How to Make a Day Trip to Maijishan Grottoes from Xian

September 22nd, 2014
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If  you are in the process of planning your Xian tour, you may consider making a day trip to Maijishan Grottoes, oft-lauded as one of the four most famous ancient Buddhist grottoes in China. The other three grottoes are Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Yungang Caves in Datong and Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang.

The Maijishan Grottoes Scenic Area is located 30 km south of Maiji District (麦积区) of Tianshui City (天水市). As an individual traveler, the best option for you to go to Maijishan Grottoes from Xian is taking a 3-hour train from Xian Railway Station. When you arrive at Tianshui Railway Station, you will see a signboard pointing to Bus 34, a shuttle bus going from Tianshui Railway Station to the parking lot attached to Maijishan Grottoes. The Bus 34 is on the right side of the square in front of Tianshui Railway Station if you exit from the railway building (about 50 meters away on your right direction).  Bus 34 Bus fare RMB 5, a 50-minutes bus ride.

There are several daily passing-by trains going from Xian to Tianshui. You can easily purchase  your  Xian  to Tianshui two way train tickets from  any of the ticketing offices dotted around Xian, or you may go to Xian Railway Station or Xian North Railway Station to book your train tickets. If you are going to Visit Maijishan Grottoes on weekend or China public holidays, you’ d better book your train tickets in advance.

Your whole return day trip from Xian to Maijishan Grottoes and back to Xian takes about 10 hours – 6 hour return train ride between Xian and Tianshui, plus 2 hours return bus ride between Tianshui Railway Station and Maijishan Grottoes and 2 hour sightseeing at Maijishan. So you’d better off booking your train ticket from Xian to Tianshui with departure time between 5:30 am and 8:00 am and return ticket from Tianshui to Xian between 3:30 pm and 5:00 pm.

Currently all the trains stopping at Tianshui are passing-by trains on their way from Beijing to the western cities like Lanzhou, Xining and so on. Only two kinds  of train tickets are availabe for the 3-hour train ride – hard seat and hard sleeper and no soft sleeper. It is preferable to reserve a hard sleeper to give you quiet space for a long and tiring day trip. Bring some snacks with you since there are hardly any western food restarurants in Tianjinshui except McDonalds and Kentucky.

Maijishan, or Maiji Mountain is 142 meters high with an altitude of 1742 meters .  The hill is large in the middle part and a bit narrow at the bottom and the flat top, resemling a wheat stack, hence the name of Maiji – a wheat stack in Chinese. One of the glamous Buddhist grottoes areas along the ancient silk road, Maijishan Grottoes were originally built in late Qin ( 384AD and 417AD ) of sixteen states period., developed and expanded through the successive dynasities ranging from North Wei, Zhou, Sui, Tang, Song and Ming dynasties.

The red-looking Maijinshan is a Danxia landform, relatively easier for grottoes carving. Currently there are 221 remaining grottoes, over 7000 statues and 10000 square meters of murals. Carved between 30meters and 80 meters in the side cliffs of Maijinshan, visitors now need to climb up the cat-walks and spiral stairways to see these caves.

The caves are hewn from the rocks on the side cliffs, but the statues inside these caves are not carved from the same rocks. Instead the statues are mainly composed of 3 kinds – stone as core covered with clay, clay statues, clay carving mixed with other materials ( wood ). What disdiguish the grottoes in Maijishan from other same their those in Datong, Mogao and Yungan is  that most of the aBuddhist statues are clay carvings. The clay statues still keep a large mount of pigment.  The clay statues in Maijishan are vivid, personalised with more secular life decriptions. It is worth your 10-hours round trip from Xian.

Well, follow me to have a glimpse of Maijishan Grottoes from Xian.

Arriving at 9:00am at Tianshui Railway Station which is located at Maiji District, one of the two districts in Tianshui.  Walk out from the Exit, raise your head,  you will see a large sign hanging on a cement pole in the middle of the  square in front of the railway building. The sign points to the starting place for the Bus 34,  50 meters on the right side of the square.

The Signboard pointing to the location of the Bus 34 Terminal

The Signboard pointing to the location of the Bus 34 Terminal

The first bus leaves at 6:00 and last bus at 9:00pm. Get ready for RMB 5 to be put inside the slot for the 50-minute bus ride from the station to the parking lot of Maijinshan Grottoes. The bus leaves every 13 minutes. Line up at the front door to get a seat on the bus and get off the bus at the middle door at your destination.

The Yellow Colored Bus 34 going to Maijishan

The Yellow Colored Bus 34 going to Maijishan

It is a scenic bus ride from the train station to Maijinshan Grottoes – fresh air, green mountions and typical Chinese villagers.

A scenic bus ride from the train station to Maijishan Grottos

A scenic bus ride from the train station to Maijishan Grottos

Getting off from your bus and walk to the ticketing office by the entrance – Chinese traditinal decorated gate. Entrance fee: RMB 70 and RMB 15 for a return electric car which brings you up to the base of Maijishan and back. It is worth taking the golf cart for the fast and comfortabke ride otherwise you need to walk another 3km to get to the base of Maijinshan.

The electric car service saves your time for a 3 km walk.

The electric car service saves your time for a 3 km walk.

The decorated entrance gate to Maijishan Grottoes

The Decorated Chinese traditional entrance gate to Maijinshan

The Decorated Chinese traditional entrance gate to Maijinshan

Get off from the electric cart,  you still need to walk up about 500 meters to the bottom of Maijinshan Mountain, passing by along a long string of food  and souvenir stalls. Before starting your climb up to Maijin Hill, you’d better locate a good spot to take a panoramic picture of Maijishan Mountain with grottoes.

The east side cliff of Maiji Hill

The grottoes on the east side of the cliff

The grottoes on the east side of the cliff

The west side cliff of Maiji Mountain

The grottoes on the west side cliff

The grottoes on the west side cliff

Just follow a single trail up to the hill along the zigzag stairways taking you to different caves with good English captions introducing each major cave. Some caves are closed for protections and you have to see through the wire fence windows. The visit on the mountain caves takes about 2 hours.

Climb up the catwalks with guardrails

Spiral Catwalks

Spiral Catwalks

The zigzag stairway leading to the caves caved on the cliffs.Walking up toward to the Grotto No. 013. Built in Sui Dynasty ( 518AD-618AD), and later rebuilt in Song Dynasty. The grotto contains a huge high-relief stone frame clay sculptures of the Buddha in the middle and flanked by two Bodihisattva, 15.70  meters high, the largest  statues in the Maiji Mountain.

Walking up along the zigzag catwalk.

Walking up along the zigzag catwalk.

Have a close look at the trinity of Buddha and two Bodihisatva.

A close look at the giant statues

A close look at the giant statues

This is the Grotto No. 009, known as Middle Seven Buhhda Pavilion.  A large pavilion is perched in front of the seven niches housing the seven buddhist statues. The grotto was built in the Northern Zhou Dynasty (557 – 581) and rebuilt in Song, Ming and Qin dynasties.

The Seven Buddha Pavilion

The Seven Buddha Pavilion

Zoom in one of the seven niches with a clear picture of the clay statue with vivid facial expressions.

Look at one of the seven niches

Look at one of the seven niches

Continue to move on to Grotto No.003. Also originally built in the Northen Zhou Dynasty. It is a long corridor pavilion, 36.5 meters, a representitive art of early wood structures. The upper and lower rows of Buhhda, hence the name of One Thousand Buddha Corridor.

The One Thousand Buddha Corridor

The One Thousand Buddha Corridor

The statues at the long corridor are seen through the mesh grills.

The statues are seen through the mesh grills.

The statues are seen through the mesh grills.

Continue to walk up to the Grotto No.004, also built in the Northern Zhou Dynasty ( 518AD – 618AD). It is known as Upper Seven Buddha Pavilion.

The Seven Buhhda Pavilion

The Seven Buhhda Pavilion

Have a close look at the statues inside the Upper Seven Buddha Pavilion.

Look at the statues inside the Upper Seven Buddha Pavilion

Look at the statues inside the Upper Seven Buddha Pavilion

Narrow catwalks support numerous visitors. High on the catwak with a panoramic view of the surrouding lush mountains.

Standing on the spiral

Standing on the spiral catwalks

Some caves are closed for repair.

Some caves are closed

Some caves are closed

After the 2-hour visit of the Maijin Mountain, walk down to the parking lot for the bus returning to Tianshui railway Station for a 3-hour train back to Xian.

If you hav any questions, just drop a line.

Top Places to Visit in China during Winter

September 7th, 2014
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Plan your China tour in winter? China has a continental and seasonal climate. Southern areas are in the tropical or subtropical zone while northern areas are in the frigid zone. Climates in different areas are complicated. Every season here has its charms and pitfalls!

Generally, the coldest months in China are December, January and February for the winter season. Winter can be incredibly cold especially in the north, but  the southern China in winter is not that cold.

Basically there are three types of winter travelers coming to China. First, those who are in “hot” areas welcome the cold and snowing days; second, “snowbirds” or visitors who like warmer areas when winter comes;  Third, “migrant birds” or travelers who pass by China on theirs way to even warmer or colder areas.

Two factors make winter travel in China still attractive. First, lower rates for international and domestic  flights,  hotel rooms, entrance fees, but apart some exceptions such as traveling China at some special occasions like Chinese spring festival and some  destinations like Sanya in a warmer region in winter.

The second factor is that  people have long weekends and a number of holidays during the months of December, January, and February, Christmas and New Year’s and so on.

We are going to list some top places to visit in China in winter in three categories –  places for travelers from hot areas; places for snowbirds and places for migrant birds.

Harbin Ice and Snow World

Harbin Ice and Snow World

1. China’s Top Winter Destinations  for Travelers from “Hot Areas”
People from some ” hot areas” such as Southeast Asian countries like Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Australia and the list could be much longer, prefer to visit some cold areas in China, in a hope to feel the cold and touch the snow.  Below is a list of the top destinations and activities for travelers from the hot areas.

1) Harbin and its Ice and Snow Activities
As the coldest city in the most northern China, Harbin’s coldest months fall on late December through early March. Late November through the whole January is the snowing season and January is the coldest month with the average temperature at -25 ℃.  Harbin’s winter is dry, cold and long coupled with a longer period of snow covering.

Winter is the best season to visit Harbin with the main draws seeing and touching the snow, and January and February are ice and snow festivals in Harbin.  More reasons to visit Harbin, skiing, exploring the Northern China Tigers,  getting close to penguins, local cuisine tasting and more.  Check out Top Things to Do in Harbin in Winter.

2) Xuexiang ( Snow Town )
Xuexiang ( Snow Village) is located 197km east of Mudanjang City.  Actually Xuexiang ( Snow Village ) is not an official name and its formal name is Shuangfeng Forest Farm (双峰林场) in Changting Township (长汀镇) at Hailin City (海林市), Heilongjian Province. The forest farm is  under the administration of Dahailin Forestry Bureau (大海林林业局).

Xuexiang ( Snow Village ) boasts the longest 7-month period of snowing in China. The snow in Xuexiang is very sticky, one of the best snows in China, nicknamed “China Snow Village”.  Xuexiang ( Snow Village ) is the training base for the National Skiing Team and August First Army Team as well. Many excellent skiers of national and world level come from this train base.

Beside skiing at Xuexiang Ski Resort,  Xuexiang Village also offers a wide range of snow activities such as alpine sleigh rides, horse driven sledges,  snow carved city, snow maize, snow bar, snow photography and so on. If you are lucky,  you can happen to watch the skiing performances by the August First Army Skiing Team

3)  Yabuli Ski Resort
Yabuli Ski Resort is the official name given to the biggest ski resort in China (Chinese: My Trip to Yabuli Ski Resort) lying about 230km to the south-east of Harbin city and 130km to the west of Mudanjiang city.

Actually Yabuli Ski Resort is composed of three major ski resorts big or small with over 10 hotels ranging from basic guesthouse to luxury hotels. The three most well known ski grounds in Yabuli Ski Resort – Sun Mountain Ski Resort (Melco Ski Resort), Yabuli Ski Resort (same name as the official one for the whole area) and Avaunce (Yabuli) Ski Resort. Each ski resort has its own accommodation choices.  Check out Yabuli Ski Resort for more information.

4) Wanlong Ski Resort
Wanlong Ski Resort is located at Honghualiang, 12km east of Chongli County in Zhangjiakou City, about 260km northwest of Beijing. Normally you have two options of going from Bejing to Wanlong Ski Resort – either by driving along Jingzhang Expressway and directly getting to Wanlong or first taking a fast train from Beijing to Zhangjiakou, then connecting a local van or bus from Zhangjiakou to Wanlong Ski Resort.

The Beijing – Wanlong Resort drive takes about 3 hours if there is no traffic jam, no foggy day or no roads blocked due to heavy snow. Taking a fast train from Beijing to Zhangjiakou is a good standby if Jingzhang Expressway is difficult to drive due to the traffic congestion provided that you should prearrange your transport from Zhangjiakou to Wanlong Ski Rrsort. Check out Wanlong Ski Resort for more information.

5) Travel Beijing in Winter
Beijing winter lasts four months from Nov 15 to next year’s March 15. In Beijing, central heating system is provided to warm the people’s house and working place usually starting Nov.15 till March 15 next year. Averages temperatures (Celsius) in Beijing range between -5 and 5 degrees celsius according to the annual Beijing Climate.

Despite the short days and dreary weather, Beijingers have plenty of reasons to go outdoors this time of year. For ice-skating, you don’t have to go very far. Beijing has many parks, most of which have huge expanses of lake surface on which to skate. You are advised to skate on the lakes endorsed by the authorities.

These official ice rinks include Sichaihai lakes, Zhongshan Park, Zizhuyuan Park and No Name Lake at Peking University etc. Most of them will charge a fee for entry onto the ice. They are only opened when the weather to be cold enough and the ice thick enough, usually between late December and February.  Check out How to Visit Beijing in Winter for more information.

2. China’s Top Winter Destinations  for Travelers from “Cold Areas”
Snowbirds, or travelers from “cold areas”  like European countries, when planning their China’s winter tour, they would like to visit some hot areas to bask in sunshine.  We list some warmer places in China in winter for you to plan your winter trip to China.

Beaches in Sanya

Beaches in Sanya

1) Sanya
Sanya is a city in southern Hainan province of China. Covering an area of 1920 square kilometers with 209 kilometers long coastline, Sanya has many natural advantages.

Sanya has bright sunshine, blue water and wide beaches. It attracts many international travelers as can be seen by the many Russian and English signs throughout the city. In recent years Sanya has become a common tourist destination from Hong Kong and other parts of the world. Check out  Top 10 Things to Do in Sanya for more information.

2) Xiamen
Xiamen is a coastal city in Fujian Province of southeastern China. Xiamen and the surrounding countryside are famous for being an ancestral home to overseas Chinese. It became one of China’s earliest Special Economic Zones in the 1980s. Xiamen was recently voted China’s cleanest city, and has many attractions for the tourist.

Xiamen and its surrounding countryside provides spectacular scenery and pleasant tree-lined beaches. The most attractive place should be the Gulangyu Island. Check out Top 10 Attractions in Xiamen.

3) Lijiang
Lijiang is located in the northwestern portion of Yunnan and borders Sichuan. It is in a region where the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau converge.

Lijiang is considered as a place blessed with fresh air, clear streams, breathtaking snow mountains, and an undisturbed landscape inhabited by a friendly group of people. The picturesque Lijiang is abundant in tourist resources through its graceful landscapes, unique ethnic group flavors as well as ancient national cultures.  Check out Top 10 Attractions in Lijiang.

4) Kuming
Kunming is situated in central Yunnan, north of the Dianchi Basin,  the political, economic, communications and cultural centre of Yunnan. The city is nicknamed “City of Spring” due to the fact that it is covers all the year round with the rich verdure of trees and plants.

Kunming serves as the destination for its snowballing tourism with so many places of interest spreading all around the city. Kunming is well known for its beautiful and peculiar, breathtaking and unique natural landscape.  Check out Top 10 Attractions in Kunming.

5) Hong Kong
Once described as a “barren rock” over 150 years ago, Hong Kong has become a world-class financial, trading and business centre and, indeed, a great world city. Hong Kong became Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China on July 1, 1997.    Check out Top 10 Attractions in Hong Kong for more information.

3. China’s Top Winter Destinations for “Migrant Birds” from either the Cold or Hot Areas”
In winter, travelers from Europe in particular, would like to fly to southeast Asian countries to escape the cold weather in their home countries and bask in sunshine.

On their long-haul flights, many of the European travelers would choose to layover one or two days in China for a brief trip to Beijing, or Shanghai or other 6 cities in China which offer 72-hour visa-free stay to those transit passengers from 51 designated countries.  Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu are among the top layover cities in China.  Check out China Visa Free Transit Tour for more information.

Snowing on the Great Wall of China around Beijing

Snowing on the Great Wall of China around Beijing

1) Beijing Layover
Are you going to have a long layover in Beijing? How do you plan to kill your layover time? Just sit in those uncomfortable chairs filling out crossword puzzles or browsing your iphone and spend it holed up at the airport? Why not hop off the plane and take a quick tour of one or two “must see”sights in Beijing – the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square…? In fact, a layover can be a memorable part of your trip and fun!

If you have a longer layover of 8 – 14 hours, then the Great Wall of China awaits you and you can also select our Beijing layover tours bringing you to other Beijing highlights such as Forbidden City, Tiannamen Square and Olympic sites, etc. Next time you’re stuck in Beijing airport and want to escape the humdrum, book a Beijing layover tour with Tour Beijing! We are eager to meet you at the airport & whisk you away for a quick Beijing tour and get you back in time for your next flight.   Check out Beijing Layover for more information.

2) Shanghai Layover
Shanghai offers Visa-free transit travel for transit tourists from 51 countries to spend up to 72 hours in Shanghai without a visa. This waiving visas policy permits visa free entry for transit travelers with visas and plane tickets to a third country to transit through Shanghai for a visa-free stay of up to 72 hours.

Transit passengers can enter Shanghai through Pudong or Hongqiao airports. The new policy does not apply to travelers arriving by ship or train. Check out Visa-Free Transit Travel to Shanghai for more information.

3) Guangzhou Layover
Guangdong Province (Guangzhou) offers 72 hours free-visa transit stay to those transit passengers from 51 countries including the US, Canada and all members of the EU who will transit in Guangdong with air-tickets for a third country.

Guangzhou has become the third city in China after Beijing and Shanghai. This free-visa transit policy i aimed at boosting local tourism and exhibition industry for transit tourists and business travelers.   Check out Free Visa Transit Travel to Guangdong Province (Guangzhou) for more information.

4) Chengdu Layover
Chengdu 72-hour visa-free transit policy starts from September 1st, 2013, and foreigners who don’t have China visas could stay within Chengdu administrative areas for 72 hours.

Chengdu has become the 4th city in China  After BeijingShanghai and Guangzhou to offer 72 hours free-visa transit stay to those transit passengers from 51 countries who will enter and leave China via Chengdu Shuangliu Airport with air-tickets for a third country. This free-visa transit policy will boost local tourism and exhibition industry for transit tourists and business travelers.
Check out Free Visa Transit Travel to Chengdu for more information.

Any questions, just drop a line.

How to dress for visiting Great Wall in winter

August 30th, 2014
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Planning your Great Wall Tour  in winter? You may have been told that winter is not the right season for visiting Great Wall, but for whatever the reasons, you happen to hike the Great Wall of China during the cold season, so you are now a bit on the fence about visiting the Great Wall.

Well, everything has its two sides. The so-called best seasons often see the Great Wall mobbed by the numerous tourist group and you may waste much of your valuable time on the way from your hotel to the Wall (traffic jam). On the Wall, you have to take group photos since there are a great number of people on the Wall.

Walking from Jiankou Great Wall to Mutianyu Great Wall on Nov. 26.

Jiankou to Mutuanyu

Jiankou to Mutianyu Winter Hike

Great Wall winter hike has its advantages – the tourist crowds are gone so you can walk along the Great Wall hassle free. The prices are lower for Great Wall transportation and admission. Of course, hiking the Great Wall is a bit daunting if you are unlucky to visit the Wall on a cold and blusterous day. If well dressed for the winter Wall hikes, visiting the Great Wall in winter is still not a bad idea. We’re going to share with you some ideas on how to dress for Great Wall winter hikes. Dressing for the season and having the right clothing items for colder temperature on the Wall.

1. Check historical climate data and weather forecast
Before leaving for Beijing,  you’d better check Beijing’s historical climate data ( day by day temperature ) to get a general assessment of the weather condition on your actual hiking date. Beijing’s winter normally starts from mid-November through mid-March. Check out the following Beijing’s historical climate data on the winter months in Beijing:

How to Visit Beijing in November                       How to Visit Beijing in December
How to Visit Beijing in January                            How to Visit Beijing in February
How to Visit Beijing in March

In winter Beijing has short days, dark 5 pm. The ticket selling for major attractions is closed after 4.30pm. The sights stay open all year round. When you arrive, don’t forget to check the current weather broadcast in Beijing and choose your better day for visiting Great Wall in the cold month. You may also check out the following realtime weather photos to get a general idea of how the current weather looks like and how local people are dressed:

Beijing November Realtime Weather Photos   Beijing December Realtime Weather Photos
Beijing January Realtime Weather Photos        Beijing February Realtime Weather Photos
Beijing March Realtime Weather Photos

2. Dressing in Layers
A heavy coat gives you little opportunity to act or adjust in weather conditions. For the better hiking  and comfort, you need to dress in layers.

Base Layer
The purpose of wearing the first body layer is to make  your skin dry by removing moisture possibly produced by perspiring. Kindly remind you not to wear cotton base layer for it keeps the moisture,  leaving you disagreeably moist, sticky if you are sweating.  You’d better choose the shirts made from light merino wool or synthetic fibers.

Middle Layer
This middle layer is the insulation layer,  important for keeping your body warm.  For the same reason trying to avoid the cotton which dries slowly and select  sweaters, vests and jackets which are made of polyester fleece, warm and quick to dry.

Jacket Outer Layer
You need to have a waterproof or water-resistant outer layover to keep you from snow, rain, and wind. Try to have a warm jacket lightweight with good breathability. A warm jacket with zippers and vents is important for you to regulate your body temperature.

3. Feet Protection
Basically it is unnecessary to wear a pair of heavy hiking boots since most of the time you will walk on the stone steps on the wall. Avoid leather shoes which can freeze.  Looking for the shoes made from a mix of plastic and rubber. Basically sport shoes are ok for Great Wall hiking in winter. If you are going to hike the unrestored wild sections of the Wall, a pair of gaiters can add a measure of protection against the shrubs and bushes on the way.

Your feet also need layering too. It is essential to put on a pair of thin and tight-fitting socks that keep your feet dry and warm. Your outer layer socks should be also made from merino wool or synthetic material. Your outer layer socks should not be too thick otherwise they will reduce the circulation in your shoes.

4. Hands Protection
To keep your hands from become cracked, rough, or sore, you definitely need to have a pair of gloves to reduce  the risk of frostbite and chapping to your hands. Basically people prefer gloves than mittens, not having to expose your hands.

5. Head and Face Protection
It is a common knowledge that we lose our body heat through our heads, so we need to have a warm hat. It is essential to wear a hat with ear flaps, an ushanka, a Russian fur cap with ear flaps that can be tied up to the crown of the cap, keeping your ears from the cold. In addition, ready for a scarf to protect your face.

5. Where to buy the winter clothes?
For those who live in a warm climate, winter clothes are a bit hard to get from their home country. No worry about that. Hats, gloves, winter jackets and the list could be much longer, can be easily bought in Beijing. Going to Silk Market is a good choice to arm yourself for the winter tour in Beijing.

Tips for Visiting Great Wall around Beijing
How to Visit Beijing in Winter
Visiting Great Wall by Train
Go to Badaling Great Wall by Bus
Great Wall Tour
Top 10 Markets in Beijing

Any questions, just drop a line.