The Travelling Teacher – Getting back in touch with nature
In this week’s blog I’ll be taking a step back from the typical ‘tourist’ places, like the amazing Shanghai Disney, and getting back in touch with nature. I love nothing more than a good hike or trek and taking in what a wonderful little planet we live on. I always try to spy the smallest of creatures or plants too as I feel too often in life I spend my time speeding around and forget to take in every detail.
I’ll be sharing my stories from my time spent in Zhangjiajie where, although much more laid back and far less crowded, I was still being just as active and making sure I get every penny of value from my trainers! My travels then became more laid back and I’ll be sharing my experience of Kunming! Then, finally I rest my feet on the sunny island of Hainan (about time!) before heading back to busy city life as I make a brief stop in Hong Kong.
Tianmen Mountain: The Highest hole in the world!
Just when I thought that maybe the rain was behind me…it reared its ugly head. By this point I was becoming far too comfortable with wearing a waterproof poncho, though to your disappoint (and my pleasure) I have no photo evidence!
The day we’d dedicated to exploring Tianmen Mountain was a dreary one but with only a few days to choose from we took our chances. Luckily, we were almost next door to the Tianmen Mountain Cable Car Station. Even though we thought it would be quiet because of the rain, there was still a queue for the cars. On some days the cableway throughput is 1,000 passengers per hour! So if you are planning to go here it’s worthwhile checking to see if it’s a popular time of year and choose your times carefully.
We clambered into the cableway and I have to admit I felt a little nervous to begin with. I think it was more the fact it was a ‘snug’ fit with 4 of us each side of the cart. Once we started to move I felt really safe and instead of thinking about how high we were ascending I was taking in the cliffs and mountain peaks. I felt so calm and this is coming from someone who, as mentioned in my Mongolia blog, is terrified of heights! Even with the raindrops splashing at the cart I was still completely taken in by the beauty that surrounded me.
My eyes were enraptured by the winding, snaking bend that make the famous 99 Bends (as there are 99 sharp curves on the road) that can often be seen in most pictures associated with this mountain. We were going up at 37 degrees and though a fairly seamless ride some of the other guests were extremely nervous. This cable car is the longest in the world and takes around 30 minutes to travel over 7km. The view during this ride is truly splendid.
Once up the mountain there was still more to see! There was a map but to be honest, it wasn’t needed. Once up here you can almost walk in a circle all around the edges of this marvellous mountain summit and cling to its vertical cliffs. There are so many photo opportunities here and I have some awesome eerie shots. Though ideally sunshine would have been prime for seeing the view below, the foggy mist that lingered by the mountains really created a great atmosphere!
I was obviously feeling fearless this day as whilst up there I was feeling safe enough to venture onto one of the glass skywalk. The ‘Coiled Dragon Cliff’. A glass walkway that clings to the curves of the mountains. As the weather was a little dreary the bottom of the cliff couldn’t be seen through the walkway but instead it felt like walking into heaven. We were surrounded by clouds and it was so bright. It was the most surreal and strangest of feelings.
There’s still more to talk about here and to be honest, I could easily talk just about this place in this blog but you have to see it for yourself to appreciate how beautiful and enchanting this place is. Our final stop here was Tianmen Cave, known as Heaven’s Door. It’s a large water eroded hole between two peaks, like a huge doorway. It’s the highest hole of its sort in the world! As we started our descent near this huge doorway we couldn’t truly appreciate it until we made it down the hundreds of stairs infront of it! This had to be the most terrifying moment of the day. Yes, just walking down stairs terrified me. Do not underestimate them though, there were so many and it felt so steep plus it was raining and had been raining all day so they were a little slippy. I am a wimp with stairs and for good reason as I am awfully clumsy, so with a rail that kept alternating between sides I found myself crabbing between the left and right of the stair case just to ensure I had a good grip!
When it comes to leaving here you have the choice of getting another cable car back down or a bus. I decided to try the bus down as id seen the cableway already but I have to admit that I do not remember much of the drive as not long into the journey it was soon dark and I did catch a little shut eye!
With only a few days in Zhangjiajie just the very next day after visiting Tianmen mountain, we headed to the National Park in Hunan. It took about 1 hour and 30 minutes to get to here. It was one of the first authorised National Forest Parks in China and covers an impressive 480 thousand square meters. It has a completely different feel to Tianmen Mountain but is equally an incredible place to visit.
Whereas Tianmen felt very much like you were surrounded by rock, here it is a harmonious balance of peaks, brooks, fauna and flora. Though in both you definitely feel like you literally are breathing fresh air. It’s even said that the dust particles in the park are 88% lower and the air 10% mistier than outside. So if you, or someone you know has high blood pressure why not try a visit to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park as it’s said that it can lower your blood pressure.
If that doesn’t get you interested, then how about seeing an array of wild animals from birds, to insects, to monkeys strolling around! There was so much to see here I found it hard to keep a focus as I wanted to find everything! We were lucky enough (or unlucky if you’re not a fan of monkeys!) to come across some monkeys while on our walk and I was a tad worried that they might want my back pack and lunch though luckily they were more interested in what the bins had to offer.
As we made our way deeper and deeper into the Park we followed the Golden Whip Stream. There is something so satisfying and comforting about being able to stand still, close your eyes and hear the sound of running water and the song of birds.
What sounds make you feel contentment?
Continuing on our theme of getting back in touch with nature we headed to the more laid back area of Kunming, which took an hour and a half to fly to. Again, we had our sights set on one place in particular. Shilin! Known for its ‘The Stone Forest’, which was only a short 1 hour and 30 mins drive from Kunming. Now before I mention how amazing the Stone Forest was, I do need to comment on how good the vibes are in Kunming. It was well kept, there was great food and things were very reasonably priced. I loved it here and most definitely would go back!
Back to the main reason for this stop – The Stone Forest. When I think back to this place my first thought is – GREEN! It is beyond green here. The grass is some of the greenest I have ever seen and I really felt like this is what it could be like to live in the time of dinosaurs, it just has this real prehistoric feel but with such a strong element of beauty. It’s no wonder many a beautiful legend originated from this place. The native people, known as Sani have passed on a story which I love, legend has it that this is the birthplace of Ashmia, a beautiful girl, who fell in love but was forbidden to marry her chosen suitor and turned into stone in the forest that still bears her name.
The main attraction, and what initially led us on our travels here, were the limestone groups that are known to locals as ‘The First Wonder of the World’ – even its name sounds magical!! It’s said that this area was once a vast expanse of sea and over time the water retreated which gave rise to these limestone landscapes. Not only can you admire these giant stone pillars that look like they’ve just pierced through the ground but you can go trekking in them, surrounded by a stone forest of stone stairways. The view is fantastic and even better if you have access to a drone so you can appreciate the sheer area it covers.
In my last blog I promised to tell you about a destination that could make your next holiday destination list and here it is, Hainan. Now, for any of the IQBar staff that read this, this place might sound familiar as it’s mentioned in one of our taster sessions! After the intensity that comes with trekking around amazing places and travelling hours upon hours this was a welcomed break and time to repair the damage done to my little feet!
Hainan is the smallest and southernmost province of China. I found it really interesting that Hainan was originally attached to the Northern part of Vietnam however the island formed after it broke away from Vietnam as a result of a volcano eruption millions of years ago.
The time we spent here was one to put our feet up, catch some sunshine and knuckle down on work but there is a lot to see and do.
The hotel was amazing! It has to be one of the most unusual shaped hotels I’ve stayed in. It has mesmerising views of the sea and as a result it is a popular honeymoon spot for many newlyweds. Don’t let that put you off, it doesn’t come with the expensive price tag and for a small price you can get a luxurious room with breakfast included without breaking the bank but whilst being made to feel like a popstar! Are you convinced?
We took a flight that took around 1 hour and 30 mins to get from the peaceful retreat that is Hainan to head to Hong Kong and I was unsure what to expect! I’d got used to being in a place that is much more laid back and had some worries that Hong Kong may be busier than I could imagine.
I mentioned in my last blog I had some problems with this visit and it was only once we had landed in Hong Kong that this became apparent. So to visit China we needed to obtain a visa as we are British nationals. We had used this during our time in China and to visit Hainan however when we arrived in Hong Kong airport we came across a problem. The apartment we had booked was under the ‘Hong Kong’ section but was actually in Guangdong, in the Shenzhen province of CHINA. Though Hong Kong and China are one country they operate under two systems which means Hong Kong has a high degree of autonomy and for me…it meant that I could not re-enter as I would be leaving Hong Kong and going BACK to China..uhoh. We ended up having to cancel our accommodation and frantically trying to book a new one – thank god for airport Wifi….though I could only use it in certain spots! Then we had to re-book …sounds easy, huh? Well, the prices had rocketed, I mean Hong Kong is ridiculously expensive. All we could find within our budget was a less than reputable looking room.
Check accommodation carefully! This may sound obvious but this was booked through a reputable booking company and said in the description in Hong Kong! Hong Kong is separate so take this into consideration when applying for visas.
Many of the rooms available here are PRICEY! The price tag doesn’t come with the luxuries we would normally expect either, our room was one of the most expensive rooms we had stayed in and it felt a little like living in a shoe box. A shoe box with stains. A shoe box with stains and no windows. Windows are a luxury here and you’ll pay more to have them.
Thankfully as we only had 2 and a half days here we made the most of being outside. This is a busy city and there is a lot to see and to eat! We got around mostly by foot but there are lots of public transport options here if you’re not a fan of walking. I do think getting around on foot here is the best way to take it all in. You’ll go from one street that has an array of flower shops to the next that will be full of goldfish shops. It was by walking and wondering that we came across the bird market known as Yuen Po Bird Garden. You can see lots of birds for sale here as well as locals that bring their birds for a social gathering.
We were lucky enough to know some of the locals here and very kindly they gave us a tour and took us to some of the top spots. One evening they took us to the top viewpoint to see Hong Kong city at night. To find this place you need to head to the harbour and look for the mall, if you go into the mall’s carpark and head to the top you will get the most spectacular view over the harbour and of the city. It’s a must see, particularly at night!
Head to the harbour to get a fab snap of Hong Kong city at night!
What’s up next?
In my next blog I’ll be sharing my next stops in South Korea and Japan! I have some more amazing spots to share so look out for my next blog which will be up next Sunday!
As always, you can contact me regarding anything you have read in my blog(s) or if you have any questions about teaching online or teaching and travelling - firstname.lastname@example.org.