garden. Coloured fields of flowers welcomed us, the little ones enjoyed running around the fields of flowers. Further into the park there was a play yard and a model village showing how people used to live in this area. There is an important ‘stone elephant temple’ currently completely being reconstructed but somehow in use at the same time. The Stone Elephant Lake, Shixiang Lake, (保利石象湖景) is a lush quiet green area, a nice change of environment from the city. We rented a boat to rest our legs, the ride offered some great sceneries and was a nice variation for all the busy walking paths in the flower garden. In hindsight, this flower park probably has had tulips earlier in season, we had high expectations, as the website showed fields of tulips. However as the flowerpark is combined with the stone elephant lake it was still definitely worth visiting for a day trip. We spent the night in a nearby hotel in Pujiang. As there was not much to do in Pujiang besides the lake and golf, we visited moon valley ‘mingyue valley’ (明月) a bit far at 30km west. We rented bikes at the information center right at to main gate and enjoyed cycling through the tea field hills, I spotted some white crane birds and many other birds. The road is one big loop around the villages, with here and there a touristic activity like ceramic workshops, museums and coffee shops.

We visited a restaurant and a stamp museum. If we would have had more time, I would have liked the kids to try the ceramic workshop. Pujian is about to have a functioning train station, I suspect this area will develop a lot. For elephant lake, Tickets were 100 RMB for both the stone elephant lake and the flower garden. Boat was 60 RMB per person. Nice for a visit but our expectations were too high. Moon valley bike renting was 10 RMB. It’s unusually quiet area. Might be nice to sleep over next time to have more time.

The four girl mountain (四姑娘山)

I visited the four sister mountains, 220 km west of Chengdu. Taking the earliest bus from Chengdu Chadianzi Bus Station (茶店子汽车站). The conventional long distance bus from Chengdu to Xiaojin offers some amazing sceneries.

The bus goes to the mining town of Xiaojin, I asked the driver to drop me off at Shuangqiao Valley (双桥沟), which is about five kilometer from the town of Rilong (日隆镇) where I was going to spend the night. As I never visited this place before, I planned it out on the mercy of blog posts of other travelers and crossing fingers. Shuangqiao Valley (双桥沟) is a bit more touristy and with a road, so I knew i could easily get back. I wanted to play it safe and not ascend a mountain as it was already early afternoon. After drop off I looked around and there was no one around me. And quiet. The park was open, just not busy. Entrance was 120 CNY, with small tour buses departing every twenty minutes. It’s basically a 30km long road with a walking platform here and there. As it was offseason, the walking paths were snowed under and under construction. At one point I was crossing the water to find the bridge was gone, so I had to go back a bit.




The four girl mountain (四姑娘山) at an elevation of 6,250 m is the second highest in Sichuan. From this Shuangqiao Valley, you can see them well, but also Mount Abi 5,694 m, Seerdengpu 5592m, and the eagle crag at 5300 m.

The bus dropped us of at the furthest point and we walked around for a bit. There was a friendly group from Chengdu and we kept bumping into each other. As we walked in a group, we took the bus, which was driving back to the starting point, but now stopping at four other points of interest. After the second stop, although having fun, I realized the bus tour was going a bit fast for me as it was still relatively early, so I decided to alight and walk back up instead.


In retrospect, that was a good call. I enjoyed many sceneries at my own pace. I walked until it started snowing and getting dark. I had to wave a bus down to get to Rilong (日隆镇), a town at an elevation of 3,160m, on the way I found decent hotel online, walked in and bumped into that same group from early afternoon again. Small world! We had dinner and beers together before calling it a night. They were indeed planning to ascend a mountain the next day.

The hotel room didn’t had heating so it was a hot shower and straight to bed for me. Outside, it kept on snowing and I listened to the crackling fire on the sidewalk. Zzzz At dawn, I took the courtesy to check myself out and unlock the front door, it had snowed overnight and it was a beautiful but slippery slope to town.

The bus was something I worried about as the town doesn’t have a bus stop, fortunately, a store owner making a quick 10 CNY called and confirmed the bus was on time, and stopped as expected. I felt at ease and could enjoy the winter wonder land. For a weekend trip it was a bit rushed. I would have liked to stay a bit longer and explore the other valleys. I would recommend staying at least two nights, also to get acclimated a bit.

Side note: The tallest is Mount Gongga (贡嘎山). which I visited last year. I have to say that due to the many more magnificent views by the four girl mountains, I would recommend a visit to the four girl mountain (四姑娘山)

Luobozhai village (萝卜寨)

Did you hear about the “goulash effect” that Tim Ferris mentioned in a recent podcast? He traveled Eastern Europe and tried to avoid tourist traps by having authentic conversations with locals. Some sincere interest gets a long way and is usually followed by “Why are you asking for restaurant recommendations, come meet my family and eat some authentic Goulash!” Today I had an unintended Chinese version of that. I had lunch in the home of a really warm friendly Chinese family of four generations in the mountainous region of Wenchuan 汶川. I wanted to get out of the city, so I set my alarm at 5 AM and took the bus from Chengdu Chadianzi Bus Station to Wenchuan (汶川). The pick for this spot was because it’s a direction out of Chengdu I didn’t had the chance to visit before. Whilst reading up in the bus, I discovered this was the epicenter of the 2008 ‘Sichuan earthquake’. Now, ten years later, completed rebuilding is plenty and tourists from Chengdu can explore this area in a day trip due the the new highway. After arriving I could not find a community bus within half an hour so I broke my own rule and accepted a strangers offer to drive me up, a 36 year old, who called Luobozai his hometown. We agreed on a price and we drove up in his old Buick with loud Chinese Techno, whilst his six year old son was bouncing trough the back of the car. Luobozai, a (rebuild after the quake) stone and clay wall city with an open water arrogation system, was quiet. I saw only seven local people and two tourists during my entire exploration in the village.


Following the signs, we arrived at the canyon. The view is just so grand I sometimes had to get used to the perspective. Then the driver offered to show me to his family, a little further up the mountain. He showed me the acres of lemon trees and the whole town seemed to be up and about tending to the trees (spraying some insect repellant and trimming branches). There was a water fall that allowed us to climb the face of the mountain a bit. We just hang out and relaxed with the view. On our way back to the family, I was greeted by three grannies, one of which was a stunning 96 years old. They were hanging out in the sun doing handicrafts, asking and laughing for the foreigner to sit with them. I also played hide an seek with the ever growing group of kids, and some could fancy some English like “how are you”. Then it was close to noon and I got invited for a modest lunch in their home.

Their house, with a side kitchen and open fire for heating. (Smells like charcoal inside) It was just chit chat with his bigger brother. Us men ate first, and after we were drinking a beer in the sun, the kids were eating. I got to explain that in my home country, I’m from a fruit area as well, and that my country has no mountains. I found myself with this really friendly warm and curious family. I decided to take it easy and slow and enjoy their hospitality, not to race away for the next tourist hotspot. It made me think of the ‘Goulash approach’. Too often as a tourist you just follow the signs and not really meet the locals. This was a sincere experience. When we headed back down to Wenchuan, I received walnuts and beans home too, and we split ways. Before going home, I wanted to visit the large red Qiang museum with more background on the disastrous earthquake photos. I wasn’t living in China at that time but seeing the photos of so many man made buildings and bridges shaken to collapse was really shocking. Over 70.000 people died, and a million were homeless. The Richter 7.9 earth quake was so powerful it was felt in nearby countries and as far away as both Beijing and Shanghai—1,500 km (930 mi) and 1,700 km (1,060 mi) away—where office buildings swayed with the tremor. For this small town, buildings could only survive the quake if they could withstand a quake with Richter 11.


Winter Olympics in Korea

pyeongchang.jpgWe visited the winter Olympics in Korea over the last two weeks. Very special: My whole family came over from The Netherlands, and we met at the Incheon airport. The Olympics are in Pyeongchang, a remote town on the East side of the country. With the new high-speed train we arrived within two hours (while streaming the opening of the Olympics on my laptop via Wi-Fi), where we met my in-laws in PyeongChang. beach.JPGAnother special moment; the last time we were all together like this was at our wedding eight years ago. Residing at a beautiful location on a twenty minute drive from PyeongChang. We stayed at a presbytery. You read that right. With the overbooked hotels, we found this place via-via and were the only visitors in this serene place. The priest was very nice and also enjoyed watching the Olympics. The place provided a tranquil place in the mountain, a nice base to retreat after the busy Olympics. pyeongchang_house.JPG PyeongChang is one of the least polluted areas in the country, and we enjoyed clear blue skies for almost the entire trip. Besides that, it had just snowed so we could also have some fun with the kids. niceweather.jpgAlthough it was sunny, it was very windy time to time. The Dutch TV did a joke where they put all complaining journalists clips after each other: “It’s so cold in PyeongChang!” it was time to time about -10 Celsius and hard winds made it feel really cold. What do you expect, it’s a winter Olympics! However, with the kids we had to reduce outside exposure. Our visit to the Olympic stadium was cut short as it just wasn’t fun outside. olympic_stadium.JPGFor the events our family visited a stadium almost daily. Mostly speed skating, but we also checked ice hockey, skiing and figure skating. Most of the events were in Gangneung, it was convenient that we could borrow the priests van and drive back and forth. The schedule was hectic. Matches would take up to 11pm and the next morning another event was waiting for us.The Olympics Speed skating is far from PyeongChang at Gangneung, a city at the sea side. This Olympic park hosted the speed skating, ice hockey, figure skating and curling. Furthermore there were some pavilions like the Team Korea pavilion, and the Tokyo Olympics display.

We spend a lot of our time inside the ‘Gangneung Oval’, the speed skating track.stadium.jpg It was clear the organization had to get used to hosting the speed skating. In the beginning of the week, they had volunteers request the audience not to make too much noise. (hah!) An error that was quickly corrected, soon the Koreans visitors were the noisiest of them allcrowd.JPG. During break times, they organized activities like Kpop bands and kiss-cams, a different time filling then we are used to in The Netherlands, nice to experience .The Dutch teams did very well, especially interview.jpgin the first weeks. It was fun seeing them win. Of course we also visited the Holland Heineken House – where the athletes are cheered by (mostly) the Dutch visitors, and were interviewed by Dutch TV a couple of times, which was funny.