March 2019. We traveled five weeks in China!

Izabela and I, having lived more than 2 years in this country during the studies, have had the desire to come back after many years spent in South America, Peru. We were missing Asia…

So why China again?

We’ve settled a travel and trekking agency in South America for almost 4 years. And as it is working pretty well now, we feel that we need some change! We would love to expand our activity and share our knowledge about China that we know so well. We’ve learnt some strong basics of Chinese and traveled in more than 15 provinces, so the idea of taking people there in the future came naturally.

This time, we chose to go to some of our favorite places where the nature is absolutely stunning and where it’s also culturally interesting.

So this article is the first one out of two, with a collection of my favorite images taken during the first two weeks of this adventure! It is also a way for us to show you the kind of places you may visit with us if you plan to come to this amazing country!

 

BEIJING

The first thing I love to do when I arrive in Beijing, it’s to go to Jingshan Hill for sunrise. The way to the hill offers incredible views on the Forbidden City, and the 360° panorama from the top is amazing! This hill is an artificial one. It has been constructed by human from the soil excavated from digging the moat around the imperial palace. This is why there is a beautiful river around the 3/4 of the Forbidden City. And it’s just perfect for some sunrise photography!

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The Jingshan Park opens at 6am everyday and lots of Chinese also enjoy coming here early in the morning, either to photograph the sunrise on the Forbidden City, like me, or to practice any kind of activity with friends like Tai Chi…

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On the way up, you can already have a glimpse of what expects you at the top…

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Then the surprise is big! What a panorama! You can see at the same time the “old” Beijing with the Forbidden City in Front of you, and the new modern part of the city with its skyscrapers all around!

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Here is the sun rising behind the tallest skyscrapers of Beijing…

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Once you’ve seen all around and spent enough time in the park, it is nice to continue with the visit of the Forbidden City itself. But as I’ve lived about 5 months in this city, I had no reason to visit it again (I think I’ve seen it three times…).

So Iza and I preferred to continue walking by the river and around the Imperial Palace. The sun was a little bit higher in the sky and the views were still amazing!

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It was also nice to photograph random scenes that we don’t usually see in our streets in Europe…

Chinese reading newspaper

I also particularly loved to see people riding electric scooters. I had fun playing with my shutter speed to try to capture motion…

After walking half an hour, we arrived at Tian’an Men Square which was exceptionally closed, I don’t know why. But we were allowed to go to the front of the Forbidden City. And the light was still great for photography.

What surprised me the most was the amount of people, even really early in the morning. To enter this place, everyone must wait for his turn and pass by the security check… I had first come to China in 2012 and now, in 2019, controls are much more frequent than it used to be! Police is more everywhere than before. And there are more propaganda video clips on TV or on any kind of screen… All that because of this man and the police state that he’s created and left behind!

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Anyway. Beijing is big and I could show you much more! But I think it’s nice if you don’t see to much in case you plan to come and visit this capital. It is full of history, temples, Hutongs (ancient streets), lakes, excellent restaurant and authentic people. I will finish this first part about Beijing with two photos that I like:

One portrait of a common Chinese who seems to come from a fairy tale.

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And a last one from the Forbidden City again that we had the chance to see in the morning, when the sun was higher in the sky, and during the blue hour…

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After our stay in Beijing, we made the decision at the last minute to go and visit a friend in Inner Mongolia. Iza and I worked as English teachers in a very remote city in China, far from everything, in 2016. Our “boss”, who is also our friend, called us and said that we could not be in China without visiting her and the students. So we had no choice! But we were happy to meet them again!
I did not take a lot of photos and I actually just want to show you one because I think it best represents a certain China that you will probably never see. When people hear about Inner Mongolia, they naturally think about grasslands, horses or maybe desert like the Gobi desert… But no one first thinks about ugly Chinese cities, entirely dedicated to coal mining! This is indeed where we’ve taught English few year ago, in a 100,000 inhabitants city, in the middle of nowhere… And this is the view we had everyday from our window!

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This is no place for human to live in my opinion. Winter is so rude, so cold and so long! This city has honestly nothing, absolutely nothing appealing! I personally hate industrial cities, visually speaking, and it reminds me of an other era that I haven’t known, but seen so many times in movies. Every time I come here, I feel as if I was traveling to the Soviet Union times…
However, people here are quite happy and live their everyday routine. They love going to the restaurant or KTVs…

Iza made a VLOG on her youtube channel that I encourage you to watch if you want to know more! It is about this place and more precisely about the culture in this part of the world. Here is the link to the video and it’s only 12 minutes : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgmadAAPsCI&t=14s

After three days spent there, it was time to move and keep traveling. And where did we go next?

 

XI’AN

What an interesting city, trust me! Many travelers go there because of the famous Terracotta Army that we already visited years ago!

So this time, we decided to spend more time wandering in the streets and enjoying the cultural change with Inner Mongolia and Beijing, since lots of people here are muslims!

Xi’an is indeed famous for its muslim district, full of life! This is where we naturally booked our hotel. So I loved photographing what was just happening before my eyes. It was a good opportunity to practice some street photography and portraits!

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It is commonly known that there are big communities of muslim people in Western China, especially in Xinjiang province… But not only. Their culture is quite different from the Han’s, who represent the main ethnic group in China. The way they dress and their food are the most relevant aspects of their culture, without obviously talking about the religion and the mosques…
So photographically, I’ve been compelled to shoot people like this man above. He’s a dumpling cook in the street. Moreover, every morning, the light was really awesome and the photographic possibilities were numerous!
But as I said previously, this district is full of life and there is motion everywhere. So I particularly enjoyed shooting with different shutter speed to express that!

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There is also a great Mosque in this district where people normally go to pray five times a day. But what grabbed my attention was an old Chinese, sort of guardian of the temple, who was seated at the entrance every day. He seemed to be bored and had this kind of empty look, as if the days were too long for him…

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Back in the streets, the food stands and restaurants were also interesting to photograph!

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So if you plan to come to China, Xi’an should be on your list! The cultural change is worth the trip!
What’s more… Xi’an is not only worth the visit for this, but also for it’s architectural sites and temples. See below why 😉

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There are many temples and bell towers in Xi’an but this one is definitely the most impressive one! Look how beautiful it is by night ! It is placed in the middle of a roundabout, so the idea to shoot a long exposure came naturally! However, it took me at least 15 exposures to get the right shot with beautiful lines that do not hide the tower…

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Here is another one, shot at sunset, at the entrance of the muslim district…

Well, I think I showed you enough about this city. Our stay in the muslim district had to come to an end. And guess what’s nice about this city and around… There is one of the fifth most sacred Taoist Mountain in China : Hua Shan! So we had to go!

 

HUASHAN SACRED MOUNTAIN

I had actually been there already few years ago with a friend of mine, but Izabela had never seen this mountain. It is a tough hike to the top and some stairs are really steep and dangerous! This is what attracted us honestly! So we took a speed train to a city close to the mountain and started hiking with the will to sleep somewhere on the way up.

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As I said previously, some stairs are really steep and you better grab the chains if you don’t want to fall. These stairs have been dug directly out of the mountain so they embrace the shape of it. That’s why sometimes they can be that steep! It allows you to gain height rapidly as you climb but this can be dangerous especially during the cold seasons. Last time, I climbed it in February I think, and most of the mountain was completely frozen! For the ones who wish to climb it without any risk, there is a cable car that takes you to the top of the North peak…

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The idea of this climb was first to get some adrenaline, and second, to wake up early in the morning to see if we could have a nice sunrise from the top of the East peak, the highest one, that you can see behind my lovely Izabela 🙂

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But one of the first thing we had to do once arrived at the North peak was to find somewhere to sleep. Accommodations up there can be extremely expensive, like 200USD the night for instance… So we searched for the cheapest bed possible. We found one in a dormitory for 100 yuan (around 15USD) which was correct but really basic! There, we met a very nice 60 year old nun who was practicing Tai Chi everyday and other martial arts. She looked in an excellent shape! She was still able to grab her foot and put it behind her neck while standing up on the other foot! We had a small conversation during sunset and then she left us to meditate…

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It was time for us to sleep after a simple dinner. The night was cold and we woke up around 5am… Climbed 1 hour and a half to reach the top, full of Chinese tourists! Found a more quiet place and enjoyed a beautiful sunrise as we planned!

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This morning atmosphere was mystical… I love this weather! A bit later, when the sun was higher in the sky, a beautiful light appeared…

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A bit later again, after a little hike, the sky was still looking pretty nice!

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Finally, we enjoyed some classical views on Chinese temples surrounded by this amazing scenery! We felt as if we were living in a fairy tale or in the ancient times of Chinese mythology… After that, it was time to go down, and keep going further!

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Alright. This is the end of this first article. I hope you enjoyed it! Let me know in the comments below what you think about the photographs and the stories behind… And stay tuned for the next one to come. It will be 10 times better than this one since the places we visited in Southern China were just STUNNING!

Bye for now 😉