Why Was the Jiayuguan Pass So Important?
Jiayuguan Pass used to be the starting point of the ancient Great Wall built during the rule of the Ming Dynasty (1368– 1644). It was the most important military defensive project in north western China because it guarded the narrowest point of the western section of the Hexi Corridor in a narrow corridor of otherwise impassible mountains. This was the vital defensive frontier fortress that had sealed China off from invaders since the Han Dynasty (BC 202—220). After the Jiayuguan Pass was constructed, the army of the Ming Dynasty used it to protect inner China from the invasion of nomadic groups. At the same time, the Jiayuguan Pass also played a key waypoint on the ancient Silk Road. Foreign travelers and traders came from Europe, Middle Asia, and entered into China from this gateway. While the commodities of China were also exported to Central Asia and Europe from this pass. Along with the foreign trade, a cultural exchange of religion, art and custom also flourished. It was this trade of ideas that has not only forever changed the western world but also China itself.
The History of Jiayuguan Pass
During the early period after the Ming Dynasty was established, barbarian armies of the Yuan Empire and Turpan constantly invaded the Hexi Corridor area. The Chinese general Feng Sheng was consequently ordered to construct a defensive pass to protect China from invasion from both the Yuan and Turpan peoples. He chose the Jiayu Mountains as the final staging ground for his defensive strategy because, as time has shown, this pass has been extremely hard to penetrate but comparatively easy to defend. The construction started in the year 1372, and the many troops completed the first stage of the work quickly. The first stage of the Jiayuguan Pass consisted of several ramparts surrounded by some barracks. The subsequent construction took 168 years to complete and finally became the western starting point of the Great Wall of Ming Dynasty.
Even though the walls and towers have been partially damaged by centuries of war and weather, the Jiayuguan Pass is still one of the most intact surviving ancient military buildings in China. Several restorations have been undertaken to protect the original design of its fort, towers and walls. But travelers can still see much of its original construction.
Layout of Jiayuguan Fort
Jiayuguan Pass is an immense military complex which covers more than 33,529 square meters and consists of an inner city, an outer city and an outer moat.
The inner city has the shape of a trapezoid with an imposing wall that is 11 meters high and 640 meters long. It was used as the third barrier in a series of walls and towers against incoming enemies. Two defensive gates, Rou Yuan Men and Guang Hua Men, were built in the western and eastern sides of the city. Towers for guards and commanders were built on the walls as lookouts into the vast desert beyond the city. The central area of the inner city housed the office of the commander and a Guanyu Memorial Temple. There are even bridleways for carrying horses up to to the city wall.
The outer city was the second barrier enemies would encounter. Unlike the inner wall which was built from loess, the outer city was made of exceptionally strong bricks and this section of the wall was connected directly to the long stretches of Great Wall that scattered out from the outer city. A striking plaque was inserted on the wall above the gate.
Moat and Battlefield
A deep moat encircles the Jiayuguan Fort outside the outer city. Just 50 meters in front of this moat is a battlefield where 1000’s of men died in combat defending (or invading) China’s northwestern border.
Things to do at the Jiayuguan Fort
1.) Learn about history in the Great Wall Museum
Before entering the fortress, take a short visit to the Great Wall Museum to learn some interesting facts about both the Jiayuguan Fort and the Great Wall. The museum contains some excellent historic photos and relics of this area.
2.) Camel rides
Just in front of the back gate, you can find many locals offering chances to ride a camel or to just take photos with the camels. Don’t be afraid of the camels, they are very docile. Should you decide to go for a ride, a local camel guide will accompany you.
If you want to take a look at the Jiayuguan Pass from the Gobi desert you can try the exciting four-wheel drive ATV’s. These four wheelers offer a chance to get away from the crowds and see the desert in a purer form.
Nearby Places to Visit
The entrance ticket for Jiayuguan Pass costs 120 RMB/person, and this price also includes the admission fees for visiting the Overhanging Great Wall and the First Mound of the Great Wall. But these 3 locations are not very close to each other. So make sure you leave extra time to get out to these destinations as well.
Overhanging Great Wall (Xuanbi Great Wall)
The Overhanging Great Wall, also known as the Xuanbi Great Wall. It is 8 kilometers away from the Jiayuguan Pass Fort and 14 kilometers from the city. In ancient times, it was a part of the Jiayuguan Pass, and was connected with the fort. More than 460 years later, most sections of the walls have disappeared. The remaining section is 750 meters long, rising up 150 meters and hanging on a cliff face. Unlike the sections of Great Wall near Beijing, these sections were constructed with loess because of the lack of water in this area. Hiking up the Great Wall here takes only about a half an hour.
The First Mound of the Great Wall
The First Mound of the Great Wall is also known as The First Strategic Post of the Great Wall on Tripadvisor.com. Jiayuguan Pass is the western starting point of the Great Wall and the First Mound is considered the westernmost point of the pass. It is a mound of yellow loess which is believed to be the only remaining ruins of a former watchtower of the ancient Great Wall. Most of the other wall sections connected to the tower have disappeared and been covered by blowing desert sand so it is significant that this one last monument still stands as a testimony to this particular section of the Great Wall. To visit the First Mound of Great Wall, you have to transfer 7.5 kilometers from the Jiayuguan Pass Fort.
With a 1.5 hour drive from Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu, this is a very accessible day trip from Lanzhou. You could also do this trip as a larger itinerary that continues onto Labrang monastery or Hezuo and Langmusi as well which are in southern Gansu Province.
The Bingling Caves were a work in progress for more than a millennium. The first grotto was begun around 420 AD at the end of the Western Qin kingdom. Work continued and more grottoes were added during the Wei, Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. The style of each grotto can easily be connected to the typical artwork from its corresponding dynasty. The Bingling Temple is both stylistically and geographically a midpoint between the monumental Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan and the Buddhist Grottoes of central China, such as the Yungang Grottoes near Datong and Longmen Grottoes near Luoyang.
Sadly, over the centuries, earthquakes, erosion, and looters have damaged or destroyed many of the caves and the artistic treasures within. Altogether there are 183 caves, 694 stone statues, and 82 clay sculptures that remain. The relief sculpture and caves filled with buddhas and frescoes line the northern side of the canyon for about 200 meters along the reservoir. Each cave is like a miniature temple filled with Buddhist imagery. These caves culminate at a large natural cavern where wooden walkways precariously wind up the rock face to hidden cliff-side caves as if visiting an ancient civilizaiton. It is here at the top of these steps that you can view the giant Maitreya or Future Buddha that stands more than 27 meters, or almost 100 feet tall.This 100 foot tall Buddha is the main attraction to visit Bingling Temple and is certainly worth the trip from Lazhou. As you loop around past the Maitreya cave, you might consider hiking 2.5km further up the impressive canyon to a small remote Tibetan monastery. If you do this extra hike, be aware than there may also be 4Wheel drive ATV’s There might also be 4WDs running the route.
The sculptures, carvings, and frescoes that remain are outstanding examples of Buddhist artwork and draw visitors from around the world. The site is extremely remote and can only be reached during summer and fall by boat via the Liujiaxia Reservoir. Boats leave from near the Liujiaxia Dam in Liujiaxia City (Yongjing County’s county seat), and sometimes also from other docks on the reservoir. The rest of the year, the site is inaccessible, as there are very few roads in the area because of the rocky landscape.
You can hire a covered speedboat (which seats 9 people in total) for 700 RMB per boat for the one-hour drive across the Liujiaxia Resevoir. Boats do not run unless the boat is full of the required 9 people, so you may have to wait for other guests or you may have to pay the difference to cover the empty seats. In the peak seasons from May to October it should be no problem to find other willing Chinese tourists who will want to share the boat with you. In low season, though, you may have to wait 30 minutes or more for your boat to fill up.
From Liujiaxia you can also hire a private car for around 300 RMB to take you to the other side of the reservoir, although most people opt for the boat since this gives a very nice view of the cliffs from the expansive reservoir. Out of Liújiāxiá, the road ascends the rugged hills of southern Gansu and winds above the reservoir. While the drive is quite scenic, if you are prone to motion sickness this is not the option for you as the drive is about 1.5 hours and twists and turns through terraced fields. The final descent to the turquoise reservoir, with its craggy canyon backdrop, is well worth the trip.
You can also opt to stay overnight in Liújiāxiá if you want the overnight experience. Most people do Bingling Si as a full day trip, but the Dorsett Hotel at the north end of town is a good option with huge rooms overlooking the Yellow River.
Most people hire a private car from Lanzhou, but if you are feeling more adventurous (and have some extra free time) you can take one of the frequent buses from Lanzhou’s west bus station that cost 20 RMB and take 2.5 hours to get to the Liújiāxiá bus station. From there, you will need to take a 10-minute taxi ( to the boat ticket office at the dam (大坝; dàbà). Try to catch the earliest buses possible from Lánzhōu (these start at 7am) to avoid missing the bus on the way back to Lanzhou. The last returning bus to Lánzhōu leaves Liujiaxia at 6.30pm at night.
In 2006, the Chinese Tourist Administration listed Yadan National Park as a class 4A level scenic area and then it also became a base for scientific research, education, and geological study. Many Chinese war movies have been filmed here because of its remote location and unique desert formations. Here the the vast expanses of Gobi Desert meet with stunning red rock scenery in a haunting and breathtaking landscape that feels more like something from Mars than it does something from Earth.
The park takes its name from it’s geological formations with the scientific name “Yardang”. This is a Chinese transliteration of that word and thus the Chinese characters, “Yadan”. Stretching 25km from north to south, the Yadan National Geological Park offers various landforms that take on distinct shapes, many of which mimic animals when viewed at the right angle. Some of these particular shapes include a Stone Bird, a Sphinx, a Golden Lion, and a Peacock. And if you use your imagination, you can even picture some famous structures like the Potala Palace in Tibet, the Heaven Temple in Beijing, and other famous pagodas and temples.
Because of the remoteness of the park, the cell phone signal here is very poor and the government actually requires that tourists join a park bus tour in order to make sure visitors do not get lost in this vast park.
There are four main stops in the park and the public park tour bus will take you to each one. As you stop at these points of interest, make sure you pay attention to the tourists in your group and do not stray too far as you will have fixed time at each stop before your designated tour bus continues on to the next stop.
Here are the four main stops on the public bus tour. The last tour departs form the park entrance at 5:20pm so make sure you get to the park entrance at least by 4:00pm just to give yourself enough time to enjoy the tour.
1.) The Golden Lion
When the tour bus stops at the first place, you might be tempted to think you have just landed on Mars because of the barren red rocks. The most remarkable formation here is the Golden Lion which is a product of Yadan’s long history of erosion. Through the force of water, winds, and geologic collapse, the rocks here have been eroded and then have decayed and fragmented gradually into smaller pieces. Overtime the erosion peeled away the looser and softer portions of rock until the outline of a Lion’s head can be seen in the rock
2.) The Sphinx
The Sphinx is the second attraction you will stop at in the park. Seeing it from a distance, this long, flat formation resembles a crouching lion with a face of a human being. This formation, like the Golden Lion before it, is a long, flat wall that has been carved out by weather and time. The Sphinx is composed of sandy and argillaceous debris and it is this loose rock which has been chipped away over time to give it is peculiar Egyptian-like shape. Ironically, as a geologic structure it is a bit of a transitional form between the first stop at the Golden Lion and the third stop at the taller, column-like Peacock.
3.) The Peacock,
This rounded columnar yardang formation is the third stop on the tour and is probably the most elaborate of all the formations. The shape, as you might guess, looks like a peacock strutting its stuff as it is proudly fanning its tail open to attract a mate.
4.) The Armada
This is the last attraction on the tour. The structure here is comprised of several layers of striated rock that truly looks like a fleet of ships floating in the boundless desert. This is a very impressive structure and really carries a certain regal nature, just like the command of a real fleet of ships.
If you happen to be hiring a car or a van, it is worth a side trip from Yadan National Park to see some of the old watch towers of the western most Great Wall. Here are some of the highlights you might want to stop at on the way back to Dunhuang:
Han Great Wall Relics
The Han Great Wall was built as a defense against the invasion of Xiongnu during the West Han Dynasty. Unlike it’s eastern cousin in Beijing, this section of the Great Wall was built using much different materials than the wide stone sections you may have seen in Mutianyu or Badaling. Due to the harshness of the environment and the lack of building materials available in the desert, the Han Great Wall was made from branches, reeds, sandy gravel and other local materials instead of masonry. There was a beacon tower exactly every 5 km to convey news and military information along the entire length of the ancient Great Wall. Today, this grand formation has been highly eroded and has lost much of its once exquisite detail after several millennia of exposure to the elements. But, with a little imagination, you might be able to picture what is was like back in the days of great Emperors.
Yumen Pass was a primitive military post and part of a string of beacon towers that extended to the garrison town of Loulan in Xinjiang. Jade was imported from the Central Plains of modern day Xinjiang through this pass, so it was named Yumen Pass which means the “Jade Gate Pass”. Although it is not much to look at these days, in ancient times, Yumen Pass must have been a spectacular site filled with the noise and opulence of journeys of 1000’s of wealthy envoys and camel caravans. Yumen Pass is today a lonely square castle standing in the sandy rocks of the Gobi Desert. If you climb up to the tower for a view you will see a long line of scattered mashes, twisting ravines, and sections of the winding Great Wall dotted with tall and straight poplar trees.
Getting to Yadan National Park- For Independent Travelers
Most tourists hire a private car or van to take them on a day trip to Yadan National Park. But if you are looking to save money, it is possible to catch a public bus from Dunhuang as well. From the eastern gate of the main Shazhou Night Market in Dunhuang, you can take a long-distance bus to Yadan National Geologic Park. Two buses run each day and these buses are likely to stop operation in the winter and the low season. So if you are traveling between November and April you may need to hire a car to take you to Yadan National Park.
Tips for Visiting Yadan National Geologic Park
- If you don’t mind spending a little extra money it is recommended to hire a jeep or 4WD vehicle. Renting a jeep with a driver will allow your group to be able to get deeper inside the park and to explore more natural formations.
- The best time of year to visit is during th peak season of Yadan National Geological Park which ranges from May to October. Starting your trip in the early morning will allow you to have cooler weather and relatively quieter environment. Although the sunsets can be very beautiful in the desert, you will also find there may be more people in the late afternoon in the park.
- The daylight around noon can be very intense in Yadan National Park and there are very few shady spots to get out of the heat. So be sure to bring a good sun hat or umbrella and lots of sunscreen and cover your skin with clothing that has an SPF rating. In case of sandstorms in the park, you may want to bring some sort of scarf or face mask.
According to legend, in 366 AD a monk named Yuezun had a vision of a thousand radiant Buddhas on the cliff face. This powerful vision inspired him to begin excavating the caves. From the 4th to the 14th century, hundreds of caves were then hand carved out of the rock cliff face containing scriptures, statues, and vibrant Buddhist paintings.Today almost 500 caves remain and there are more than a thousand painted and sculpted Buddhas within the caves which contain the world’s largest collection of Buddhist art.
Excavated into a mile of cliff face outside Dunhuang, an oasis town at the edge of the Gobi Desert, the site’s Chinese name Mogao Ku means “peerless caves.” Indeed, these caves are “peerless” and are one of the largest and best preserved artifacts in all of Asia. The decorated caves’ walls and ceilings, have a total area of 500,000 square feet and are covered by elaborate paintings depicting stories of the Buddha, Buddhist sutras, portraits of cave donors, ornamental designs, and scenes of social and commercial life. The caves also contain more than 2,000 brightly colored clay sculptures of the Buddha and other important Buddhist scholars, the largest sculpture being over 100 feet tall.
The settlement of Dunhuang was one of the first places where Buddhism entered China, through a steady stream of meditation, monks, and merchants who moved north and east from India along the Silk Road. As a major stop on the Silk Road, Dunhuang was a crossroads of Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, and even Christian thought. Although this is an area of specifically Buddhist worship, the art and objects found at Mogao reflect the meeting of cultures along the Silk Road, the collection of trade routes that for centuries linked China, Central Asia, and Europe. Discovered at the site were Confucian, Daoist, and Christian texts, and documents in multiple languages including Chinese, Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Old Turkish. Even Hebrew manuscripts were found there.
After the 15th Century, the caves lay forgotten and were buried by the sand of the Gobi Desert for many centuries until they were rediscovered by a monk. In the 1890s a Daoist monk named Wang Yuanlu appointed himself guardian of the caves. In 1900 he discovered a cache of manuscripts, long hidden in a small sealed up cave, coming upon one of the great collections of documents in history. Despite their great age, the sculptures and wall paintings in the Dunhuang caves remain remarkably well preserved, thanks in part to the dry desert climate and their remote location.
As more and more archeologists investigated the cave over 50,000 ancient documents were found there. The Library Cave (Cave 17), which was unsealed by Wang Yuanlu, contained nearly 50,000 ancient manuscripts, silk banners and paintings, fine silk embroideries and other rare textiles dating from before the early 1000s, when this cave and all its contents were concealed for reasons still unknown. Shortly after this discovery, many of the objects from the cave were acquired at the site by explorers and archaeologists from the West and Japan.The materials found in the Library Cave offer a vivid picture of life in medieval China. Accounting ledgers, contracts, medical texts, dictionaries, and even descriptions of music, dance, and games were among the finds.
Many of the objects found in the Library Cave can actually be viewed online now. Museums and libraries across Europe and Asia with objects from the Library Cave in their collections have digitized them and made them searchable for free via the International Dunhuang Project, based at the British Library.
The Buddha himself meditated in caves before achieving Enlightenment, and sacred cave sites are found throughout the Buddhist world, including in Thailand, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. India is home to some 1,200 cave-temple sites, China 250. The Mogao site at Dunhuang is the largest of these.
Top 10 things that a foreigner should know when visiting Tibet
1.) Pointing your feet
Never point your feet towards a monk or a Buddha ( or even a picture of any holy Buddha). If you are sleeping in a Tibetan home, make sure you identify any sacred paintings, statues, or pictures of monks and avoid pointing your feet in their direction. If you happen to sleep in a room full of Buddhist idols, sleep with your head towards the idols and with your feet away from them. Feet are considered a dirty or unholy part of the body and it is disrespectful to point the bottoms of your feet at people – even if it is not on purpose. If you are invited into a Tibetan tent or home, sit cross-legged and try not to point your feet at anyone in the room or at any pictures that hold a religious significance.
Also- Do not point your feet towards someone’s head or walk over people when sitting down. It is better to walk around them (or for that matter food, tea, or anything else on the ground) because walking OVER someone or something is extremely disrespectful. In addition, remember that anything associated with your feet (socks, shoes, slippers) needs to be kept low and on the ground. Please do not hang your wet socks from a stove after a day of trekking and always keep your shoes on the ground.
2.) Avoid touching heads
Never touch a stranger’s head or hat. Just as the feet are considered dirty, the head is considered a holy part of the human body. So if you see a cute Tibetan kid, please avoid rubbing their head. It is especially important to show respect to those older than you and make sure you bow before them and try to lower your posture so that you are not looming over their head.
3.) Watch your behind!
Every part of the Tibetan home has its own history and tradition. For instance, the stove is considered to have its own special spirits that rule over the hearth and the fire. In light of this belief, never put your bottom on a table or stove. These are not places to sit. As with most cultures, the behind is considered an unholy part of the body and you do not want to place it on objects that have sacred significance. When you sit, do not sit with your butt pointed at someone.
4.) Public Displays of Affection
Tibetans are very shy about talking about anything sexual or romantic in public. In fact, even in these modern times of the internet, Tibetan girls usually do not walk next to or near Tibetan boys. Genders tend to stay separated and do not appear exclusively in public together. Knowing that Tibetans are very modest and sensitive about public displays of affection, if you are a couple traveling in Tibet, please refrain from kissing or hugging romantically in public. This is especially true while in a Tibetan village or in a monastery or in front of relatives or parents. Of course, parents can kiss and hug kids and that is socially acceptable.
5.) Treat the waters kindly
Never pee in a local water source or wash dishes or clothes directly in a river or in a lake because someone will need to drink that water downstream. Tibetans also believe in water spirits called “naga” and they are particularly sensitive about treating the water well so as not to offend these beings.
6.) Always face people of high ranks
It is Tibetan custom that when you are saying goodbye or leaving the room with a highly ranked lama that as you walk out of the room, you remain in eye contact with that person and do not turn your back on them. When you walk out of the room, back out of the room and do not turn your back to the the lama or teacher. You must back out the room with your front continually facing the lama. Never put your back towards an older person or a high monk as this is considered to be a social faux pas and a sign of disrespect.
7.) Please be modest
Consider that many Tibetan men – and especially monks- have never met or seen a western women. Also consider the fact that most monks have taken a vow of celibacy and purity in their devotion to Buddha. Therefore, women and men both need to wear long pants in monastery. Women should not wear tops with spaghetti straps or revealing clothing like mini skirts or tights. In general, dress respectively and modestly in Tibetan areas as this is the local custom.
8.) Respect life
Never kill any animals in holy lakes or mountains. This includes bugs and mosquitoes. Tibetans consider all life sacred and it is a great sin in Tibetan culture to take even the smallest life. After all, based on the teachings of reincarnation, Tibetans believe that any given animal could actually be the reincarnation of your great grandmother who has already passed away.
9.)Point with an open hand
Do not point with one finger towards a person or a Thangka painting. This is considered rude. Instead use your whole hand (with all your fingers outstretched in an open palm) to point. Many Tibetan nomads point with their lips so if you are asking for directions and you see them point somewhere with their lips that is the direction they want you to go.
10.) Eat only out of individual bowls
Tibetan chefs do not taste food out of the large pot they are using to cook for a group. Do not eat from the communal pot because if you do sot you may share diseases. Unless you are clearly invited to do so, do not use your chopsticks to reach into a communal pot. Instead focus on eating the food that is served to you in your own individual bowl or plate.
Hopefully these little tips will help you have an excellent experience with your Tibetan hosts!
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- NOLS Wilderness First Aid (WFA) training
- The NOLS Wilderness First Responder (WFR) handbook
- Wilderness Medical Associates’ field protocols for Wilderness First Aid certified professionals
This article is obviously not a substitute for proper medical training, and you shouldn’t be used in place of good judgment. If you’re interested in leaning more I’d highly suggest taking a full Wilderness First Aid (WFA) or Wilderness First Responder (WFR) class.
Here is a quick look at the six injuries that are most common in the backcountry:
- Wounds & Infections
- Knee & Ankle Injuries
Wounds & Infections
With lots of sharp tools, jagged edges and rough surfaces, there are all sorts of hazards that can lead to cuts, scrapes and puncture wounds in the backcountry. Knowing how to treat a serious wound and prevent it from getting infected is an extremely useful first aid skill.
Anytime you have substantial blood loss there’s an immediate risk of “bleeding out.” The average adult human has 5-6 liters of blood in their body – picture 5 nalgenes. When you donate blood, they take half a liter (500ml) which the body can easily handle. If you lose one to two liters of blood, you’re going to go into shock (more below). Anything more than two liters of blood loss and you’re in dire straits.
Most forms of bleeding can be stopped with a combination of direct pressure onto the wound and elevation of the wound above the heart. Always make sure you put on gloves before touching someone else’s blood, I carry a few pairs of these in my first aid kit.
Hand the patient a piece of clean gauze and tell them to put pressure on their own wound as you put your gloves on. If the gauze is getting saturated, add more gauze on top but do not remove any existing gauze that’s already in the wound.
If the situation requires your hands to be free, or you’re having trouble keeping pressure on the wound, you can make a pressure bandage. Place gauze over the wound and wrap it tightly with something like an ace wrap or bandanna. Your goal is not to make a tourniquet, you should be able to slide two fingers under the wrap and the patient should have no tingles or loss of feeling in the extremities.
Once the bleeding has been successfully controlled, the next steps to think about are preventing infection and promoting healing, especially if your plans call for you to still be out in the backcountry for several more days.
The first step is to wash, or “irrigate” the wound with at least half a liter of clean water. The goal is to flush out any dirt and germs that have already made their way into the wound and under the skin. Ideally you use something with high pressure like a syringe or the backwash pump that comes with the Sawyer Mini Filters. If there are any large pieces of dirt that you can see in the wound, be sure to pull those out carefully with tweezers.
Most first aid kits have alcohol wipes, which should be used to wipe the skin around the wound, but should not be used to clean inside the wound, since they can damage good tissue. Now that the wound is relatively clean, you can cover it with antibiotic ointment and then clean gauze and a wrap to hold it all securely in place. Note that antibiotic ointment is not a substitute for good wound cleaning, so make sure you get things nice and clean before applying it.
You’ll want to check on the wound once or twice a day to reapply the ointment and monitor it for signs of infection. A little bit of swelling, warmth, redness and puss is normal to see as the body fights off bacteria. But if the symptoms get more extreme – hot to the touch, bright red, hardening skin, painful and itchy – then that’s a sign that the body is losing its battle against an infection and you need to step in.
You’ll need to open the wound back up and re-clean it very thoroughly with at least a full liter of water. It also helps to soak the wound in the warmest water that the patient can tolerate (without causing burns). If you have pain killers or antibiotics, ask the patient about them and consider using those as directed.
If a wound is going to get infected, it will usually show up in the first 24-48 hours. You should stop the trip and evacuate any patient where you can’t control the bleeding or there are persistent signs of a bad infection.
On camping trips, you’re likely to be handling fire, boiling water and hot pots with primitive tools. Burns are another common risk that you should be aware of in the backcountry. This also includes sunburns, since those are also burns, albeit much more minor.
The very first step for treating any burn is to stop the burning process. Remove whatever the source of heat is and immediately cool the affected area with cold, clean water. Depending on the thickness of the burn, it may take several minutes of soaking in cold water before the burning process has stopped.
Once the burned area has cooled off, you may want to scrub the area with clean water and a bit of mild antibacterial soap, if it’s available. The goal is to prevent infection if the burn goes deep into the skin.
Next you should cover the burned area with antibiotic ointment and clean gauze or clothing. This will help protect the burn site, and also help reduce the patient’s pain. Feel free to offer the patient ibuprofen as well, as there will usually be substantial pain.
For burns in extremities, keep the burned area elevated to reduce swelling. For more long-term care, it’s important to keep the patient warm and well-hydrated since the major risks to life are fluid loss (see dehydration and shock, below).
Evacuate any burn patient if the burn:
- exposes deep layers of skin or bone
- is circumferential, going completely around a limb
- is on sensitive areas like the face, groin, armpit, hands or feet
- covers a significant part of a patient’s arm, leg or torso
Knee & Ankle Injuries
According to a Reddit AMA with search and rescue volunteers, soft tissue injuries are the most common things that people need to be rescued for. And while an injured wrist, elbow or shoulder might be inconvenient, lower body joints like knees and ankles can have a serious impact on your ability to hike out on your own.
Whether they’re chronic injuries that flare up from over-use or sudden injuries from a bad step on steep or uneven terrain, it’s important to stop and address soft tissue injuries. Trying to “tough it out” can lead to permanent, lifelong injuries that require ongoing physical therapy.
I can speak from personal experience on that, I took a bad step on a mountaineering expedition years ago and kept hiking down the mountain on it – it still bothers me to this day, whenever I do too much hiking on it. 😢
As a lay-responder, your job isn’t to diagnose whether it’s a strain, sprain, tear, fracture or other specific injury. Your goal should simply be to diagnose whether the injured joint is usable or unusable.
If the patient still has most of the mobility in their joint and can comfortably put weight on it, then you can support the injury by wrapping it with athletic tape or an ace bandage.
There are also special-made wraps you can buy for various joints at stores like Walgreens or CVS. If you have a chronic injury in a knee or ankle, it’s a good idea to strap one of these on before you head out into the woods at all.
If you’re able to keep hiking on it, albeit gingerly, make sure you take sufficient time to address it when you get to camp.
The common RICE acronym is your guide:
- Rest – especially if each use causes pain, which is a sign of tendinitis
- Ice – alternate 20-30 minutes of cooling with 15 to naturally rewarm
- Compression – wrap securely with an ace wrap, making sure circulation is preserved
- Elevation – have the patient lie down on a sleeping pad and elevate their feet on a backpack or two
If your schedule allows you to take a day to rest the injured joint, this can go a long way to preventing complications and letting it heal. If you can keep the injury cold, compressed and elevated, this will help reduce swelling and make it more likely you’ll be able to continue hiking on it again shortly.
If the patient can’t easily move the joint through its full range of motion or feels pain when putting their weight on it, then the joint should be considered “unusable” and treated as such. Note that an injury that starts out as usable may become unusable if the patient continues to hike on it, or swelling starts to set in.
For treating unusable joints, you want to splint the joint in a comfortable position:
- For ankle injuries, keep the foot at 90 degrees to the lower leg
- for knee injuries, bend the knee about 5 degrees from straight
You want to pad the injured joint with whatever is available – jackets, sleeping pads, clothing, etc. You also want to add something stiff like a hiking pole or canoe paddle to keep the joint from moving at all. Finally, wrap everything with something wide like a belt or webbing, and cinch it all tight. Remember this equation:
padding + compression = rigidity
Keeping it tied tightly will help hold everything together firmly as you begin your long, slow hike out. You will likely need to stop and readjust things often, whenever the patient is sufficiently uncomfortable.
Remember that you never want to tie anything so tight that the patient loses feeling in their extremities. Check periodically to make sure you can slide two fingers into the splint and that the patient can still wiggle their toes and has feeling in their toes when you touch them.
If the injury is so bad that there’s no way the patient will be able to hike out on it – like if bone is protruding through the skin – you’ll need to send someone to fetch professional help.
Note that even the fastest search and rescue teams will take a few hours to reach you, and that being packed and carried out in a litter is generally a pretty terrible experience for everyone involved. Don’t expect most local SAR agencies to send a helicopter, you should encourage the patient to hike out in a splint if you don’t think it will complicate the injury.
While not technically a medical emergency, blisters are one of the most familiar backcountry injuries to many people, and can certainly go a long way to ruining your trip if they’re not handled well. Blisters are also one of the most misunderstood backcountry injuries, and there are a lot of conflicting tips on what to do – the NOLS mythcrushers even tackled the issue:
A blister is formed when thick skin – like on your palms or feet – is rubbed, and it begins to separate from the softer, more sensitive skin beneath. Blisters are especially likely to form when the skin that’s being rubbed is warm or sweaty, which is exactly the conditions you’ll find inside most hiker’s boots.
With blisters that don’t occur on the foot, your best bet is just to leave them be. But if you have a firm, fluid-filled blister is on your foot you don’t really want to “tough it out” and risk having the blister pop inside your dirty, sweaty sock – leading to an infection (and a gross sock). It may also be too painful to continue hiking at all if the blister has grown too large.
To treat blisters, the best option is to carefully and slowly drain it, and then treat it like a minor wound. This will relieve the pressure and allow you to continue on your way.
Begin by washing the area around the blister thoroughly with water and then an alcohol pad. Sterilize a sharp point with either alcohol or by holding it over a flame.
To reduce the risk of cutting a jumpy, antsy patient, hold the sharp point so that it’s nearly parallel with the skin of their foot, and slide it up into the bottom of the blister’s roof. The skin of the blister should be dead, so the patient should only feel the tug of your point lancing the outside of the blister, not any sharp pain.
Once you’ve lanced a hole in the blister, leave the rest of the roof intact to protect the inner layers of skin. Give the blister at least a few minutes to drain, applying light pressure to help squeeze out the fluid. Then cover the area with antibiotic ointment to prevent your lanced hole from getting infected.
Some people use a donut of moleskin around the blister to hold the ointment in place, and then another piece of moleskin or tape over top to keep it all together. There are also products like 2nd Skin Blister Pads that you can slap over a lanced blister to help protect it.
Some people really don’t like the idea of another person sticking a knife into their foot, but the relief that comes after the blister has been drained is usually well worth the anxiety involved in lancing it. There’s no need to evacuate a patient with a friction blister, unless you’re starting to see signs of infection.
Like blisters, dehydration isn’t often a major, life-threatening situation, but it can certainly create issues if people aren’t watching out for it. Being well hydrated helps keep joints lubricated, muscles healing and your digestive system chugging along. Water also supports crucial brain function. Letting yourself or those in your group get dehydrated can make all sorts of other issues more likely.
Mild dehydration is something that we’re all familiar with – dry lips and a mild thirst. More severe dehydration can lead to fatigue and joint soreness, and eventually to irritability, frustration and poor decision making as the brain begins to shut down. This is especially likely if you’re also suffering from heat-stroke, but even in cold environments, dehydration can sneak up, so it’s important to know the signs.
I always think of dehydration like those Snickers commercials – you’re not you when you’re dehydrated.
To ensure everyone in your group stays hydrated, remind them of these simple rules:
- If you’re not peeing every 4-5 hours on the trail, you’re probably dehydrated
- If your urine isn’t clear, copious and bubble-free, you’re probably dehydrated
It’s also important to remember that dehydration also comes from a loss of key electrolytes like sodium and chloride. Ideally, someone in your group brought powdered sports drink mix to share, and everyone is consuming salty snacks like peanuts.
Shock is the body’s response to a sudden drop in blood pressure, in order to prioritize blood flow to the brain and other vital organs. Shock is a common response to major trauma or bleeding, or it could also be an issue with the heart not pumping enough, or blood vessels dilating and not maintaining high enough pressure.
Imagine that you’re trying to take a shower in a cabin on top of a mountain, and the shower is fed with lake water from the base of the mountain. If you turn on the shower head and nothing comes out, there could be three potential issues:
- The pump at the bottom of the hill (ie, your heart) isn’t putting out enough force to move the water adequately
- The water itself (ie, your blood) is leaking out of the pipe, or there just isn’t enough of it
- The pipes between the pump and the cabin (ie, your blood vessels) are too wide to maintain good pressure
In this analogy, you can think of the flow of water from the shower head as the flow of blood to your body’s various tissues. While a non-functioning shower is a big annoyance, if your tissues aren’t getting the blood flow they’ll need, that can cause life-threatening issues.
The various causes of shock are outside the scope of an article like this, but as a responder, you should look for signs of shock whenever there’s major injury or someone is feeling really off. Symptoms include:
- anxiety or confusion
- rapid pulse and rapid, shallow breathing
- cool, pale clammy skin
- weakness, dizziness, lightheadedness
- nausea and vomiting
If you are able, you want to focus on treating whatever is causing the person to be in shock. But also keep these treatments in mind for any patient that’s exhibiting signs of shock:
- keeping the person calm and reassured – by staying calm yourself – helps lower their heart rate
- try to reduce their pain and discomfort by having them lie down on a sleeping pad in a comfortable position
- elevate their feet on a backpack (unless you suspect a back injury) to keep blood in their core
- even if it’s not freezing cold, wrap them in a sleeping bag and try to keep the patient warm and dry
- if the patient is able to drink on their own, make sure to keep them hydrated – but never force them to drink if they might choke
Any patient who is exhibiting signs of shock will likely need to be evacuated with professional help. As you’re waiting for help to arrive, it’s a good idea to keep a log of the patient’s heart rate and mental status every 10 to 15 minutes. You will be able to hand this information off to rescuers to help their evaluation when they arrive.
Well that’s 3500 words to get you started with the basics of wilderness medicine. Want to learn what I always carry in my first aid kit?
Check out this blog on Essential items to carry in your backcountry first aid kit.
If you love learning about this stuff, I’d highly recommend checking out a local Wilderness First Aid class. Some reputable companies that teach wilderness medicine include:
- NOLS’ Wilderness Medical Institute
- Wilderness Medical Associates
The wilderness medicine community is full of some of the smartest, most interesting people I’ve ever met, and taking a class is also a great way to meet up with like-minded adventurers in your area.
If you can’t find a class near you, or if you want a handy reference or some not-so-light bedtime reading, I’d definitely recommend picking up a copy of Wilderness First Responder: How To Recognize, Treat, And Prevent Emergencies In The Backcountry.
Make sure you share this information with other people you often head out into the wilderness with. You never know when it could save their life – or yours.
Article by: Hartley Brody
Be sure to check out this awesome adventure blog for more great content:
- Medical Situations an Outdoor First Aid Kit Helps With
- Specific Considerations for Your Trip
- Building Your Own Customized First Aid Kit
- Checklist of Items in a Backcountry First Aid Kit
- Recommended Popular Commercial Kits to Start With
- Other Resources For Building Your Own First Aid Kit
Medical Situations an Outdoor First Aid Kit Helps With
Before we even dive into the nuts and bolts of building out a great kit, it’s important to know the most common backcountry injuries and medical emergencies that you can handle on your own. I’ve written more extensively about those before but here’s a brief overview of what a first aid kit can help you prepare for.
Cleaning Wounds and Protecting Skin
In the wilderness, you’re likely to be working with fire and using sharp, primitive tools that you might not be totally familiar with. Cuts, scrapes, and burns are all relatively common injuries that can usually be treated without much fuss.
The majority of cuts you’ve gotten in your life likely stopped bleeding on their own, or with a bit of direct pressure and elevation. A good wilderness first aid kit will have items to help you control someone else’s bleeding (gloves and gauze) as well as tools for cleaning deeper cuts and keeping them from getting infected.
Supporting Injured Joints and Fractures
Especially when carrying a heavy backpack over rugged terrain, one bad step or a poorly timed fall can lead to fairly debilitating musculoskeletal injuries. These are the kinds of injuries that can not only ruin a trip, but make it difficult to get back to civilization on your own.
Having a few key items on hand can make a big difference in dealing with injured joints or broken bones, and can prevent smaller injuries from getting worse over time.
Maintaining Normal Body Functions
While issues like diarrhea, mild fever, seasonal allergies and low blood sugar are annoying but easily treatable in the front country, anything that gets you laid up and prevents you from hiking out can become a serious issue in the backcountry.
If you find yourself struggling with these issues on a backpacking trip, some simple over-the-counter medications can make a huge difference in your ability to get back to the trailhead safely.
Relief for Pain, Soreness and Discomfort
While not the most heroic form of first aid, sometimes offering a few advils or a tums can go a long way to improving someone’s experience while they’re out on a trip.
Being able to treat blisters can make you seem like a super hero to someone who has been struggling with one all day.
Specific Considerations for Your Trip
When preparing your gear list for a trip, you should already be thinking about key packing considerations like group size and expected weather conditions.
It’s important to also think about the hazards that each trip presents, in terms of first aid situations you’re likely to encounter. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself before each trip.
- Are there members of your group that are older, out of shape, or otherwise at risk for a heart attack?
- Is there anyone on the trip with known, severe allergies that would be at risk of anaphylaxis?
- Are there venomous creatures like snakes or spiders in the area you’ll be hiking through?
- Are you at risk of puncture or gunshot wounds on a hunting trip, or a hike during hunting season?
- Could the weather conditions lead to heat or cold related injuries?
- Will there be ticks, leeches, mosquitoes or other small biting pests you’ll have to contend with?
The answers to these questions will often vary from trip to trip, but it’s important to consider each of them to ensure you’re prepared for the situations you’re likely to face.
Building Your Own Customized First Aid Kit
We’ll talk more about pre-made, commercially available kits later in this article, but I’d really recommend building your own (or heavily customizing a purchased one) for a few key reasons.
Cheaper in the Long Run
There’s often a huge markup on store-bought, pre-packaged kits. You’re paying for the brand name and the heavy bag that it comes in. Each of the materials can often be purchased for much cheaper online or at your local pharmacy.
This is especially important if you think your first aid kit will be getting some decent use over the years. It’s much easier to buy most items in bulk, store them in your medicine cabinets and then restock your kit whenever you need to.
Easier to Customize
While most kits make a decent attempt at preparing for the generic problems a hiker is likely to face on the trail, often they don’t really hit the mark. I’ve usually found that most kits include way too much gauze and not nearly enough ibuprofen, for example.
Building your own kit also forces you to think about your own personal needs and those of your group. You might be more likely than the average hiker to be dealing with allergies, chronic joint pain or blood sugar issues.
You Know What’s In It
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen someone hike for miles with blisters or a headache or some other easy-to-treat issue, without realizing they’ve been carrying the solution to their ailment on their back the entire time.
Build your own kit forces you to consider each of the elements that you’re carrying, and makes you much more likely to recall and use them in the appropriate situations.
Keeping everything in a sturdy, clear ziplock freezer bag is fine. Just make sure it’s well labeled so that someone else can find it in your pack in an emergency.
Checklist of Items in a Backcountry First Aid Kit
I tried to err on the side of including more stuff rather than leaving something out that might be important for your trip. You likely won’t need all of these items for every trip, but I’ve put asterisks next to essential items – the ones that I always carry.
Pills weigh almost nothing and are easy to keep in a small baggie. I toss a few grains of rice into my pill bag to help soak up any moisture that might make its way in. Make sure to take stock of your pill bag before each trip so don’t run out of anything at a bad time.
- Ibuprofen (Advil)* – Common for headache and pain relief as well as for reducing fever and inflammation. Affectionately known as “Vitamin A”. 💊
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)* – Antihistamine for allergy relief and early anaphylaxis. Can also be taken as a sleeping pill.
- Loperamide (Immodium)* – Anti-diarrhea pill that can be essential for getting yourself out of the woods if you catch a bug due to bad food or poor hygiene.
- Epinephrine (Epi-pen) – My WFR instructor described an epi-pen as pound for pound, the most lifesaving piece of gear you can carry if someone in your group has severe allergies.
- Aspirin – Good to have on hand if someone in your group is likely to suffer a heart attack as it can decrease the associated risk of death.
This is the stuff that usually takes about about 90% of a hiking first aid kit. The goal of these items is to help you stop the bleeding, control infections and promote healing.
In a pristine hospital setting, anything that goes on or into an open wound must be sterile. In the backcountry, you’re unlikely to have that luxury, so “clean” will usually suffice. Make sure you follow up with any sketchy wounds when you get home or if they start showing signs of infection.
- 3” Fabric Band Aids* – Your normal, everyday bandaid for protecting most minor cuts and scrapes. The fabric ones breath well and stretch with your skin as you move, so they’re more likely to stay on and not get gross.
- Triple Antibiotic Ointment (Polysporin)* – Once a wound is no longer bleeding and has been flushed with water, add some of this ointment to help prevent infections and promote healing.
- 2” Roll of Gauze* – A lot of off-the-shelf kits contain individually-packaged squares of gauze in various sizes, which creates a lot of waste and extra weight. A 2” roll of gauze packs down small and lets you use the right amount for any given wound.
- Alcohol Pads – Use these for cleaning the skin around a wound before dressing it.
- Quickclot Dressings – A vacuum-sealed packages of gauze impregnated with a hemostatic agent, they’re designed to be used on cuts or punctures with extra-strength bleeding to bring it under control quickly.
- Nexcare Steri-Strip – These are long, thin pieces of tape designed to be laid across a wide cut to pull the skin together on both sides. They basically function like stitches that you can apply yourself to keep a wound closed.
- Spenco 2nd Skin Blister Pads – A small pad that sticks well and protects blisters and small burns, allowing them to heal faster and with less discomfort.
- Irrigation Syringe – You can get a small 5ml syringe for free from your local CSV pharmacy if you ask nicely. These are useful for pushing clean water into deep lacerations to help flush out the nasties.
Two other pieces of wound care gear that are commonly mentioned that I would not recommend:
- Sheet of Moleskin – It’s really only useful for one, non-essential job – padding around blisters, and it takes too much fiddling to cut out a piece that is the correct size and get it to actually sticks to your skin. Learning how to safely drain a blister will relieve the pressure with a lot less fuss.
- Israeli Bandage or Tourniquet – I really struggle to come up with a situation outside of a battlefield where this would be useful. You’d have to have a high chance of losing a lot of blood from an extremity for it to justify its own weight in your pack. That said, it might be good for hunting trips.
As a general packing philosophy, I tend to prefer simpler items than can perform multiple jobs rather that specific pieces of gear that can only do one thing. With that in mind, here are a few extra pieces of gear in my kit.
- Leukotape* – The best thing I’ve found for sticking to skin while not being painful when you eventually want to remove it. It breathes better than duct tape and sticks better than medical or athletic tape. It’ll last you the entire trip back to the trailhead and then some.
- Nitrile Gloves* – These should be standard in any kit but unfortunately aren’t. Nitrile protects you from coming in direct contact with another person’s blood and fluids while you’re working on them. Ask for a few pairs the next time you’re visiting the doctor.
- 2” Elastic Bandage* – Can be easily fashioned to support an ankle or knee injury, if the joint is still usable. If it’s not usable and you need to make a splint, this is also very handy. I prefer the ones with velcro closures over those bendy metal pieces that don’t last.
- Tweezers – Can be used for any task where you need fine motor control and precision, like removing a splinter or pulling off a tick.
- SAM Splint – A stiff but packable splinting material commonly carried by many search and rescue teams. Useful for stabilizing and supporting injuries.
- Snub-nose Scissors – If your pocket knife doesn’t already have a pair, a small set of scissors is useful for trimming gauze, opening packaging and removing clothing in a pinch.
- Safety Pins – I carry a few in case of gear repair issues anyways, but they’re also great for draining blisters safely.
- Q-Tips – Useful for applying ointment deep inside a cut without sticking your fingers into it. Also useful for cleaning ears and noses as well as gauging a person’s skin’s touch sensitivity.
- Triangular Cravat – Basically like a giant bandana that you can use to help fashion a splint or pack into a wound. This is easily improvised with the bandanas and clothing that you’re likely already carrying.
Recommended Popular Commercial Kits to Start With
While there are many benefits to building your own kit from scratch, it can be intimidating if you’re not sure where to begin. Instead, it might be better to start with a pre-built commercial kit and customize that to your needs – tucking the excess supplies it comes with into your medicine cabinet and bolstering the kit where it’s lacking.
Adventure Medical Kits Mountain Series Hiker Medical Kit
Price: Click for Price & Availability
The Adventure Medical Kits Mountain series is a great light-and-fast set of first aid kits that don’t skimp on essentials. Their Hiker Medical Kit has 3 pairs of nitrile gloves, a stretchy elastic wrap bandage as well as roll gauze, which are all excellent essentials.
The bag itself is lightweight and no-frills, and it also comes with a handy pocket guide to wilderness medicine which can definitely be useful in an emergency situation.
I’d ditch the trauma shears, moleskin cutouts and giant gauze pads for most trips. I’d probably also swap out the fabric tape with some Leukotape and add way more ibuprofen (they only include 4 pills).
This is a great all-around starter kit that’s light and flexible and comes with a bunch of useful items that you can choose to leave at home on specific trips if you’d prefer.
Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight & Watertight .7
Price: Click for Price & Availability
Another great starter kit from Adventure Medical Kits is their Ultralight & Watertight 0.7. This kit is even more compact that the Mountain Series Hiker, ditching the shears and bulky gauze pads, but still includes 1 pair of nitrile gloves, a stretchy elastic wrap bandage and a roll of 2” gauze.
The bag itself is allegedly waterproof, making it a pretty durable package for your kit. However, the slim profile also makes it a challenge to add bulkier items like an epi-pen or scissors, if you needed to toss those in on an occasional trip. It also seems to weigh a bit more that the Mountain Series Hiker kit, despite the “ultralight” name.
I’d remove the moleskin sheet and swap the fabric tape for something that sticks better. The kit also includes some duct tape and safety pins if you need to MacGyver a wound together, but you might already be carrying these staples elsewhere in your backpack already.
This is a good no-frills kit for the minimalist who doesn’t plan on adding much extra gear of their own.
REI Co-op Backpacker Weekend First-Aid Kit
Price: Click for Price & Availability
REI has a whole series of their own first aid kits but the Backpacker Weekend First-Aid Kit seems to strike the right balance of gear. It has important essentials like a roll of gauze, elastic wrap bandage, and a wilderness first aid manual. It doesn’t have gloves but it does have an assortment of small creams for burns and stings.
REI seems to tout all of the many labeled pockets in their kits as a way to keep everything organized. However, they add a lot of bulk to the packaging and make it much more difficult for you to reorganize it with your own gear mixed in.
This is a good starter kit for anyone who appreciates the organization and doesn’t plan on customizing their kit very much.
Other Resources For Building Your Own First Aid Kit
All of the advice I’ve given so far is based on my own experiences treating and managing real backcountry medical emergencies, as well as my Wilderness First Responder training.
But don’t just take my word for it.
Whenever you’re putting together something as important as your first aid kit, it’s important to consider multiple sources. Here are a few other great resources to help you think more carefully about what you should bring for you next trip.
“Backpacking First Aid Kit for soloists & groups” by Andrew Skurka
Andrew Skurka is a well-known adventure racer and ultralight backpacker. In this post, he lays out the core first aid essentials he brings as well as group considerations that might add a few more items to his kit.
“Building a Wilderness First Aid Kit” by Wilderness Medical Associates
Wilderness Medical Associates is one of the leading backcountry medicine training providers in the US. In this article, one of their staff members lays out her ideal first aid kit for remote trips.
“First-Aid Checklist” by REI
In this article on the REI blog, they list every possible item you might ever want to include in your kit, including many I intentionally skipped over, like a magnifying glass, mirror, CPR mask and oral thermometer.
“What Items Belong in My Backpacking First-Aid Kit?” by Outside Magazine
A very minimalist perspective from another Wilderness First Responder. He lists the core essentials he takes on every trip.
“Can we talk about First Aid?” on Reddit
If discussions are more of your thing, here’s a great thread on the Wilderness Backpacking subreddit where a bunch of people share what’s in their kits and debate what they feel is necessary.
Ultimately, a first aid kit is just a collection of a bunch of small but essential pieces of gear. It’s a backpacking myth that a survival kit alone will get you out of any situation you get yourself into.
In reality, it takes training and thoughtful decision making to handle backcountry medical emergencies.
Article by: Hartley Brody
See more awesome wilderness content here:
Malatang (simplified Chinese: 麻辣烫; traditional Chinese: 麻辣燙; pinyin: málàtàng; literally: “spicy numbing hot [soup]”), is a common type of Chinese street food that is especially popular in Beijing but can be found all over China. It originated in Sichuan Province, but the regional varieties differ mainly from the Sichuanese version in that the Sichuanese version is more similar to what in northern China would be described as hot pot.
Malatang is named after its key ingredient, mala sauce, which is flavored with a combination of Sichuan pepper (which represents the “ma” or the numbing flavor) and dried chili pepper (which represents the “la” or the spicy sauce) . The word málà is composed of the Chinese characters for “numbing” (麻) and “spicy (hot)” (辣), referring to the feeling in the mouth after eating the sauce.
Malatang is said to originate from the Yangtze River near Sichuan. In ancient times, boating was a big industry and many people made a living by towing boats. Working under the damp and foggy weather made boat trackers feel very sick. And when they were hungry, they cooked herbs in a pot and put Sichuan pepper and ginger into the soup to eliminate dampness. Malatang was created, then vendors discovered the business opportunity, and spread it throughout China. And now it is becoming an international food sensation.
Unlike hot pot, which is made to order and shared only by diners at a private table, malatang originates from street food cooked in a communal pot. Diners can quickly pick their raw veggies and noodles and meats, and either eat on the spot or take away. In addition to largely being considered a street food in China, there have been many excellent chain restaurants that have sprung up in the last 10 years and these restaurants offer a great variety of sauces and ingredients (as you can see in the video above).
All skewers normally cost the same. In Beijing as of June 2012 they cost one RMB each (or about 1/6 of a US dollar). Customers keep the used wooden sticks by their plates, and when a customer finishes eating, the price to pay is determined by counting the number of empty sticks.
In the mid-2010s malatang shops became popular in North China, especially Beijing. In these shops the ingredients are usually displayed on shelves, and customers put their desired ingredients into a bowl, like choosing food from a buffet. Behind the counter the selected ingredients are cooked in a spicy delicious savory broth, usually at very high temperature for 3–4 minutes. Before serving, malatang is typically further seasoned with lots of garlic, black pepper, Sichuan pepper, chili pepper, sesame paste, and crushed peanuts (and these condiments can also be prepared in a separate side dish that makes for very enjoyable dipping ). The price is calculated based on the weight of the self-selected ingredients (just as you would weigh a frozen yoghurt and pay based on weight at the counter). In Beijing, one person’s bowl might weigh half a kilogram usually costs between 15-20 RMB as of November 2015. And most malatang bowls outside of Beijing also cost around 15 RMB, making this a very affordable and interesting option for lunch or dinner. And- if you are feel like sharing, you and 1-2 other friends can lump all your ingredients in one huge communal bowl and can eat the same soup out of one pot. That is what all the besties and couples in China do, anyway 🙂
Here is the stuff you usually get to pick from in this “Choose Your Own Adventure” soup:
- bean curd
- beef (chunks)
- fish balls
- other mixed greens (including cilantro, cabbage, and onions)
- lotus root
- all sorts of mushrooms
- fresh and instant noodles
- pork liver
- pork lung
- fresh seaweed
- potato slices
- quail eggs
- Chinese yam
- sheep intestines
- numerous types of dried and frozen tofu (chunks, squares, balls, etc.)
- various flat and long noodles made from potato and rice powder
- nian gao rice cakes
So there you go! I hope you get out into some local markets and try this amazing culinary delight!
How to Take the Train in China
Here are the basic steps you will need to follow for a successful journey
Step 1: Arrive at the railway station at least 1.5 hours before your train departs
Step 2: Pass through the security check and ticket check at the station’s entrance
Step 3: Find the right waiting room and wait for boarding
Step 4: Check in at the right boarding gate
Step 5: Go to the train platform for boarding
Step 5: Settle in, and store your the luggage and sit down (or lie down) to enjoy your trip
Step 6: Upon arrival, get off and exit to your destination.
Now let’s look into the details of this process…
7 Things to Know Before Riding A Train in China
You may have heard that train travel in China can be a delightful adventure and this is absolutely true. My family recently took the train from Xining to Chengdu and we thoroughly enjoyed the journey in our private soft sleeper rooms. Our kids (ages 4 and 6) really loved the experience of being in their own bunk bed and looking out the window while the beautiful, lush Sichuan countryside passed by. The whole 14 hour drive was quite magical for them.
The train in China is really a memorable experience – for adults and children alike. There are many times in our lives when we just have between 12-50 hours to relax, read a book, and watch beautiful dream-like landscapes through a train window.
But there are a few things you need to know before you depart on your journey to make it a success (and not a stressful undertaking).
Read on for things you should know before taking a train in China, like how to get to/through the railway station, how passengers are searched at security checkpoints, what drinks/food can be purchased on the train, and what the toilets are like. When you travel, it is the details that will make the difference in your journey and knowledge is power 🙂
1.) How to Read Your Train Ticket
Go to the Right Departure Station
Check the departure station carefully. Most cities in China have more than one railway station and they are often far away from each other (usually 30-90 minutes away on different sides of the city). It is recommended that you find out how to get to your station in sufficient time before your departure. And make sure you are going to the right station. If you are arranging a taxi or preparing to board a subway or bus to your train station, make sure you check with your hotel staff first or travel agency just to make sure you know exactly which station to get to and how to get there.
A train ticket from Guilin Railway Station to the Liuzhou Railway Station
(NOTE: This is train #D8265 / Train Car #: 3 / And Seat #: 6A/ This train departs at 9:50am on April 8, 2016)
If you accidentally go to the wrong station, you will find that the electronic boards do NOT show your train’s schedule at all (this is your first hint you may have gone to the wrong station). By the time you realize your mistake, you likely will not have enough time to transfer to to the correct station and you therefore will probably miss your train as it will take more than hour to transfer to the right departure station.
If you miss your train, you can make an alteration at the ticket window in the correct departure station for the next train on the same day. The alteration is free of charge, and you will get a refund for the difference if the next train’s ticket is less expensive, or you will be asked for an additional payment if the next train’s ticket costs more.
Don’t Get Off at the Wrong Station
It is also important to correctly read the information for the arrival station. For example, the southbound train from Beijing will first reach Guilin North Railway Station (桂林北站) and then Guilin Railway Station (桂林站). So make sure you know which station you are getting off at.
Getting off the train at the wrong destination can cause you to pay a penalty fare if you continue the journey too far, or require a trip across the city if you get off too early. If you have scheduled a pick up at your destination this may also cause a great deal of confusion with your party as they may be waiting and looking for you for hours at a station you are not at.
Pay attention to the announcements on the train as they will tell you which station you have arrived at. If you take an overnight train, a member of staff will wake you up to exchange your sleeper card for your original paper train ticket about half an hour before arriving at your destination.
Here is a tip once you have reached your destination:
Look at the arrival time for your train and set your alarm for 1 hour before that time. Sometimes trains arrive a few minutes early or late for their scheduled arrival times so make sure you account for this. Once the train stops you may only have one or two minutes to exit (especially if your train is continuing onto another destination). So make sure you are all packed and you have all your charging cords, electronic devices, and all your luggage all packed and ready to go.
Get a visual idea of how to read China train tickets.
2.) Luggage Allowance — Pack Smartly
Sometimes the excitement and anticipation of travel is half the fun, so make sure that you leave plenty of time to pack for your travel and get all those last minute items. Separate your belongings into large luggage and small carry-on items. Important things, such as travel documents, tickets, money, and valuable items should be kept on you at all times. Having a fanny pack, day pack, or purse is handy. The outside of train stations are notorious for pickpockets so keep your things close to you and always be mindful of your luggage and do not leave items unattended. Remember to put your tickets and passport away safely after the ticket checkpoints. If you lose these – your vacation will suddenly not be so fun.
Packing light is important. You can find all kinds of tips about packing light on the internet and everyone has their own style of packing. If you are not able to lift your luggage above your head, the train stewards can assist you in this task. Often times, luggage can either be placed under your hard or soft sleeper bed or in a public overhead compartment (which has no lock or door). Therefore, it is important to have your luggage zipped up or closed securely using a combination lock.
When taking an overnight train, you should consider taking flip-flops, bathroom supplies (toilet paper and a toothbrush), and perhaps earplugs and an eye mask. Take a book or an iPod to help pass the time.
Carry-On Luggage Regulations
- Ordinary passengers: 20 kg (44 pounds)
- Children with a half-price ticket (1.2m–1.5m) or no ticket (under 1.2 m): 10 kg (22 pounds)
- The total length of each item cannot exceed 160 cm, unless it is rod-shaped.
The above limitation is not applicable to wheelchairs, which can be taken on to the train for free.
The limitations for luggage are not as strict as they are for airplanes.
Senior travelers or passengers with excessive luggage can hire a porter at the station entrance — they are easily spotted as they wear sleeveless red jackets and red hats. The price is approximately 10 to 15 yuan. They will help to load the luggage onto the train. Beware of people that offer to help you carry your luggage who do not wear the official train uniform. These people will rip you off to carry your luggage only for a few minutes and they should be avoided.
3.) Arrive At the Station 2 Hours Before Your Train Departs
Arriving at a train station generally follows the same rules and processes that you would follow if you were to arrive at an airport. If you are not a fan of taking risks, it is always better to arrive early at the railway station (especially if you have to pick up your tickets at the station). Nobody likes waiting around, but we suggest that you arrive 2 hours before your train’s departure time.
Here are a few reasons to leave yourself a little extra time:
Leave Extra Time to Get to the Station —In Case of Traffic, Getting Lost, and Crowds
Some railway stations can be as vast as an airport and are situated a long way from the city center. It’s a good idea to leave your hotel or last activity in plenty of time in case of traffic, queues, crowds, or in the event of getting lost. Give yourself enough time to enjoy a relaxing journey. Usually 2 hours is enough, but the time can be reduced if going to a very small, local train station.
There Are Many Things to Do Before Boarding— Long Distances and Lines
A crowded train station
The distances between the ticket office, security check, waiting room, and station platform can be quite long, and it is sometimes necessary to walk from one side of the station to the other.
Remember that you are not doing this alone; there will be hundreds of people doing the same thing, meaning that you might be standing in waiting lines for a long time (especially around holidays and times of high-season travel such as Chinese New Year, October Holiday, and May Holiday). From the moment you arrive at the train station, you will likely need to be queuing in crowded lines (And remember- Chinese people do not always form or respect an orderly single-file line. So you may have to be a little aggressive to maintain your spot in line).
At the station entrance you will need to pick up your ticket at the “ShouPiaoChu” or 售票处. This is often separate from the train station entrance itself and they may not allow you into the station until you have been to the nearby ticket pick up office to get your ticket. Here at the ticket pick up gate, you will have to stand in line (maybe a half an hour or more, unless you’ve used a ticket delivery service or got your tickets delivered in advance to your hotel), then pass through a ticket and ID check followed by a security check. After this you will need to locate and walk to your train’s specific waiting area, then, after a 10-15 minute walk through a busy station, will need to wait again in line at the waiting room ticket gate.
Explore the train station if you get to the station early.
Things to Do If You Get There Too Early
No time needs to be wasted, even if you get there early. For first-timers, early arrival at the railway station gives you a good chance to explore the station and observe the locals. You can purchase some food or drinks at the shops so that you won’t go hungry during the journey. If you are traveling with kids, an early arrival gives you some time to calm them down and prepare for a good trip.
Bear in mind that the station will stop the check-in facility 5 minutes before the train departs. So don’t lose yourself in the stores at the train station. You are recommended to get to the waiting room at least 30 minutes before the train departs (especially if you want to find a seat amidst 100’s of other passengers waiting for the same destination).
4.) Security Checks
Prepare Your Passport and Ticket
All passengers and luggage are required to pass through a security check at the station entrance. Please prepare your train ticket and passport (or Mainland Travel Permit). You need to line up for the security check, just like at an airport. After the security check keep your passport and train ticket on your person, and don’t lock them in your suitcase, because you are going to need them for another ticket check or two when you board the train.
There may already be a long line at the entrance so, as we have already mentioned, you are recommended to arrive at the train station early.
5.) Boarding Smoothly
Getting to the Right Waiting Room, Gate, Platform, Car, and Seat
Find the Right Waiting Room Using the LED Screens
An LED screen at Beijing West Railway Station
After the security check, you need to find the right waiting room. A train station may have many waiting rooms for different trains. And usually the information on the screen is in Chinese only, although some screens display both English and Chinese.
Look up at the large LED screens for your train number, and see which waiting room is allocated to your train number. Your train number is a letter with numbers displayed on the top middle part of your train ticket, such as G655 or D3201. A large LED screen shows different trains’ departure schedules in rotation, so you might have to wait for the screen to change once or twice to see your train information.
Usually the waiting room information shows the floor and room number, such as”2楼1候”,meaning ‘2nd floor 1st waiting room’. You could ask someone near you for help to get to the right waiting room, by pointing at your ticket then the LED screen, then saying, “Wǒqùnǎr?”(我去哪儿/wo choo narr/ ‘I go where?’), or read the Chinese yourself.
Get to the Right Gate
An LED screen of check-in gates
A waiting room may not only have one platform gate (like in an airport). There may be several gates going to different platforms to board different trains, so don’t line up at the wrong gate.There are generally rows of seats either side of a gate’s lining up aisle.
LED screens for each gate in each waiting room show different trains’ numbers, departure times, and platform information. If you know Chinese, you can listen to the broadcasts for boarding information.
Get to the Right Platform
Once you get to the right gate, generally, you can check-in with your train ticket 15 minutes before departure. Before you walk along the long corridors to the platform, look up at the LED screen for the last time and find your platform number. Look for your platform number showing which stairway to walk down to get to your platform.
Getting to Your Seat/Bunk
Seat number sign on a bullet train
Check your train ticket for your car number (listed as: 车 on your ticket) as you descend to the platform. There will be staff at each train car door. You could show your ticket to a member of staff. He/she will check that you are boarding the right train car. The character 车 denotes your car number.
Once on the right car, find your bunk number (shown by 铺 on your ticket: 上 for top, 中for middle, 下 for bottom), or seat number (shown by 座 or “seat” on your ticket), usually displayed on the luggage racks around head height.
Chinese “Cheat Sheet” for Getting Help
You could carry a card (or an image on your device) listing useful sentences written in Chinese to find your waiting area, platform, coach, and seat, and show these sentences to any staff member or passer-by, along with your ticket(s):
|我搭这趟火车, 请问我的候车室在哪里?||I am taking this train; would you please tell me where the waiting hall is?|
|我搭这趟火车, 请问我在哪个站台上车?||I am taking this train; would you please tell me which platform I should go to?|
|我搭这趟火车, 请问我在哪个车厢?||I am taking this train; would you please tell me which coaches I should board?|
|我搭这趟火车, 请问我的座位是哪个?||I am taking this train; would you please tell me where my seat is?|
6.) Know What’s on the Train
Food, Water, and Toilets
Different trains offer different services and facilities. High-speed trains are modern and comfortable, while normal speed trains may not be so convenient for foreign travelers.
G, D, and C: High Speed Trains — Modern Facilities for a Convenient Journey
When taking high-speed trains, lettered G, D, or C, you can enjoy a more comfortable train journey.
Seating: High-speed trains are fully air-conditioned. The seats are adjustable, just like seats on a plane, for you to sit comfortably. What’s more, there is a 220V AC socket under each seat for your devices.
Food: High-speed trains offer different types of set meals (including Muslim food).You can go to the restaurant car to have a meal, where they offer made-to-order meals at 20 to 50 yuan per dish. Or you can buy a set meal from the attendant’s trolley. You can also go to the canteen bar to buy some snacks and drinks.
Water: Free boiled/cold water is available between the coaches.
Toilets: Chinese/Western-style toilets and handicapped restrooms are available between the coaches. However, the toilets have usually run out of toilet paper or don’t provide toilet paper in the first place.
LED screen: Every coach with an LED screen indicates the speed of the train.
Luggage racks: There are luggage racks over the seats at either side of a coach. You can take a 24-inch suitcase on board and place it on a luggage rack. There are some shelves between the coaches for large baggage. Shelves for large suitcases, suitable for a 70cm (28-inch) suitcase.
K and T Number Trains: Normal Speed Trains — Not as Comfortable
Normal speed trains are not as convenient and comfortable as high-speed trains. If you have to take such trains, you are recommended to buy tickets for soft seats or hard/soft sleepers. If you choose to book the hard seats for your party, you should be prepared to sit next to a lot of Chinese men playing cards, making loud jokes, and smoking cigarettes all around you for long hours. The hard seats are slightly cheaper than the hard or soft sleeper beds but offer little in the way of privacy or cleanliness.
Seating: Hard seats are not adjustable. There are no power outlets. Normal speed trains, apart from the oldest number-only ones, are fully air-conditioned.
Food: Some trains don’t have a restaurant car, but most T and K trains do, and there is often a staff member who walks through the coaches selling somewhat overpriced simple small items, snacks, and drinks from a food trolley.
Our suggestion is to purchase some simple food and drinks before boarding, such as a takeout from KFC or McDonald’s.
Water: There is free boiled/cold water is available between each coach car. Make sure that the water is labeled as “drinkable” because all the other faucets on the train provide water that is NOT suitable for drinking. There are sometimes hot water kettles available in the soft sleeper cabins where you can store your boiled water in case you want to prepare some instant noodles or Starbucks VIA coffee.
Toilets: Most trains only have Chinese-style squat toilets, which are usually quite wet and dirty. Some soft sleepers / deluxe soft sleepers have Western-style toilets which are a little cleaner. In either case, keep your bathroom expectations pretty low and bring lots of hand sanitizer and wet wipes. Never enter a bathroom without shoes as the floors can be quite wet and messy.
Luggage racks: After you board the train, you can place your baggage on the luggage rack above the seats. If you are on a sleeper carriage, you can place your baggage on the opposite side of the berths, under the lower berth, or under the small desk in your compartment.
5 Places to Buy Food for Your Train Trip in China
Chinese people always buy snacks for short-distance trips and food for long-distance train trips. Generally, the food prices at the train station and on the train are higher than those in the outside restaurants or stores. If possible, you should take your own food or snacks. I have some friends that always prepare a nice bottle of wine and some imported cheese and crackers for their journey and think this is a great practice. With a little preparation, the train ride can be a fun little traveling picnic!
There are five places you can buy snacks or food in and around the train:
- Shops or fast-food chain restaurants around your hotel or city center, such as Subway, KFC and McDonald’s. You can buy the food in advance then go to the train station to board your train. You have more options if you prepare the food in advance.
- Small shops at the train station. There are lots of shops at the station. You will find fruit, bread, milk, and eggs in the shops and these are something similar to what we would consider American “gas station food”. You can pay for these items using Chinese yuan cash OR Wechat or Alipay
- The platform at the train station. When the train stops at a station, you can get off the train to buy some food. There are vendors selling local dishes or more simple food. You will find food like boiled corn cobs and tea-flavored boiled eggs. But make sure you only take a few minutes as you do not want the train to leave without you!
- There is a dining car on long-distance trains that is open to all passengers and this area sells snacks, beer, and soft drinks. There is a canteen bar on high-speed trains. Try to go there as early or as late as possible because it will be very crowded at meal times. The dining car offers prepared and heated packed meals and the prices range from 15 to 45 yuan.
- Railway attendants take trolleys through the cars frequently and you will hear them yelling by your cabin. There are packed meals at meal times and each one is about 25 yuan. The Chinese meal includes rice, meat, and vegetables. You can buy instant noodles too (which almost all the Chinese eat). There is free boiled water on each car. At other times, the attendants also sell drinks, snacks, packed fruit, and some toys for kids.
7.) Travel Safely
Train travel in China is a fairly safe and standardized process, especially when compared to traveling in India or Nepal. Yet good advice never hurts.
When you are traveling with young children, keep them close by your side and keep an eye on them. Don’t allow kids to run up and down the train coach/platform, or lose them in the station. Beware of pinching fingers in the (automatic) doors. Hold onto the hand knobs and rails while walking inside the coach. The bathroom floor can be slippery (and sometimes a little nasty), so be careful in there.
Don’t leave your valuable belongings unattended. There is a power socket under the seat (on high-speed trains) or on the small table (on non-high-speed overnight trains), which can be used to recharge your devices. Never leave your valuables unattended. When taking an overnight train, keep your carry-on items close to your body. Your passport and ticket should always be kept with you.
Travel in China With Us
If you are planning to take a train during your China trip, please see our recommended tours below for inspiration. You can enjoy hassle free travel with Elevated Trips. All you have to do is arrive in the train or plane station and we take care of everything else.
If you have more questions on train travel, do not hesitate to contact us here.
The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca, literally “black and white cat-foot”) has a very cute name in Chinese: 大熊猫; pinyin: dà xióng māo. This literally means “Big bear cat”. The giant panda is also known more commonly as the panda bear or simply panda, and is a bear native to south central China, particularly the lush bamboo forests of Sichuan Province.
It is easily recognized by the large, distinctive black patches around its eyes, over the ears, and across its round body. The name “giant panda” is sometimes used to distinguish it from the unrelated red panda. Though it belongs to the order Carnivora, the giant panda’s diet is over 99% bamboo. Giant pandas in the wild will occasionally eat other grasses, wild tubers, or even meat in the form of birds, rodents, or carrion. In captivity, they may receive honey, eggs, fish, yams, shrub leaves, oranges, or bananas along with specially prepared food.
Here are 10 facts from WWF, the World Wildlife Foundation (whose logo is actually a giant panda) about these cuddly animals:
10. The first panda came to the United States in 1936—a cub to a zoo in Chicago. It took another 50 years before the States would see another.
9. A newborn panda cub is 1/900th the size of its mother and is comparable to the length of a stick of butter.
8. A panda’s paw has six digits—five fingers and an opposable pseudo-thumb (actually an enlarged wrist bone) it uses merely to hold bamboo while eating.
7. Of all the members of the bear family, only sloth bears have longer tails than pandas.
6. Pandas rely on spatial memory, not visual memory.
5. Female pandas ovulate once a year and are fertile for only two or three days.
4. The giant panda’s genome was sequenced in 2009, according to the journal Nature.
3. The WWF logo was inspired by Chi-Chi, a giant panda brought to the London Zoo in 1961, when WWF was being created. Says Sir Peter Scott, one of those founders and the man who sketched the first logo: “We wanted an animal that is beautiful, is endangered and one loved by many people in the world for its appealing qualities. We also wanted an animal that had an impact in black and white to save money on printing costs.”
2. Historically speaking, pandas are one of the few animals whose parts have not been used in traditional Chinese medicine.
1. Approximately 99 percent of a panda’s diet—bamboo leaves and shoots—is void of much nutritional value. Its carnivore-adapted digestive system cannot digest cellulose well, thus it lives a low-energy, sedentary lifestyle but persists in eating some 60 species of bamboo. Pandas must eat upwards of 30 pounds of bamboo daily just to stay full.
A picture is worth a thousand words. So we have put together this video so you can see what it is like to live like a Tibetan nomad in the grasslands:
西宁 Xīníng (Standard Tibetan: ཟི་ལིང་། Ziling) is the capital of Qinghai province in western China and the largest city on the Tibetan Plateau. As of the 2010 Chinese census, Xining had 2,208,708 inhabitants and, as such, is a modern city that offers plenty of fast food restaurants and shopping including H&M, Sephora, UniQlo, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and Burger King restaurants (not to mention a fair share of knock off brands that imitate these same restaurants).
The city was a commercial hub along the Northern Silk Road’s Hexi Corridor for over 2000 years, and was a stronghold of the Han, Sui, Tang, and Song dynasties’ resistance against nomadic attacks from the west. Although long a part of Gansu province, Xining was added to Qinghai in 1928. Xining holds sites of religious significance to Muslims and Buddhists, including the Dongguan Mosque and the Kumbum Monastery (aka Ta’er Monastery 塔尔寺 ）. The city lies in the Huangshui River valley and is surrounded by 3,500 meter mountain ridges on both the north and the south. Owing to its high altitude, Xining has a cold semi-arid climate. It is connected by rail to Lhasa, Tibet and connected by high-speed rail to Lanzhou, Gansu and Ürümqi, Xinjiang. The Xining XNN Caojiapu airport does not directly serve international destinations but this airport can easily be reached, often in 2 hours, from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Xian, Lhasa, and most other Chinese cities.
A popular route through Xining is fly to Xining XNN from Chengdu CTU airport and then take the train to Lhasa (the highest railroad in the world) for the stunning landscapes and to aid in the acclimatization to altitude. Because few people have ever heard of Qinghai Province most people use Xining as a gateway city to get into Lhasa and spend little time in and around Xining city itself. This means that there are still many astounding, wild places in and around Xining and most of these places have never been seen by western or Chinese tourists. There are, in fact, several 5,000 and 6,000 meter mountains in Qinghai Province that have never even been climbed or named. This makes Xining a perfect destination for people looking for authentic Tibetan culture without all the hassle of Tibet Travel Permits and the bureaucracy of Lhasa, Tibet.
To acclimate to any adventure into the Tibetan Plateau, we recommend spending a night in Xining, at 2,300m above sea level, and this will help partially in your acclimatization process. To truly do your health and wellbeing a favor, it is best to spend 3-5 days in Qinghai’s capital and surroundings so that you are ready to tackle Lhasa’s 3,600m of elevation with greater ease.
While Xining is a typical medium-sized Chinese city with cement high rises and dime-a-dozen convenience stores that all sell the same products, it also offers a whole lot more character than your average all-Han Chinese city. After over 8 years of travel on the Tibetan Plateau, I have three suggestions for day tours from Xining that will not only take your breath away but will give you the time and space to help you acclimatize properly before you head into the high regions of Tibet.
Here are some of the top 3 day trips you can take from Xining (these can make for a great day trip if you are in a hurry but you can easily spend at least 3-5 days in all of these magnificent areas) :
1. Zhangye Danxia Landforms
Located just a 45 drive from Zhangye town, one of the most impressive landscapes you will ever see is that of the Zhangye Danxia Landforms (elevations range from 1,500 – 2,500m), one of China’s many UNESCO sites. Usually a 6 six hour drive in a private car, I recommend taking the 2 hour high speed train from Xining 西宁 to Zhangye West station 张掖西 and spend a day in the area. The Danxia Landforms, also known as the Rainbow Mountains or 七彩山 , is a mountain range layered with almost all the colors of the rainbow （or at least distinct shades of reds, yellows, purples, greys, and oranges). The magnificent patterns in the hills were formed from the land’s red sandstone bedrock and the passing of time with erosion and uplift. Danxia is perfect for photography enthusiasts and lovers of hiking. Take the afternoon to soak in the scenery and admire this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just a 20 minute drive from the Zhangye Danxia National Park is the lesser visited (but equally as beautiful) BingGou National Park.
The small monastic town of Rebkong (Tongren 同仁 in Chinese) sits 2.5 hours from Xining at 2,500m above sea level and is a great option for a one to three day trip outside of Xining. Rebkong is home to some of the most famous thangka paintings in Tibet and its artwork is highly valued not only on the Tibetan Plateau but by Buddhist practitioners around the world. After a stroll through Rebkong’s two most famous temple complexes, Rebkong Longwu Monastery and Wutun Monastery, you can watch 17-year old teenagers painstakingly produce some of Tibets’ most colorful and detailed paintings.
3. Qinghai Lake
Qinghai Lake (3,200m), China’s largest inland lake, is one the first landscapes you will spot from the train to Lhasa, but to truly experience it, take a day trip or multi-day trip from Xining. The lake is famous for its sweeping natural scenery, abundant birdlife and nearby grasslands that are home to traveling nomadic Tibetan tribes and roaming yaks. You can go biking (though take it slow at the high altitude) or have a champagne picnic by the lake’s shores as you watch the waves lap against the beach shore. Qinghai Lake is 150km (80 miles) from Xining and about a 2.5hr drive. But please be aware: in the summer months (June, July, August) this is a MADHOUSE of Chines tourism and if you go in these months you are sure to see 1,000’s of Chinese tourists descending upon the lake every day and you are likely to spend a few more hours sitting in traffic than normal because of the immense amount of visitors this spot receives. I personally recommend if you are going to visit Qinghai Lake – do it in the winter. There is no one else around for miles, the hotels are much more affordable, and the slowly crashing chunks of frozen ice, circling the lake for over 300km, hold an enchanting beauty in the eerie quiet of the winter.
The Tibetan name Zö/Hzö གཙོས། is pronounced Dzoi in Standard Tibetan and pronounced Hdzoi/Hdzu in the local dialect. Zö is the traditional name for a Tibetan Ibex and you can see statues of this animal throughout the town.
Today the city has been named Hezuo or 合作
Hezuo is the capital city of Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in southern Gansu Province. Standing at the junction area of Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan provinces, it is the hub of nomadic activity of the central plains region and the Amdo Tibetan region. And it is also the center of commerce between historical Tibetan and Chinese trading.
Located at the northeast edge of the Tibetan Plateau, Hezuo is 276 kilometers south of Lanzhou. The city contains many large hotels and every sort of restaurant you could hope to find in a middle-sized Chinese city. There is no railway running from Lanzhou to Hezuo, however, regular buses are available every day from Lanzhou every 35 minutes from 05:50 to 16:04. It takes about 4 to 5 hours by bus to get to Hezuo and the ticket fee ranges from 37.5 RMB to 49.5 RMB depending on the departure time.
Hezuo’s main attraction is the 9-story Milarepa Temple. It is said that there are only two temples of this kind in the whole Tibetan area, and the one in Hezuo is the only one which has nine floors and is dedicated to a primary founder of Tibetan Buddhism, Milarepa. Milarepa is one of the few saints who is thought to have attained enlightenment in one lifetime. He is often pictured as very thin and bony (as he was meditating and fasting in a cave for most of his latter years) and with his hand to his mouth as he would often sing his lessons and teachings to his disciples so they could better remember his ideas.
The Milarepa Temple is about 40 meters high and was originally built in the Qing dynasty. There are perennial resident monks and lamas studying here and if you have the time, spend an afternoon watching them perform their ritual duties, including burning juniper and lighting incense. There is also a very nice pilgrimage around the entire monastery that can take around 30-45 minutes to complete if you are up for a leisurely stroll with Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims. Once you have finished this walk, you can also meander over to Folk Street and Century Square which are a short walk from the monastery complex.
It’s worth a rickety climb up the steep wooden steps of the nine floors not only for the artifacts but also for the decent view of the city from the top. A nice monk who oversees the grounds may invite you into his office for tsampa and tea if you speak a bit of Chinese or Tibetan and have a little free time.
The Old Town of Lijiang is located on the Lijiang plain at an elevation of 2,400 meters in southwest Yunnan Province, China. The Jade Dragon Snow Mountains are to the northwest and this incredibly scenic and snowy range is easily viewed as you take a leisurely stroll through time in the old quarters of Lijiang. These mountains are the source of much snowmelt that supplies the rivers and springs which water the plain and supply the nearby Heilong Pool (Black Dragon Pond) and the classic canals that wind through the old town of Lijiang .
The Old Town of Lijiang contains 3 main areas and you could easily spend 1-2 days getting lost amidst the cobblestone streets and antique coppersmiths that give this area its characteristic charm. These 3 areas include: Dayan Old Town (including the Black Dragon Pond), Baisha Old Town, and Shuhe Old Town. Dayan Old Town was established in the Ming dynasty as a commercial center and includes the Lijiang Junmin Prefectural Government Office; the Yizi pavilion and the Guabi Tower. Numerous two-storied timber-framed houses combine elements of Han and Zang dynasty architecture and decoration in the arched gateways, screen walls, courtyards, tiled roofs, and carved roof beams are representative of the Naxi culture and are built in rows following the contours of the mountainside. Wooden elements are elaborately carved with domestic and cultural elements – pottery, musical instruments, flowers and birds.
Baisha Old Town, though, was established earlier than the Dayan Old Town sector. Baisha was built during the Song and Yuan dynasties and is located 8km north of the Dayan Old Town. Houses here are arranged on a north-south axis around a central, terraced square. The religious complex includes halls and pavilions containing over 40 paintings dating from the early 13th century, which depict subjects relating to Buddhism, Taoism and the life of the Naxi people, incorporating cultural elements of the Bai people. Together with the Shuhe housing cluster located 4km north-west of Dayan Old Town, these quaint mountain settlements reflect the blend of local cultures, folk customs and traditions over several centuries. You can even see the local tile work depicted on the courtyard floors of the homes representing bats, cats, and other animals thought to scare away local spirits. The local Naxi people still walk barefoot over these intricate tile floorscapes, feeling every ridge and crest of the hand laid tilework in what they call “a free foot massage”.
The colorful village space, the delightful sounds of the water, the outstanding folk art and calligraphy and the old style of the local architecture all make for a very pleasant environment that will leave you with a deep feeling of peace in this gem hidden among the mountains.
Tiger Leaping Gorge, set to the backdrop of the majestic Jade Dragon and Haba Snow Mountains of China, is one of the deepest gorges in the world. The Jingsha (aka Yangzte) River flows through its beautiful 16km length, nestled between towering cliffs that have an incredible 3,900 meters in vertical drop from the top of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain to the surging river below. At its narrowest point near the mouth of the river, a large rock sits midway across the water. According to a local legend, a hunter was chasing a tiger down through the gorge and the tiger jumped across this chasm to this rock to escape the hunter’s arrows.
Generally the trek takes a total of 7-8 hours of actual hiking time and most hikers get comfortably through Tiger Leaping Gorge in 1 nights / 2 days, but if you wanted to take your time and really relax you could take 2 nights/ 3 days. Here is a great blog post on the more relaxed 2 night/ 3 day itinerary. Note that all guesthouses have full service bedding and restaurants. So all you really need for this hike are some snacks, water bottles, rain gear, a fleece, a change of clothes, and a medium to large daypack (probably in the realm of 20-35 Liters). The hike is pretty exposed so you may want to bring a sunhat, sunglasses, and sunscreen as well. While there are significant vertical drops down to the river I, in no way, see the hike as being dangerous as long as the conditions are dry. In fact, there are few other places in the world where you can have a leisurely walk and see such incredible vertical relief
The following itinerary was accomplished by a group of 40 middle school students (and believe me these guys travel pretty slow). So, I imagine if these middle school students can do this itinerary, you can too.
The entrance of the gorge is the small city of Qiaotou, located at 1,900 meters above sea level. The upper hiking trail (which is the one you want to take) will bring you up to 2,650 meters high (at the end of the 28 bends) before going down to Tina’s Guesthouse at 2100 meters high, which is the end of the trail.
Tiger Leaping Gorge Suggested Itinerary
Depart Lijiang around 8am in the morning. Drive 2.5 hour from Lijiang to Tiger Leaping Gorge (QiaoTou is the name of the small village where you enter the Tiger Leaping Gorge park and pay the 65 RMB park fee)
Pay entrance ticket
Drive 10 minutes up the road past the ticket gate
Start hiking up to Naxi Family Guesthouse
1.5 hours up to Naxi Family Guesthouse on a concrete road (don’t worry – after this the path becomes natural dirt or stone)
Lunch at Naxi Family Guesthouse
Afternoon- hike up the infamous “28 Bends”. Most of the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek is relatively flat as you are walking along a path cut sideways across the vertical rock face. However, this particular section is the exception. It is not terribly long but you can expect to gain most of your elevation on the whole hike on this section. There is a small store about half-way up the bends if you need water or snacks.
Walk 2.5 hours From Naxi Guesthouse to the top of 28 bends at 2,650 meters
Then 2.5 hours down to Teahorse Guesthouse, eat dinner and sleep at Teahorse Guesthouse
8:30am – Depart Teahorse Guesthouse
Walk 2 hours
10:30am- Break and snack at the Halfway House, great views looking down one of the steepest parts of the gorge
11:30am- Depart Halfway House as you make your final descent down the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek.
1:30pm- Arrive Tina’s Guesthouse for lunch.
2:30pm- Depart for Shaxi or Lijiang or Shangrila.
2-3 hour bus drive
5:30pm- Arrive at hotel and settle in.
K2 is perhaps the most dangerous mountain in the world. One in every four people who makes an attempt to summit it dies, and nobody has ever climbed it in winter. Only 300 or so people have ever even reached the peak of K2, and its relatively northern location on the Pakistan/China border makes it a particularly unpredictable mountain to tame.
With the height of 8611 meters, K2 is the 2nd highest peak in the world after the Mount Everest, which has the height of 8848 meters. K2 is also known as Mount Godwin-Austen or Chhogori and it was referred as “Savage Mountain” by the famous American Climber George Bell. He referred it savage because of its unmatched difficult terrain. When asked about his experience for making an attempt to climb the K2, George Bell noted, “It’s a savage mountain that tries to kill you.”
In 1956, when it was first measured by a British surveyor, TG Montgomerie, it was given the temporary designation- K2 (for Karakoram 2). The K2 was so remote that no other suitable name could be found!!
Unlike other eight-thousanders, K2 has never been climbed in the winters. The best weather to climb the K2 is from April to October. Among the eight-thousanders, K2 has the 2nd highest fatality rate with one death for every four successful ascents (first being the Annapurna (191 summits and 61 fatalities). The peak climbers say that it is due to the extreme difficulty of ascent.
And, on July 22, 2018, a man just skied down from the summit for the first time in history. Polish adventurer Andrzej Bargiel first tried to make the historic descent last year in 2017, only to call the expedition off because of falling rocks and the high avalanche danger. This year, with better weather and less unstable snow pack, Andrzej made it all the way from the K2 summit to base camp in 7 hours. The majority of mountaineering accidents occur during descents, and skiing on near 90 degree snow slopes with 2000 meter drops obviously increases that risk dramatically.
Andrzej is not the first person to attempt skiing the savage mountain, though. Italian alpinist Michele Fait died trying to ski K2 in 2009. This was just a year before his friend Fredrik Ericsson fell to his death near the K2 summit. In 2001, Hans Kammerlander stopped after just a quarter mile when he witnessed a Korean climber fall to his death. And climber Dave Watson actually made it through the infamous bottleneck section all the way to base camp in 2009, though he didn’t start from the summit.
Bargiel reached the summit around 11:30 a.m. Sunday morning on July 19, and he made it to base camp eight hours later after being forced to wait out cloudy weather a few times.
When Bargiel finished up, he was greeted with hoops and cheers from his Red Bull crew. Upon his epic descent, he said he was pretty much all done with K2 for the rest of his life. “I feel huge happiness and, to be honest, it was my second attempt, so I’m glad that I won’t be coming here again.”
Located about a 3 hour drive from the Xining, the capital of Qinghai Province, Kanbula National Park (or as it is called in Chinese “Kanbula National Forest Park”) is a wonderland of soaring red rock cliffs located right on the banks of the emerald green Yellow River. If you are driving the 2.5 hours south to Tongren 同仁 to see Rebkong Longwu Monastery, this makes an excellent side trip. In fact, you can see one of our favorite, best selling itineraries that combines Kanbula National Park and Rebkong Longwu Monastery HERE.
The Kanbula area is famous for its unique sandstone Danxia landforms. This scenic area has abundant rainfall and a cool and moist climate and, unlike most barren places in Qinghai Province, there are prolific evergreen forests here; the forest coverage rate is about 28% and its plant resources are extremely rich with some of the best wildflowers in all of Qinghai Province. Some of the tree species represented in Kanbula National Park are the Qinghai spruce, chinese pine, white birch, and various species of azaleas and honeysuckle. Other species include Ulmus glaucescens, Prunus sibirica, Salix oritepha, and Spiraea alpina. Kanbula also hosts a number of rare birds (including larks and cuckoos) and fauna like blue sheep, argali.
Buddhism here has a long history and this park is known for its meditation caves situated high above the park where monks and nuns silently retreat for periods of 2 months to 2 years eating only a simple diet with a singular bowl of rice per day. This is a ritual and discipline that is part of the practice of Tibetan Buddhism and is thought to help the practitioner release themselves from the attachments and distractions of the world. The hermitage caves are a short 45 minute hike up wooden steps just above the Aqiong Namzong Temple and are located on a 20 minute ride down a bumpy dirt road that leads off the main paved park road.
Kanbula offers amazing, unmatched views and is certainly one of the off-the-beaten track highlights of Qinghai Province. However, the price tag of tickets reflects it’s beauty, at 250 RMB/person. Kanbula can be seen as a day trip from Xining, but it has so much beauty that most of our guests prefer to spend at least one night in the park, sleeping in a local Tibetan village homestay full of roaming donkeys and colorful prayer flags waving high on the wind. On all Elevated Trips adventures transportation to and from the park as well as the entrance tickets to the park are included in the price of the tour.
The Silk Road was a network of trade routes connecting China and the Far East with the Middle East and Europe. Established when the Han Dynasty in China officially opened trade with the West in 130 B.C., the Silk Road routes remained in use until 1453 A.D., when the Ottoman Empire boycotted trade with China and closed them. Although it’s been nearly 600 years since the Silk Road has been used for international trade, the routes had a lasting impact on commerce, culture and history that resonates even today.
From July 15-17, 2018 we took out an amazing couple from America to explore the Silk Road of Zhangye in Gansu Province of Western China. These incredible mountains are surrounded by the 6,000 meter peaks and the glaciers of the Qilian Mountains and offer one of the most unique and authentic insights into the amazing history of trade and culture of great empires that once were.
Have you ever wanted to see the Silk Road?
Venture with Elevated Trips to see the incredible Hexi Corridor of the Silk Road and walk through 1,500 years of history as you..
- Get to sleep in a Mongolian Yurt Camp right at the base of Danxia National Park
- Sample the local cuisine
- Explore 33 Buddhist cave grottoes on the side of a Monastery tucked high up on a cliff face
You can see a possible itinerary HERE.
Built in the 17th century by the fifth Dalai Lama on the site of the surviving Buddhist meditation caves first built by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th Century A.D., the Potala Palace is composed of two parts: the central Red Palace at the top, which is used for religious affairs, and the secular White Palace at the bottom, which houses the former affairs of government and daily life. This is something like the White House in Washington D.C. combined with the Vatican in Rome – the seat of historical religious and political power all in one.
The top of the Potala Palace is 119 meters above the courtyard below and the palace itself contains 1,000 rooms-including assembly halls, government offices, and temples- and has over 10,000 altars and 200,000 statues. Amazingly, the whole structure was fastened together without steel or nails and was fully constructed of wood, stones and mud bricks using perfectly carved interlocking blocks. At one point in history before the Industrial Revolution, this hand built architectural marvel was the tallest building in the known world. The roofs are covered with gilded bronze tiles that glitter in the sun and can be seen miles away.
In almost every chapel, red robed lamas collect donations and sit on a cushions sipping tea and chanting scriptures. Murals and thangkas are illuminated with flickering wax candles and you will see many pilgrims offering butter in thermos containers as offerings to the holy site. The gold-embossed tombs of former religious rulers contain the mummified bodies inside and these are the central attraction of the 1 hour tour that marches from the bottom to the top of the palace and winds through many dimly lit and sacred rooms .
The Potala is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and most Tibetans will try to visit this holy site at least once in their lives. You can find a link to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Map here.
A seven-year $43.9 million renovation of Potala Palace and Norbulingka Summer Palace was completed in August 2009. The aim of the renovation was to foster tourism and promote Tibetan culture.
In August 2006, the number of people allowed to enter the Potala Palace was increased from 1,500 to 2,300 people per day. Because there are so many people that go through the palace in one day, tour times are scheduled and are limited to one hour once you are inside the palace gates. This is enough time, but it does not allow for a lot of time to just “float around” and meditate. So you can expect to be rushed a little and “herded” through crowds in the palace in order to make your time slot. Your guide (who is required to bet with you for the tour) will schedule in a specific time to enter the Potala Palace, so your day schedule will generally revolve around whatever time your tickets say that you are allowed in.
To see a possible tour itinerary that includes the Potala Palace, Jokhang Monastery, Sera Monastery, and Everest Base Camp check here.
May 1 – Oct. 31: CNY 200
Nov.1 – Apr. 30: CNY 100
Free for children under 1.3m and the elderly above 70 (also free for Tibetans, Mongolians, and Nepalese who practice Tibetan Buddhism)
Ticket Purchase Procedure: Your guide will have to purchase the ticket 1 day in advance before your visit using your original ID card or Passport. Once the ticket is purchased, you will then be given a certificate with your specific visit time to the Potala Palace for the following day’s tour.
Tips when visiting the Potala Palace
1. There is no heat inside this ancient building. So be aware that it can be very cold inside the Potala Palace. It would not be a bad idea to take a coat with you even on the sunny Lhasa summer days.
2. As this is a religious site, it is hard to find an adequate bathroom during your tour. So make sure you try to take care of business before you leave your hotel in Lhasa. If you do end up finding one of the few bathrooms along the tour, it is said the bathroom at the right side of the White Palace Square is the most beautiful one on earth with an excellent view out onto Lhasa :). Lucky you if you make it here!
3. As we mentioned before, the tour time in the Potala Palace is limited to 1 hour. So don’t dilly dally and make sure you stay close to your guide. It might be easy to get lost amidst the many steps and the labyrinth of rooms and holy sites if you were separated from your tour guide.
4. Entering the palace is like entering airport security. You will have to check your bags through a X-Ray machine and lighters and any kind of liquid are forbidden. (You can buy bottles of water inside the palace for about twice as much as they are sold for in Lhasa).
5. The best spot to take pictures of the Potala Palace is Chakpori Hill, across the square from the palace. I highly recommend visiting this place at night because seeing the palace all lit up in the dark is pure magic!
As the beautiful capital city of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), Lhasa is situated in the south central part of the region, on the north bank of the Kyichu River (a tributary of the Yarlung Zangbo River) in a valley surrounded by imposing mountains. The altitude of Lhasa is 3,656 meters (11,995 feet) above sea level.
Lhasa has a population of roughly 1 million people, and about half of this population is comprised of Han Chinese while the other half consists of Tibetans (there are also a few Hui Muslims here that make up a small percentage of town and there is an active Mosque in the Tibetan quarter of town). Although the Tibetan quarter is very historic with ancient stone architecture (this is definitely where you want to stay and spend most of your time) Lhasa is quickly developing and the areas outside of the Tibetan district are starting to look more and more like a regular Han Chinese city. The large percentage of tourists that visit this city are mostly Han Chinese and there is a lot of infrastructure that supports this growing population, including massage parlors, outdoor gear shops, karaoke bars, fancy car dealerships, and Sichuan style restaurants. With all the recent development, as long as you have given your bank proper notice, you should have no trouble using your international credit card here at ATM’s in large banks such as ICBC, Bank of China, or China Construction Bank.
In fact, more than 95 % of tourists to Tibet are Chinese. In 2014 alone, more than 15 million tourists visited Tibet Autonomous Region [TAR], a number up more than 20 percent from the 2013 statistics, according to the local government. In 2014, a record 3.15 million people arrived by air to Lhasa and most of the rest of the tourists came by the world’s highest train, the famed Qinghai-Tibet Railway. The China Daily reported the numbers of a regional tourism bureau report: “Lhasa alone saw more than 9.25 million tourists and reaped tourism revenue of 11.2 billion yuan ($1.79 billion)”.
History of Lhasa
Lhasa was an important holy city even before Buddhism arrived in Tibet in 642 A.D., and until the 1950s half of its residents lived in monasteries.
In the 1940s, Lhasa would have been best described as a village. Its 600 traditional buildings were dwarfed by the massive monasteries and palaces that were home to 20,000 monks. Between 1950 and 2000, the population of Lhasa increased 17 times to around 200,000 and has increased 5 times since then. The expansion is mainly the result of arrival of large numbers of Han Chinese but has also been affected by a migration of Tibetans from rural areas to Lhasa.
Currently there are two options to reach this mysterious high land, either by plane by train. The bus station in Lhasa will not sell tickets to foreigners and bus drivers will not allow foreigners onto buses that go outside of Lhasa. All travel within the TAR for foreigners must be booked in private vehicles.
1. Taking an airplane is the most comfortable, quick method of travel to Lhasa, but this offers less time for you to acclimatize to the altitude of Lhasa. Lhasa Gongar Airport (LXA) is a one hour drive from downtown Lhasa, or about 62 kms (38.5 miles). There are over 40 flights to/from major domestic cities that fly in and out of LXA including Beijing, Chamdo, Changsha, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dazhou, Diqing, Fuzhou, Golmud, Guangzhou, Guiyang, Hangzhou, Kangding, Kunming, Lanzhou etc.
2. Taking the train to Lhasa is a fabulous new option, giving the opportunity to see previously unseen mountain scenery on a train that is built on over 550km of permafrost. With the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway on July 1st, 2006, more and more visitors opt to get a soft sleeper or a hard sleeper bed on the train to experience the lay of the land and the incredible scenery from their train window.
Getting to Lhasa from Beijing by train will be a once in a lifetime experience for you. The Beijing –> Lhasa train (Train # Z21), takes about 40 hours and 30 minutes, runs for 3,757 km, and crosses 8 total provinces from the plains of northeast China to the worlds’ highest plateau. Some of the highlights of the scenery along the way include glimpses of the Gobi desert, the 6,244 meter (20,485 ft) high snow-capped Yuzhu Peak, and the lofty Tanggula Mountain. And, of course, there will LOTS of open high-altitude grassland (and maybe even some wildlife roaming about). All I can say about this journey is for you to make sure you pack lots of snacks. I have friends who pack wine and cheese every time they ride a train in China and I think they are really onto something by preparing so well for the occasion!
Mount Kailash is a high altitude behemoth in western Tibet and provides some of the most stunning trekking in all of Central Asia. The highest point of the 3 day trek is 5,636 meters.
For this trek you are going to need some serious cold weather gear. But at the same time, because you will be sleeping in tea houses that provide food, beds, and blankets there are definitely some things you will NOT need to bring. Here is the packing list I recommend for anyone doing the trek in 3 days. As always, the less stuff you bring, the more your back and legs will thank you!
Packing list for Mount Kailash
- 2 x Synthetic or merino long underwear top (one of these is for sleeping)
- 1 x long sleeve wicking hiking shirt
- 1 x fleece jacket
- 1 x Goretex rain jacket
- 1 x Down puffy jacket for cold nights or when you are not hiking
- Synthetic or merino long underwear bottoms
- 1 x pair of waterproof rain or snow pants
- 1 x pair of fall or winter weight soft shell pants
Feet and head
- 4 x pair of wool hiking socks (keep one dry pair for sleeping)
- Boots or trail running shoes with a good tread (I wore a low top Salomon trail runner in the first week of May 2018 and was fine but you will need to check weather and snow reports as some years get up to 5 meters of snow on the Dolma La Pass)
- Gaiters for snow and mud (especially if you are wearing low top shoes)
- 1 x synthetic or wool winter hat
- 1 x sunhat (the sun up at altitude is intense!)
- 1 x foreign passport
- 1 x day pack (20-30 liters) – If it is bigger than 35 liters you are carrying too much stuff!
- 2 x one liter water bottles (can be refilled with boiled water at the teahouses for a small fee)
- 1x mid-weight winter gloves
- 1 x sunglasses (preferably polarized for the bright snow)
- 1 x chapstick or lip balm
- 1 x suntan lotion
- 1 x small bottle of Tylenol
- Optional: Diamox – for altitude sickness (consult your physician beforehand)
- Optional: 1 x small aerosol bottle of oxygen
- 4 x small packs of tissues (paper is not provided in the rustic “squatty-potties”)
- 1 x cell phone or camera
- 1 x charging cord and external battery charger (the tea houses have solar powered electric outlets but the electricity is spotty)
- 1 x hand sanitizer bottle (there is no running water on the trek)
- 8 x Snickers or Clif Bars
- 500 RMB for food (assuming your lodging is already paid for by your tour agent)
- Optional but recommended: 1 x set of trekking poles (the descent from the high pass can be rather steep and icy)
- Optional: a thin sleeping bag liner to add warmth/sanitation to blankets provided by the tea house
- Optional: “Hot Hands” – single use heat packs for keeping your hands and feet extra warm
Most people have never heard of Qinghai Province. Located on the northeastern corner of the Tibetan Plateau and with a total population of only 5.6 million people, Qinghai is a wide open, high altitude land of nomads and snow leopards, Tibetan cowboys and wild yaks. Qinghai also holds a wide array of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and mosques to dazzle the eye. Despite its relatively small population, this is a massive land area with 722,000 square kilometers in total area, making it bigger than the individual countries of France, Afghanistan, Thailand, or the whole of the United Kingdom.
Qinghai Province is the source of China’s two largest rivers, the Yangtze River and the Yellow River. This unique Montana-like Plateau offers towering mountains, red rock canyons, and is full of meandering rivers and alpine lakes.
Want to know where to travel in Qinghai?
Check out our trip locations all over wild Qinghai:
This is definitely the place to get off the map and experience #AdventureTravel at its finest!
“Why do the elderly in China have to look after grandchildren all day and do housework? We should be free to live our own lives,” Qi told Pear Video.
By 2050, it’s predicted that a quarter of China’s population will be 65 or older. This statistic was at 9.7% in 2013, according to the data company Statista. As of January 1, 2016, all Chinese couples are allowed to have two children and the 35 year old one-child policy was dropped. The predicted decline in the number of people of working age is thought to have persuaded the Communist Party to drop the one-child policy in 2016.
Longer life expectancies, economic reform, and a low birth rate mean China is now facing an ageing population crisis. As China is faced with an increasing elderly population, many wonder what China will do to cope with and care for this quickly growing population segment. “Filial piety”, a concept taught by Confucius showing the value of respect towards parents, elders and ancestors, is an important value in Chinese society and culture. This is so ingrained in Chinese thought that most elderly in China live with their children in their old age.
But one women, Ms. Qi, is redefining how society thinks and feels about its older population. Ms. Qi is showing the world that getting old doesn’t mean the end of fun or a high quality of life.
This 73-year-old retired teacher in China is breaking the stereotypes that are about what old people usually do after they retire. Instead of embracing a traditional easy retirement, Ms. Qi has chosen a life of adventure as she backpacks around the world and has won millions of fans on Chinese social media.
Ms. Qi says in her Pear Video interview that she has been traveling all her life, visiting countries in Europe, North America and Asia.
Pear Video followed her as she embarked on her latest trip to Quanzhou in China’s southwest Fujian Province. She stays in a dormitory in the video, and says she saves money by travelling with students and sharing journey costs. This 3 minute video has gone viral and, consequently, has ignited much online debate about the traditional idea that China’s elderly should move in with their children and spend the rest of their lives taking care of grandchildren.
Ms. Qi says that meeting young people is one of the most important things about her travels and then commented, “I talk with them and they have lots of fresh things to say”.
Her mother is still alive, and Ms. Qi says she video-calls her 92-year-old grandmother every day to let her know how she is. Qi also often posts pictures on social media for her children and grandchildren.
“I have a public account,” she says about her blog, “And I’ve had it for about 5 months. I write everything: my memories, my inspirations – a diary of memories for my children and grandchildren.” For Qi, this is a way to capture her memories and preserve them for future generations.
In China, old people are expected to depend on the younger generation for their care and upkeep. Ms Qi has shown a very different way of living than her peers. Because of her unconventional life and her intrepid adventures, her video has been seen by millions of people. She has become an inspirational and positive person to talk about and has made many start to reconsider their own conventions and ideals! Online bloggers and the younger generation are seeing Ms Qi as a new role model for old age.
“I hope I can be like her when I’m old,” says one of her devoted followers.
Another follower said it like this: “There are not enough people like this: today’s elderly seem to think that they can’t be the same as when they were young.”
No matter how you say it, this Grandma has got some get up and go and we are cheering for her in her awesome travels!
Sichuan cuisine is a style of Chinese cuisine originating from Sichuan Province in Southwest China. If you are a newbie to this kind of food, Sichuan dishes will surprise you with their bold flavor and spiciness, mainly from the large use of garlic and chili peppers, as well as the minty and slightly numbing flavor of the famous Sichuan pepper. Our advice is to be bold and give it a try.
In this article we will offer some insight on the most popular and delicious Sichuan snacks!
Liangfen ( 凉粉 )
Liangfen is a common but quite popular Sichuan snack which is served cold. In fact, the name Liangfen simply means “cold noodles”. It is generally a white, almost translucent, thick starch jelly, made from mung bean starch, but it also can be made from pea or potato starch.
The starch is boiled with water resulting in a viscous paste that is spread on a pan in the form of a sheet and then cut into thick strips. The liangfen strips are then served cold in a bowl with sesame paste, soy sauce and chili oil, seasoned with pieces of carrot, chopped green onion, fresh coriander and crushed garlic. This snack although served cold will warm up your body due to its spiciness and rich flavor. It is really an amazing combination of hot and cold in one dish.
Suan La Fen ( 酸辣粉 )
Suan La Fen, aka “Hot and sour sweet potato noodles”, is a well known Sichuan street snack. The main ingredient behind this snack is the thick sweet potato noodles which are much chewier than common flour-based noodles or the instant noodles you may have eaten in college. These noodles are served in a warm stock of either pork bone or chicken bone and is seasoned with tones of pre-fried garlic in chili oil, vinegar, sesame oil, light soy sauce and the Chinese five spices powder. The topping varies from red braised beef, minced pork sauce, or red braised large intestines combined with chopped green onion, fried peanuts and pickled mustard. You can find this snack in almost every city in China, so just give it a go.
La Tiao ( 辣条)
La Tiao is one of the most popular snacks in China and it got its international fame in 2016 when this snack was haphazardly featured in a BBC documentary about Chinese New Year celebrations. Apparently the 2 commentators were eating this snack during the filming of the documentary and the audience picked up on this little detail in a big way! Now it is becoming an international sensation! This snack consists of tofu skins fried in a mixture of water, soy sauce, fresh ginger, sugar, salt, Sichuan pepper, chili powder, myrcia and Chinese fennel species. The end result is similar to potato chips but much richer in taste and pretty spicy. Although very delicious, this snack is rich in gluten, so if you’re gluten sensitive you might want to stay away from this one.
Niu Rou Gan ( 牛肉干 )
This is a very traditional snack that is commonly given as a gift amongst Chinese people. If you are wondering what souvenir to bring your father or uncle – look no further! Niu Rou Gan explained in simple words is a spicy dry beef jerky, however there is more to it. This is so much more than just Jack Links jerky! The beef meat undergoes a three step process: boiling, stir-frying, and drying. During the first two steps the meat will be treated with diverse spices like Sichuan pepper, bay leaves, anise, cinnamon, fennel seeds, cardamom, sesame seeds, chili and many more. Therefore, when slowly chewing on this snack you can slowly taste the full spectrum of flavors derived from the spices. This one is especially good if you can manage to find it made from yak meat! The yak meat is a little richer than cow in taste and usually is 100% grass fed straight from the high open plains of the Tibetan Plateau!
The world knows this as a steamed bun, but China knows this as Baozi. This snack- often eaten as a breakfast staple by most local Chinese- is a simple but delicious bread-like bun, filled with meat or vegetables and then steamed, usually in a wooden wicker basket. The meat baozi is usually filled with a mixture of ground pork and sliced pork belly, as the extra fat ensures that the filling remains mouthwatering and juicy. The vegetarian baozi on the other hand is filled with various combinations of mixed savoy cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, and rice all seasoned with soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, salt and sugar. In the end, every one has their own favorite baozi, as there is a wide selection of it.
Personally, I could eat carrot and potato baozi all day long!
Qutan Monastery used to house between 400-500 monks. But if you visit it today the monastic staff has been reduced to a skeleton crew of exactly 11 monks who are now in charge of lighting butter lamps and caring for the grounds of this large, holy complex.
Driving from Xining, you can take the G6 highway east towards Ping’An and Lanzhou.
After 44km on the G6 you take the exit for Ledu 乐都 and then get off the freeway ramp into the small, relatively obscure town of Ledu. Ledu in the original Tibetan language means “entrance to the valley” and anyone driving from Lanzhou to Xining must pass this tiny town in order to enter the valley that bisects the large mountains to the north and south of the highway.
Once you have crossed the freeway toll exit and paid your highway toll you immediately take the next right onto the main street of Ledu. After a few kilometers traveling east on this main street you will see a road veer slightly to the right and up a hill with a sign pointing to “Qutan Monastery” and “Qutan Ski Resort”
Take this road and it is about another 20 minute drive to the actual monastery.
This road to the monastery is currently a narrowly badly paved road with a good deal of bumps, potholes, and poorly maintained road repair that winds through a few dusty Tibetan villages to about 8,000 feet in altitude where it drives in front of the monastery. However, as I was driving the road on January 5, 2018 I noticed a good deal of construction and it appears that within the next year the government is planning on building a 4 lane elevated highway to this formerly unknown and remote spot to promote tourism among local Chinese.
After crossing a bridge to the monastery you can park directly in front of the outer courtyard. Unless you are Tibetan or Mongolian, you will need to pay the 50 RMB/person entrance ticket fee for the monastery in the small white tin shack on your right as you enter the monastery.
Once you pay your ticket, you can enter the first courtyard with two large and beautiful temples set among a peaceful environment. During the winter I was practically the only person in the whole monastery complex and we had to ask a monk to unlock a few of the temples which had been bolted shut.
Being one of the few people wondering the temples and the old style stupas made this a very thoughtful and quiet winter experience. The back corners of the monastery were very dark and cold and it felt like no one had set foot there in a few hundred years. And it was certainly one of the cleanest monasteries I have ever been to. Every courtyard and temple was immaculately swept and I did not see a single piece of trash or debris anywhere. I guess the advantage of having such a small staff is that there are not as many people to clean up afterwards.
It would be easy to spend about 2-3 hours meandering around the various halls, temples, courtyards, and stupas of the monastery. Of particular interest are the hand painted Thangkas painted on the back wall of the main temple.
These 7th century artifacts are easily 10 meters high and 10 meters wide and I have actually never seen another Thangka wall painting (not painted on a canvas but directly onto the wood frame of the wall) that was either this big or this original. If nothing else, it would be worthwhile to walk through the temples just to see these incredible pieces of preserved history. Other things of interest in the temples include a giant drum with a 1 meter-diameter leather cow skin stretched over an impressive metal frame. I tapped every so lightly on this skin and it belted out a very deep tone, like the tone of an ancient leviathin rising out of the water from beneath. My mind instantly raced to a time when monks pounded on this monstrous drum and the base vibrations must have shaken and stirred the entire surrounding village with reverence and awe.
If you have a day or a half a day in Xining, I can highly recommend this trip to Qutan Monastery. If you have another 1 hour or so to kill you can drive another 8km up the road (sometimes a little icy in the winter) to Qutan’s smaller sister monastery that has the same small amount of monks taking care of the monastery.
This sister monastery only has 2 temple halls and does not offer much in a divergence from the original Qutan Monastery, so don’t get your hopes up too much here. But the monastery does provide a great view into the high mountains of this valley.
This smaller sister monastery also overlooks the Qutan Ski Resort, which is nothing more than a small bunny-hill type plain with a 5% slope grade where novice Chinese learn to ski. While this “resort” would be an insult to any serious skiiers, the slightly inclined slope looks like a fun place to bring the family in the winter for tubing or just sliding around the snow. With an entrance ticket price of 70 RMB per person this pseudo-ski resort doesn’t offer much in the way of real skiing but could be a nice day trip for families looking to fight off the long wintry “cabin fever” from the chilly winters in Xining at 2,300 meters above sea level. In either case, some may find the gaudy, cheaply built ski resort here as an utter contradiction to the peace and stillness found in both the upper and lower Qutan Monastery complex. I am sure, at the very least, it makes the monks in their red-robed reverence very curious and even cautious about how quickly the world around them is changing.
Dawu is a great place to launch a road trip into either the Nyenbo Yurtse mountains (to the south) or the glaciers of the Amnye Machen range just to the west. It is one of the last outposts of civilization and with a fantastic monastery on the edges of town, it would be easy to spend 1-2 days here acclimating and filling up with good, hot food.
It used to take about 10 hours to drive the horribly bumpy dirt road from Dawu to Huashixia 花石峡 to drive past the glaciers of Amnye Machen. But now with a brand new highway, the drive takes about 4 hours through 2 new tunnels that pierce right through the heart of the snowy mountains. The tunnels have taken away some of the rustic beauty of the formerly adventurous drive whereas you used to drive over 4,500 meter mountain passes covered with prayer flags just at the base of the Amnye Machen glacier. But they have also made the drive much more reachable and certainly much safer than the dangerous icy passes used to be. Be warned of Chinese construction: it happens fast and when it does it is not always marked well. In driving from Huashixia and Maduo to Dawu in November 2017, it took me about 1 hour to find the entrance to the highway to Dawu just 15km north of Huashixia among a confusing new construction site of circling “cloverleaf” highway ramps. Also note that as of November 2017 that none of the off ramps between Dawu and Huashixia were open, in particular Xueshan 雪山, which leaves the traveller with few options for lunch stops or gasoline. Make sure you fill up your gas tank as you depart Dawu because you might not be able to get gas for another few hours along this beautiful, high altitude road.
Golog (or Guoluo) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Chinese: 果洛藏族自治州; Tibetan: མགོ་ལོག་བོད་རིགས་རང་སྐྱོང་ཁུལ་), is an autonomous prefecture occupying the southeastern corner of Qinghai province, in western China. The prefecture has an area of 76,312 km2 (29,464 sq mi) and its seat is located in Maqen County in Dawu.
Golog Prefecture is located in the southeastern part of Qinghai, in the upper basin of the Yellow River. Gyaring Lake and Ngoring Lake on the western edge of the prefecture are considered to be the source of the Yellow River. However, these lakes do receive water from rivers that flow from locations even further west, in Qumarleb County of the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
The lay of the land of the prefecture is largely determined by the Amnye Machen mountain range (maximum elevation 6,282 m), which runs in the general northwest- to-southeast direction across the entire prefecture, and beyond. The existence of the ridge results in one of the great bends of the Yellow River, which first flows for several hundreds of kilometers toward the east and southeast along through the entire Golog Prefecture, along the southern side of the Amnye Machen Range. The Yellow River continues until it reaches the borders of Gansu and Sichuan Province and then turns almost 180 degrees and flows toward the northwest for 200–300 km (120–190 mi) through several prefectures of the northeastern Qinghai, forming a section of the northeastern border of the Golog prefecture.
Several sections of the Sanjiangyuan (Source of the Three Rivers) National Nature Reserve are within the prefecture.
Guoluo Airport Or Golog Airport (Chinese: 果洛机场) is a small airport that has been recently under construction in southeastern Qinghai Province outside of Dawu town. The airport is in the Caozichang (草子厂) on the Dawutan Grassland (大武滩草原). Construction Began on 14 September 2012 with an estimated total investment of 1.24 billion yuan and the airport was expected to start operation in 2015. I personally have not heard of this airport being open as of 2017 but I am sure that when it does its flights will not be terribly cheap but will allow those with a good traveling budget to avoid the 10 hour drive it takes from Xining to Dawu.
The airport will have a 4,000 meter runway (Class 4C), and a 3,000 square meter terminal building. It is projected to handle 150,000 passengers and 375 tons of cargo annually by 2020.
Here are 10 interesting things for you to think about when planning your trip to Chengdu…
- Visit the home of the Giant Panda.
Chengdu is probably most famous for being the home of one of China’s great treasures, the magnificent giant pandas. This creature’s name in Chinese is XiongMao 熊猫 and that literally means “Bear Cat”. Both Chinese and foreign tourists flock to the panda centers of Chengdu to view these unique creatures in their natural humid bamboo habitat. While pandas are technically considered omnivores, and do occasionally eat small animals and fish, bamboo makes up 99% of their diet. Every day a single panda may gnaw lazily on bamboo for up to 12 hours and may eat as much as 12kg of the plant in that time.
The panda is an internationally recognized icon of China and is strictly protected by the Chinese government. The research being done to ensure pandas continue to flourish in China is led by top researchers in Chengdu. The entire country rejoices when news of a new panda cub’s birth is announced. They are very proud of the creatures and the work being done to protect them. Sadly, these beautiful bears are endangered, and it’s estimated that only around 1,000 giant pandas remain in the wild today. That’s why we need to do all we can to protect them!
For those with an interest in conservation and preservation efforts, the panda research centers offer informative programs and viewing opportunities that allow the public access to the efforts to save the giant panda. Some of the top places to interact with this preservation include: the Panda Breeding and Research Center, the Bifengxia Giant Panda Base, and the Dujiangyan Panda Base.
2. Chengdu offers amazing museums
Chengdu offers many historical and cultural museums for those with an interest in Chinese history and development. Some of the best museums to visit are the:
Sanxingdui Archeological Site and Museum in Guanghan
Go back in time 1000’s of years as you venture 40 km northeast of Chengdu to the the Sanxingdui Archeological Site, offering a trove of artifacts that date back as far back as the Bronze Age. Exhibitions in this museum date as far as 5000 years, with a wide range of relics such as bronze masks, jade articles, and some interesting gold pieces. It is the largest museum in southwest China, with a vast array of precious relics that reflect it’s name as “the origin of the Yangtze River civilization”.
In 1986 two major sacrificial pits were unearthed that stirred academic attention around the world. Archeologists realized that the relics found at these pits and subsequent discoveries were the remains of a previously unknown city and civilization that existed during the Shang Dynasty period (1600–1046 BC).
Wenchuan Earthquake Museum
The 2008 Sichuan earthquake, aka the “Great Wenchuan Earthquake” occurred at 2:28pm on May 12, 2008. Measuring a 8.0 on the Richter Scale, the earthquake’s epicenter was located 80 kilometres (50 mi) west/northwest of Chengdu.
The earthquake was also 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 respectively—where office buildings swayed with the tremors of the earthquake. Strong aftershocks, some exceeding a 6 on the Richter Scale, continued to hit the area up to several months after the main quake, causing further casualties and damage.
Over 69,000 people lost their lives in the quake, including 68,636 in Sichuan province. 374,176 people were reported injured, with 18,222 listed as missing as of July 2008. The earthquake left about 4.8 million people homeless, though the number could be as high as 11 million. This has been rated the 21st deadliest earthquake of all time.
The Wenchuan Earthquake museum preserves this event and details the relief work after the earthquake and holds a monument to the earthquake victims The museum also models the Wenchuan earthquake site, offering audio, visual, and tactile simulations to help visitors understand the size and feel of the earthquake.
3. Chengdu locals speak a different dialect of Mandarin.
In many parts of China, the local dialect differs from “Putonghua” or standard Mandarin. Provincial dialects are often difficult to understand and differentiate between, even for native speakers. In the Sichuan province this dialect is known as Sichuanese or “Sichuan Hua”.
Notoriously, “Sichuan Hua” tends to blur the stronger “SH” sound into simply the hissing of an “Ssss”. Classically many visitors find it hard to barter about price because the “Shi” of the number ten ends up sounding a whole lot like the “Si” of the number four. But not to worry – most vendors carry calculators so that helps bridge the divide as you negotiate and haggle 🙂
4. The food is some of the best (and spiciest) in China!
Have you ever been to Chinese restaurant in the west and seen a menu listing “Szechuan Beef” or “Szechuan Chicken”? That is an variant spelling of Sichuan and indicates that these dishes have made it all the way around world, albeit a little changed for the western palate. If you ask anyone in China where to find the spiciest food, they will tell you its in Sichuan Province. Chengdu is famous for its spicy hot pot and many other mouth tingling dishes. This is because of the world famous Sichuan peppercorn that is grown in the region. The spice gives a numbing feeling to all the dishes it is used in, which is a great favorite with the Chinese palate. It may take some getting used to at first, but the spicy food of Chengdu is a regional cuisine not to be missed.
5. Sichuan opera is a classical Chinese art form.
Chengdu is an excellent place to witness a performance of a traditional Sichuan Opera. Sichuan Opera is like the precursor for today’s rioting Cirque Du Soleil performances with features including acrobatics, fire spitting, and illusionists. Among some of the greatest illusions are the magical “face changing” acts which are a a celebrated tradition and part of one of the oldest regional opera cultures. This unique performance is practiced almost exclusively in Sichuan and the best masters of the art can be seen in Chengdu.
6.The Leshan Giant Buddha and other marvels
Many of the ancient sites around Chengdu reflect the influence of Buddhism, as well as the agricultural history of the region.
In particular, the Leshan Giant Buddha, or 乐山大佛, is a huge statue which is carved into the stone on the side of Mount Lingyun. The stone sculpture faces Mount Emei, with the rivers flowing below its feet. It is the largest and tallest stone Buddha statue in the world and it is by far the tallest ancient statue in the world. The Giant Buddha is about 71 meters high and 24 meters wide. Just the feet alone have an 8.5 meter wide instep, an area large enough to accommodate 100 people. The big toe itself is large enough to accommodate a dinner table.
The statue depicts a seated Maitreya Buddha with his hands resting on his knees. The Maitreya is thought to be the future Buddha, who will appear to preach the dharma (teachings of Buddha) when the teachings of Gautama Buddha have long been forgotten. The construction began in 713 AD during the Tang Dynasty and was completed in 803 AD.
As the platforms inside the scenic spot are steep and narrow and can get quite congested with tourists, taking a boat on the adjacent river may provide a better way for tourists who are not good at climbing to view the fullness of this huge Buddha. Taking a boat to look up at the Giant Buddha is highly recommended in peak tourist season (July-October).
Several drainage passages are hidden in the Buddha’s hair, collar, chest, and in the holes in the back of his ears and chest, and these prevent the Buddha from serious erosion and weathering under the heavy Sichuan rains. The buddha has been carefully maintained on a regular basis throughout his 1,200-year history, however moss does grow on the statue.But for something this old, it is really remarkably preserved.
If you are looking to better understand Buddhism and historical architecture inside the city limits, you may also want to check out, the Wenshu Monastery, the Wu Hou Temple, the Dufu Thatched Cottage, and the Jinli Old Walking Street.
7. Chengdu is a regional migration magnet.
Chengdu is the second largest city in the western half of China (after Chongqing) and one of the cities in China with the most potential for international investment. Many international and large national companies operate in Chengdu, which draws a large population of young working people both internationally and locally.
The city is vibrant with the spirit and the spice of its economy. Old meets new on its busy streets as some of the oldest tradition and meals can be eaten and observed alongside modern developments and state of the art research. Chengdu provides a unique view into the fascinating leap China has made into being a global power. If you want to see a unique blend of old and new China, Chengdu is one excellent place to start.
8. Chengdu has the biggest building in the world!
The New Century Global Center is about twice the size of both the previous mall record holder in Dubai and the biggest mall in Guangdong called the New South China Mall. It is designed to be a self-contained town.
The center is a mall on steroids and is 18 stories high and a colossal 1.5 million square meters (16 million square feet) in area. Built in 2013, it contains a water park, IMAX theater, and 2 hotels with 1,000 rooms, as well as many, many high end stores.
9. You should visit in the fall
While visiting Chengdu is popular amongst local Chinese tourists from June to August, Chengdu summers can be both hot and crowded. The temperatures in Chengdu often resemble the spice of its food — sweltering hot! Visiting Chengdu from September- November ensures that you avoid the sweltering summers, gloomy winters, and the rainy season from spring to summer. Fall provides cool temperatures and easier transportation for visitors looking to see the most Chengdu has to offer. (Just avoid the October Holiday from October 1-7!)
10. Awesome hiking opportunities
Four Sisters Mountain
Mount SiGuNiang is also known as the Four Sisters Mountain Range. Here there are 4 distinct peaks and the highest of these is Peak 4 (aka YaoMei) at 6,250 meters. You can start the hike at RiLong village which is about 240 km away from downtown Chengdu and this trip takes about 7-8 hours to drive. The most accessible peak of the Four Sisters is Peak 1, known as DaFeng Peak at 5025 meters. DaFeng peak is considered the easiest peak among the peak to summit as it requires no technical experience. Peak 2 (ErFeng Peak) at 5276 meters is a bit more challenging as it involves some basic mountaineering and some technical climbing equipment. Peak 3 and Peak 4 are longer trips and require a higher level of mountaineering. Trips to summit Peak 1 can usually be accomplished in 8 days with 3-4 days of trekking and 2 days of round trip driving.
An 8 hour drive from Chengdu, Kangding is like a sort of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with quick access into the impressive mountains all around it. Just a short 30 minute walk up the hills of Kangding will yield spectacular views of the neighboring alpine peaks. Outdoor activity opportunities abound with particular focus on hiking and mountain biking. And just a short 30 minute drive from Kangding is the trekking trailhead to Minya Konka, or Gonga Shan, Sichuan’s tallest beastly mountain, standing at a staggering 7,556m, and is consequently of huge spiritual importance to Tibetans.
Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (CTU) is located 20km (12 mi) outside of the Chengdu city center and is one of the main air hubs in China, recently ranked 4th in passenger volume. It serves flights to/from most major cities in China, many smaller cities within Sichuan, and some international destinations including Amsterdam, Bangkok, Denpasar, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Kathmandu, Paris, Melbourne, Sydney, Moscow, Osaka, Kuala Lumpur, San Francisco, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, and Tokyo. And there are new international routes being added quite often.