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The absolute latest updates in China travel information.

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Mei Zhang
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November 8th, 2013

Breaking the Winter Cycle: Shanghai

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Ring in the New Year… Shanghai style

Looking for an exciting way to bring in the New Year? While thousands of people are huddled like penguins in the streets of Times Square, you could be singing Auld Lang Syne in Shanghai’s historic Bund district. Though the traditional Chinese New Year does not fall on December 31, Shanghai’s vibrant international community comes out in full force to ring in the end of the annum. As one of the fastest growing cultural and financial centers in the world, Shanghai has cultivated an amazing nightlife. The only challenge this presents is choosing from the multitude of options. Join the party at one of Shanghai’s world-class nightclubs or watch the fireworks and laser show over Pudong’s iconic skyline… depending on where you end up, you could do both at once.

If you are looking for a more traditional way to “ring in the New Year”, make your way to the Longhua Temple located in the city’s southwest. Every year, to celebrate both Western and Chinese New Year, Shanghai’s natives come to the 1,800 year old temple to ring the 3,3000kg Buddhist Bell. Only the first 108 people to make reservations for the event will have a chance to ring the bell though, so plan ahead if you’re set on it. Otherwise, come for the folk performances, fireworks, and lion dances that make this event so spectacular.

 

Yu Garden
Shanghai’s Celebrated Yu Garden 

If you are in town for the Chinese New Year there are many ways to join the festivities. Fill up on some traditional holiday dumplings and tangyuan, which are said to bring wealth and prosperity into one’s life, or pay a visit to the 600 year old City God Temple near Yu Garden, where locals come to pay for a successful new year. Just be sure not to miss the Chinese lantern festival, which falls on February 14th this year, and is marked by colorful parades and astounding light shows, both traditional and modern. One of the best places to get a sense of traditional techniques and festivities is the Yu Yuan Old Town Bazaar, where conventional lanterns dominate the celebrations.

If you’re interested in a making a winter escape to Shanghai, click here to find out about WildChina’s winter tour of this world-class city.

 

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July 19th, 2013

Get Lost in Gansu

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

It’s not hard to lose yourself in the mesmerizing beauty of the Gansu wilderness… the immense mountains and sweeping meadows of China’s northwest promise a majestic realm far from the hustle and bustle of coastal cities, and offer a tantalizing glimpse into what life is like on the “roof of the world.”

Stay the night at the Norden Camp under the infinite sky, surrounded by a rugged landscape painted in hues of powder blue and lush green. Wander through the Labrang Monastery, passing red-robed monks, marveling at the intricate architectural detailing throughout the vibrant complex. Visit a Norlha workshop and learn how yak wool – khullu – is transformed into luxurious woven textiles as a part of a sustainable social enterprise; venture out to see the striking Milarepa Temple in Hezuo City.

Our WildChina travel consultants especially love trekking to the Sangke Grasslands, vast and breathtaking plains that are roamed by Tibetan nomads. Take a peek into their modest tents and try a bite of what’s stewing in their pots – these intimate interactions are precious experiences that will linger long after you leave the highlands behind.

Under Gansu’s simmering summer sun, there are endless sights to be seen and countless adventures to be had. What are you waiting for?

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Looking for a last minute summer getaway? Contact WildChina about traveling to Gansu! Email us at info@wildchina.com.

All photos by WildChina’s Gloria Guo.

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July 17th, 2013

Traversing China by Train

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Imagine speeding by green terraced rice fields, nose pressed against cool glass, marveling at the craggy cliffs of dark mountains looming overhead. Or watching a pair of water buffalo splashing through a waterlogged rice paddy, and zipping by colorfully mismatched residences on the outskirts of bustling cities—all flying by at 300 km/h. Each year, China’s railways offer this experience to 1.5 billion passengers, along 100,000-some kilometers of train track. It’s the most popular form of distance travel in the most populated country in the world, and the network grows every day.

For Chinese, the train is a time-honored form of transportation, convenient as can be. For visitors, it’s a chance to travel the truly Chinese way, to see more breathtaking countryside sights, and maybe even to make friends with a cabin-mate or two.

However, the system can be hard to understand and even harder to navigate. So here’s a breakdown of everything you need know about traveling by train in China.

1. Categories of  Trains – by speed and function

Chinese trains are categorized by speed or function, denoted by a capital letter: G, D, Z, C, T, K, L, etc. These actually refer to the first letter of the Chinese categorical name – for example, the current fastest high-speed bullet train is type G, which stands for Gāo Tiě (高铁 where 高 literally means “high”). A train number might be something like G143, a bullet train leaving Beijing South Station at 2:17pm tomorrow and arriving at Shanghai Hongqiao Station 5 hours and 22 minutes later. Crisscrossing the vast breadth of the country, China’s trains run 24 hours a day.  Many offer sleeper cabins as well as seats – often in several different classes for a variety of price and comfort options.

  

2.  Reserving Tickets in Advance – only 10-20 days ahead of departure

Clients often ask why we can’t confirm train numbers and times months or even weeks before the trip. The truth is, there is no way to reserve spots ahead of time, unlike air travel.  Rather, tickets typically become available 10-20 days ahead of time, depending on the train. Demand is so high that tickets frequently sell out in a day or two.

3. Booking the Ticket – purchase in-person or by third-party agent

Finally, booking the train is the trickiest part of the process: only one ticket may be purchased per ID, and foreigners must either buy in-person or through a third-party agent (Chinese citizens have the option of ordering online or by telephone).

For WildChina travelers, we recommend booking trains of type G (which reach speeds of ~300 km/h), D (high-speed bullet trains which reach ~250 km/h), and Z (overnight express). Our policy is to buy tickets as soon as they go on sale and deliver them to our clients’ hands before they reach the train station.

Best and not-so-best times to travel by train:

Train travel is a great way to get down with the local Chinese—while still traveling in relative comfort.

However, there are certain times in which WildChina does not recommend traveling by train:

  • Chinese National Week (the first week of October)
  • The Spring Festival (which can hit anytime in January & February according to the lunar calendar)
  • Other public holidays

During these peak vacation periods, tickets are nearly impossible to obtain and crowds are unpleasant. Trains are also difficult to book for cross-country travel, due to limited quantities. On these lengthy trips (Beijing to Lhasa, Tibet, currently takes up to 48 hours!), passengers experience the same space, food, and sanitation problems that beset all super-long-distance travel.

In most other cases, taking the train is a great way to travel around China—reliable and fast, authentic and enlightening. If you’re willing to brave the intricacies of the system, and amuse yourself with the overloaded carts of dried foods that parade down the aisles, it is worth it.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the spectacular view.

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Interested in learning more about travel in China? Do you have specific questions about train travel? Get in touch with us at info@wildchina.com! 

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June 28th, 2013

The HaiDiLao Hot Pot Experience

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

While not particularly well known among foreigners, almost any Chinese person you ask will be able to tell you about HaiDiLao Hot Pot (海底捞火锅). On the surface, HaiDiLao is a popular chain of restaurants serving hot pot (a style of cuisine which originated over 1000 years ago in Northern Asian, in which dishes like thinly sliced meat, fresh vegetables, seafood, and dumplings are cooked in simmering “hot pot” of soup stock in the middle of the table).

In reality, it’s much more: HaiDiLao is a sensation, an innovative approach to food service in China, and an experience unlike any other.

As expected, there is good food at good prices, but what sets HaiDiLao apart is the hospitality – an aspect of restauranting many Chinese eateries do not focus on. The company goes above and beyond in its customer-first attitude, and their unreserved devotion to this goal that brings the consumers by the crowd.

“I can’t fix all the societal problems, but I can run HaiDiLao my way… I want to build a team that trusts each other and believes in kindness and honesty.” – Founder and CEO Zhang Yong

Wait times at HaiDiLao can be very long – a testament to the chain’s renown – but the staff will do their best to ensure it’s the most enjoyable wait you’ll ever experience.

Snacks like cherry tomatoes, watermelon, popcorn, and tea are served to soothe any hunger pangs. Children can play in colorful play rooms, while their mothers and sisters can put their names on the list to get a free manicure from professional nail stylists (sparkles and ombre and flowers and other fancy designs – all viable).

The waiting area is stocked with games: cards and Chinese chess as well as those of the digital variety. Computer kiosks can be used to surf the web; some locations even offer shoe shines and massages.

This blogger knows from personal experience that the staff doesn’t mind if you turn down an available table to prolong your “wait”.

The wonderfully warm service doesn’t stop once you do head into the restaurant proper, though. More than likely, waiters and waitresses will greet you as you make your way through the bustling labyrinth of tables, good smells, and lively chatter. Sitting down, you’ll might be offered warm towels to wash your hands, a plastic bag to protect your cell phone, or a soft cloth to wipe your glasses if they steam up from the hot pot. You will definitely be given a bib – feel free to dig in with as much vigor as you please (Fun fact: in Mandarin, 海底捞 literally means to fish or scoop from the depths of the ocean, just as one ladles food out from the hot pot!).

Typically, orders are placed on an iPad; almost all dishes are available in half portions, if so desired. The most popular hot pot configuration is often called “yin-yang”: the pot is split, one side filled with spicy stock, the other mild. While waiting for your food to arrive, make sure to head to the do-it-yourself sauce bar, where you can create a personalized concoction (in which to dip food after it’s been cooked) out of anything from chili paste to sesame oil to barbecue sauce to spring onions.

All of this, and dinner hasn’t even started yet.

HaiDiLao’s standard of service makes sense in light of its history.

Established in 1994 in the small city of Jianyang (in Sichuan province), the restaurant was started by four friends with a dream. 19 years later, HaiDiLaohas 72 restaurants open worldwide – with one branch opening soon in the US!

Getting here, however, has not been easy. Founder and CEO Zhang Yong says: “I learned lessons the hard way. However, the most important thing I learned was that kindness would eventually bring customers and money back.” It’s a philosophy he sticks to even today, often at the cost of a larger profit.

Zhang comes from a humble background, working in a factory before coming up with the idea for HaiDiLao. Today, most of the company’s employees fit a similar profile: young, with limited education, from small towns or rural areas. They receive apartments with air-conditioning and internet access – both of which are still considered luxuries in many parts of China – and are treated so well that they refer their friends and family to also work at the chain. “Life really isn’t fair sometimes,” says Zhang. “I can’t fix all the societal problems, but I can run HaiDiLao my way… I want to build a team that trusts each other and believe in kindness and honesty.” The company makes a point of never looking to outsiders for high-level management positions: everyone is given the chance to work from the bottom to the top.

HaiDiLao understands both its employees’ and its patrons’ needs, and by going out of its way to fulfill them, has paved its own path to success.

The experience isn’t over, by the way. Customers rarely leave before asking for the 手拉面, the Hand-Pulled Noodles. This HaiDiLao signature is not just a dish, it’s a show. The “noodle masters” train for four to six months before they’re allowed to perform – and what a performance! The doughy noodle is twirled like the ribbon of an Olympic gymnast, whipped in the air over your heads, stretched to lengths of more than 10 feet, against a background of upbeat music. It has to be seen to be believed.

Watch the hand-pulled noodles “show” in this video:

It’s a good formula, perfected over the years and proven to work.

Online, positive reviews and stories abound: some who found a dish unsatisfactory and had its cost waived, or another whose shoes had gotten soaked in the rain, given slippers and dry shoes returned before leaving. The HaiDiLao experience is absolutely unique.

So next time you come to China, consider making like a local – maybe soon, you’ll have your own HaiDiLao experience to share.

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Find HaiDiLao’s China website here and their Singapore site here (in English).

To learn about another form of hot pot, read this 2012 post from WildChina’s blog!

Any other questions? Email us at info@wildchina.com.

 

All photos taken by WildChina’s Irene Jiang at the Taiyanggong (太阳宫) HaiDiLao branch in Beijing.

Noodle dance video by looxx008 on Youtube.

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June 18th, 2013

Beijing’s Vanishing Heart

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

This past weekend, we sat down with journalist and photographer Jojje Olsson to talk about a bit of Beijing’s heritage.

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In 2007, Jojje Olsson came to China. He’d just won a university competition, and his prize covered the flight. He planned to study Chinese in Beijing for one semester. He ended up staying for good.

It was a coincidence, he says, and it was another coincidence that led him to the path he walks now. While looking for housing in 2010, he visited almost 30 potential residences around Beijing before finding an apartment in Langjia hutong. Before, he hadn’t know much about hutongs (胡同) – Beijing’s traditional living quarters that date back to the 13th century, comprised of narrow grey-bricked alleyways, slanting tile roofs, and square siheyuan courtyards – but after moving in, he became fascinated. “It has really, really cool surroundings, nice neighbors, nice environment… people living life in the street.”

He met Hou Lei, a Beijing native, back in 2007, and they have been close friends ever since. Hou Lei lived in a hutong when he was young, but his family was eventually forced to move out. Their hutong home was destroyed.

Curious, Jojje wanted to learn more. His research found surprisingly few accurate sources on the historical landmarks, but what he did uncover is nothing short of horrifying.

Of the 7000-8000 hutongs that originally existed in Beijing, about 90% have been destroyed. Even as late as the 1980’s, the winding lanes filled the city, but now, they only exist within the 2nd Ring Road.

There, in the heart of Beijing, is where the land is worth the most. In a cruel twist of irony, it’s also where the residents are the poorest.

Many take advantage of that, razing the hutongs to build towering residential complexes and expensive restaurants. Those who are forced out are compensated very little – not nearly enough to find housing within the city. Instead, the families who have lived together for generations are scattered, typically outside the fifth or sixth ring roads, or out of Beijing altogether.

China’s tourism boom in recent years have also impacted the hutongs.

Before the 2008 Olympics, the city accelerated the destruction of hutongs to make room for the necessary sports venues and other infrastructure. Even today, there are plans to tear down the hutongs around the Drum Tower to make a large square capable of accommodating a larger tourist flow. Some of the hutongs being demolished are considered protected areas, and yet the violation fines are low and the regulations are not strictly enforced. Alternatively, the hutongs themselves are being turned into attractions, like Nanluoguxiang (南锣鼓巷). In these case, the structures are preserved; authenticity is not.

This is yet another complication: most hutongs lack modern amenities such as central heating, fast internet, and toilets. Truly authentic hutongs are not ideal living spaces by today’s standards. Jojje knows Beijing residents who consider the alleyways “slums” not worth protecting, and though surveys show that a significant majority of hutong residents wish to continue living there, most of the youth would rather move elsewhere. They don’t have the emotional attachments that the elderly do – the last generation who truly knows what it was like before.

After all, the hutongs are so much more than buildings; they’re communities, and they represent a community-based lifestyle that has existed for centuries.

“It’s more about the social fabric,” Jojje emphasizes again and again, “Neighbors who know each other, playing mah-jongg on the streets. It’s about the people and it’s about the atmosphere.”

And yet, if the buildings are destroyed, that culture, the atmosphere, and the people must go, as well.

 

Jojje and Hou know that there is no simple solution to this conundrum, but they do have a plan. They want to extensively document the remaining hutongs – selecting 8 to focus on – in photos and interviews, in a book, along with maps, histories, and other facts, to remedy the lack of information out there. They call their project “The last hutongs of Beijing,” and have set up a page on indiegogo for funding.  If they reach their goal of $3,000 by 11:59 PT on June 21st, they will also create a website about the hutongs, including updates on each street’s demolition/reconstruction status – they’re being destroyed so rapidly that it’s hard to keep track.

 

That’s the goal, in the end, “to try to get people… not necessarily engaged in protecting the hutongs” – efforts to do so are scarce; perhaps that’s too much to ask for – “but enlightened.” Awareness is the first step, and hopefully dialogue will follow.

Jojje ­­recalls a relatable situation from his homeland, Sweden; many of the city’s old quarters were razed in the 1950’s during an extensive urban renewal project. “Back then, no one saw the value in protecting the old buildings, but then in the 80’s and 90’s, people were having big regrets, like why did we destroy our city? So I think it would be good if Beijing can learn a lesson from that.”

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If you would like to learn more or donate to “The last hutongs of Beijing,” visit their webpage here. Their fundraising campaign ends on June 21st!

For more literature on the destruction of the hutongs, Jojje recommends The Last Days of Old Beijing by Michael Meyer.

Interested in seeing the hutongs for yourself? Send us an email at info@wildchina.com!

All photos credited to Jojje Olsson.

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June 12th, 2013

The Dragon Boats Are Here!

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Today is the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar, which mean something very significant in China: it’s time for 端午节 (Duān Wǔ Jié), the Dragon Boat Festival!

The Dragon Boat Festival is one of China’s oldest and most celebrated holidays, dating back over 2000 years. There are many stories surrounding its origin, but the most popular ones all revolve around an individual named Qu Yuan (屈原).

The core story goes something like this:

During Ancient China’s Warring States Period, Qu Yuan was a loyal and wise minister to the King of the state of Chu (楚). Another state, Qin (秦), was rapidly growing and gaining power; Qu Yuan advocated that Chu join other states in opposition, but not everyone agreed. Eventually (some say it was the other disgruntled ministers, while others say it was a corrupt prince or prime minister), Qu Yuan was defamed, accused of treason, and exiled.

He lived out the rest of his days south of the Yangtze River, in the region that is now China’s Hunan province (湖南) – and he never forgot what had happened, spending his days writing poems about his political and moral ideals and satirizing the corruption plighting his beloved state.

These works, including the autobiographical Lí Sāo (离骚, “Encountering Lament”), Tiān Wèn (天问, “Questions to Heaven”), and Jiǔ Gē (九歌, “Nine Songs”). These, along with other pieces attributed to Qu Yuan, are included in Chǔ Cí (楚辞, “Verses of Chu”), one of the two major historical anthologies of classical Chinese authors. Qu Yuan is considered the first poet in China to have his name associated with his verse; today, his work is highly regarded for its moving language and its patriotism.

In 278 BC, Qu Yuan received news that the state of Chu had been captured by the Qin. Perhaps out of grief, or in despair that he’d been unable to adequately serve his nation, he went to the Miluo River (汨羅江) on the fifth day of the fifth month and committed suicide by throwing himself in, using a large rock to weigh his body down.

The local people, who had greatly admired Qu Yuan, went out in their boats to try to save him, or at least salvage his body. Though they were too late for either, they continued paddling the boats around, throwing things into the water: balls of glutinous rice (to distract the fish from eating the body or to feed Qu Yuan’s spirit) and realgar wine (to anesthetize the fish or to appease the water dragon in the river).

All of these elements have been incorporated into the Dragon Boat Festival we know today. Boat races are held throughout China, and people eat zongzi (粽子) – sticky rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves, often with bean curd, egg, or pork centers – as well as drink realgar wine (雄黄酒).

 

Zongzi (粽子)

Zongzi (粽子)

 

Dragon Boat Races

Dragon Boat Races

Since 2008, the Dragon Boat Festival has been recognized as a public holiday, although many Chinese take Monday through Wednesday off.

We’re so excited! The festivities await!

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WildChina’s Beijing offices will be closed for the Dragon Boat Festival on Wednesday, June 12th. In the meantime, if you have questions about China’s festivals or traveling in China, send us an email at info@wildchina.com!

Photos credited to Cultural-China.com and Go Love China.

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March 8th, 2013

Chinese Treasures: A WildChina Original (Book by 3/31 for $200 off)

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

*BOOK CHINESE TREASURES BEFORE THE END OF MARCH TO RECEIVE $200 OFF THE PRICE. EMAIL US AT INFO@WILDCHINA.COM TO ENQUIRE)*

Back in 2000, when Mei Zhang first started WildChina, her clients were personal friends, family, and acquaintances. Because she knew these first customers well, Mei took special care to create a journey that she knew wasn’t available anywhere else–she created Chinese Treasures. Mei wanted to take her friends to the famous Chinese sites that they had heard about all their lives–the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors, Shanghai’s colonial Bund–but also provide them with experiences that would take them off the beaten track, to see a very real side of China few travelers ever learned about.

The trip was a huge hit. Chinese Treasures is book-ended by China’s two most famous cities, allowing travelers an up close look at the imperial architecture of the past, the development of the future, and all the delicious dishes Beijing and Shanghai have to offer in between. Mei decided that after visiting China’s bustling metropolises, she would show her friends the place she knew best in the world–her home province of Yunnan.

In this southwestern, rural Chinese province, Mei’s friends would have the chance to break bread–or in this case noodles–with local people and take part in traditional banquets, songs, and dances. They would even get a little taste of nirvana with a trip to the heights of Shangri-La.

Upon their return Mei’s friends were euphoric. Mei’s initial success would inspire her to lay out the ethos of personal interaction and firsthand knowledge that would shape every journey created at WildChina since. Testament to her travel know-how and thoughtfulness for her travelers, Mei has been honored to be selected as a Condé Nast Top Travel Specialist for China an incredible three times since WildChina was founded. While Mei’s fingerprints are visible on every WildChina journey, Chinese Treasures is where it all started. If you are considering a trip to China, we can think of no better introduction than this; a journey of epic proportions planned and perfected by our founder.

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If you have questions about travel in China, send us an email at info@wildchina.com and we will be happy to assist you.

 

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March 8th, 2013

Make Way for Dumplings!

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Who doesn’t love dumplings? Tiny edible parcels bursting with delicious juice and flavor; each little morsel is a delightful surprise for your pallet.

WildChina traveler Charles Haynes partook in our Gastronomic Tour of China with chef and food critic Fuchsia Dunlop. Fuchsia took the group to Xi’an, home to the famous Chinese dumpling, and they just couldn’t get enough.

Check out some of the dumplings they tasted below–photo credit for these amazing photos goes to Charles Haynes. Beware, looking at this blog could lead to you trying to eat your computer!

Duck Dumplings

Golden Dumplings

Little Gold Bag Dumplings

Shrimp in a Rice Wrapping

Walnut Dumplings

Skirt Dumplings

Vegetable Fin Dumplings

Four-Leaf Clover Dumplings

 

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If you have questions about travel in China, send us an email at info@wildchina.com and we will be happy to assist you.

All photos taken and provided courtesy of WildChina traveler Charles Haynes

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March 5th, 2013

A hot pot for The North Face

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Last week, almost 30 of  VF and The North Face’s business leaders were looking to get together for a strategy session in Beijing. Since WildChina is partnered with The North Face for the WildChina Explorer Grant, they reached out to us for exciting, local dinner ideas in Beijing.

We recommended a hot pot (in addition to Beijing, hot pot is also extremely popular in Guizhou and Inner Mongolia) banquet next to Beijing’s peaceful Houhai Lake–it fit the bill for the perfect gastronomic adventure. Haidilao supplied the cuts, broths, and sauces, and WildChina rented out Nuage for the occasion, adding our own decorations here and there to spice things up. After the meats had been cooked, the noodles added, and the broth drunk, the group retired to a WildChina favorite: The Opposite House. Not such a bad way to end a work day in our book.

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If you have a corporate event you are planning in China, or simply have questions about travel in China in general, send us an email at info@wildchina.com and we will be happy to assist you.

 

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February 25th, 2013

Living like a pig

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

China’s tranquil Anhui province has always been a haven for local tourists and backpackers looking for an unforgettable experience outside of China’s urban jungles. However, given exciting new accommodation developments the region is beginning to offer more options for travelers who enjoy traveling off the beaten path but would like to collapse onto a plush bed at the end of the day.

You might have heard of Pig’s Heaven Inn (and if not, you should have—they’ve been featured in Time, The New York Times and countless travel blogs), but you may not be aware of some of the finer points of the Pig’s Heaven properties. Two decades ago, Shanghainese artist Li Guoyu took a brief sojourn to the bucolic back country of Anhui and immediately fell in love with the region. She vowed to one day return and settle down in Anhui’s tranquil countryside, and several years later she finally found an opportunity.

To most other people, this ‘opportunity’ was less than enchanting—a modest, unkempt Ming dynasty structure which at the time was being used as a makeshift pigsty. To Li, however, this abandoned structure was a golden entry point into a new life. Despite being ridiculed for her initial purchase, within a few short years Li and her family managed to transform their decrepit shanty into a charming boutique inn. Travelers from all over the world flocked to her inn, which was named ‘Pig’s Heaven Inn’, a play on the building’s former function as well as a reminder for guests to shed their worries and pretensions at the door, leaving nothing but unabashed relaxation, feasting and merriment inside. The fact that this inn was located in Xidi village, a UNESCO World Heritage site, certainly didn’t hurt business, and Pig’s Heaven Inn soon became the place to stay for travelers looking for an air of authenticity rather than the more traditional 5-star hotel setting.

Compared to the Pig’s Heaven Inn in Xidi village, fewer people are aware of the Pig’s Heaven Inn’s Bishan location, which as a renovated merchant mansion is a larger establishment than the Xidi Inn. Although some travelers have qualms about Bishan’s isolated location and the fact that the inn isn’t nestled in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that is exactly why we enjoy staying there so much. The quiet back roads streaming past the Bishan Pig’s Heaven Inn take you along flower fields, freshly plowed farmland and local workshops. For most of the year, silkworms are raised in wooden huts raised along row after row of mulberry trees. Grab a bike and set out into the tranquil locale, learning how to make tofu by hand, tend to crops and unravel silk cocoons; in the summer evenings, fireflies race each other along a nearby river. The fact that this region has not been publicly stamped with a UNESCO seal of approval means that fewer people end up wandering over, and an area with less foot traffic means a more authentic experience.

The real news with Pig’s Heaven Inn, though, is that there is an even newer property set to open later this year, and this past week WildChina was given exclusive access to the site for an insider’s look at what’s coming. The complex was used as a tea oil production workshop, and the maze of courtyards and storage rooms have been infused with new life through the meticulous reworking done by Li and her family. Guests will be free to kick back with a cup of tea overlooking the flower fields buffeting the property, and in the evening a small stream literally seconds away from the guest rooms is the perfect place to watch the fireflies or wax philosophic with a friend.

Regardless of which Pig’s Heaven Inn establishment you choose to stay at, you can expect to be treated like a family member. The properties’ open-roofed courtyards, organic tones and antique furnishings blend together to create a cozy atmosphere, but what truly makes you feel at home are the home-cooked style meals. Enjoy fresh greens from the local garden wrapped in hand-made tofu skin, juicy slabs of suckling pig, freshwater fish hot pot and Eastern-style curry all made from scratch. Ingredients are locally sourced or specially imported from select organic suppliers, and Pig’s Heaven Inn, though not marketed as a culinary establishment, is nonetheless one of our favorite places to enjoy traditional Huizhou cuisine, one of the eight famous culinary traditions in China. The cooks’ personal touches shouldn’t be overlooked, be it a hint of apple and honey that brings the curry to life or the way most of the meat dishes are meticulously de-boned for guests.

Anhui’s accommodation developments aren’t limited to the villages dotting the province’s pastoral valleys. For a major hotel revamp worth noting down, look no further than the misty peaks of Huangshan, or ‘Yellow Mountain’, half an hour north of Hongcun village. Xihai Hotel, previously a basic 4-star hotel, has undergone extensive renovations, shedding its former shell to emerge as an international 5-star establishment. The hotel has managed to retain its distinct ‘Chinese’ gloss, but with multiple dining options and more stringent smoking policies than its neighboring hotels, Xihai manages to better accommodate travelers coming in from abroad. The hotel is just a short trek up from the nearest cable car station and an entire web of trails and side paths start right at Xihai’s doorstep, branching throughout the mountain range. If you’re atop Huangshan, your first priority is most likely to soak up as much of the majestic scenery as possible, and we feel that Xihai Hotel, which masterfully balances comfort and convenience, is the perfect launching point for doing so.

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If you have questions about accommodations in Anhui, or about China in general, send us an email at info@wildchina.com and we will be happy to assist you.

 

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