Xi’an Day 4 & 5

Hi all!

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This was the most exciting (& highly anticipated) day in Xi’an. We were headed to Huashan!!!! Woots~ If there’s only one thing you can do in Xi’an (after visiting the Terracotta warriors), I would highly recommend Huashan. Haha, having scoured the internet for information on this previously labelled “most dangerous mountain,” I found that beyond the popular plank road, not much information (in terms of pictures and stuff) on its current status was available. Beyond the phrase it’s a lot safer right now, the possible hiking paths to take (at least to me) were not very clear. So I hope this post will help you guys somewhat (if any). Lol.

Tip 1: Be prepared to have some loose coins on hand as some machine would only accepted coins. 

First up, getting to Huashan from Xi’an city! You’ll take whichever mrt train from the station closest to you, in my case, it was the bell tower station (钟鼓楼: zhong gu lou), all the way until the last stop: Xi’an north station (西安北: xi an bei). One-way ticket price (you can get it from the ticket machine) is about 6/7 yuan from my station. But this varies according to where you hop onto the train.

Tip 2: Bring your passport along

You’ll need them to buy the express train tickets and subsequently, the entrance tickets to Huashan. You’ll also require them when you”check-in” the express train station since you’ll be headed Huayin (华阴: hua yin) city, which is in the Shanxi (陕西: shan xi) province.

Tip 3: Get your train tickets beforehand, especially if it’s the peak season. 

Grab your express train tickets the day before you plan to head down to the mountain to secure your seats on the train. Start the day early and go for the first train out of Xi’an North to Huashan North (华山北: hua shan bei). On a Saturday, I took the 7.53 am train (train no.: G652). The train would arrive more or less promptly at 7.51 am and the station master will hurry you on board so that the train can leave on time. The train is actually pretty clean, even in the 2nd class seats. We took the 1st class seats that cost 89.5 yuan. A small goodie bag of food and drinks was also provided for 1st class seaters. The journey to Huashan north, which is actually the next stop, is about 35 to 45 minutes. Pretty fast, if you ask me.

Also, if like us, you’re worried about missing your return train back to Xi’an North so you are considering to buy it after you descend from the mountain, DON’T! If you set off at the above-mentioned time, and you’re planning on this route: ascend North peak by cable car – hike North to West peak – descend West peak by cable car, you’ll be able to finish the journey at about 2 plus. The route is the same from the West peak to the North peak. This is the speed based on my average fitness level and little/no queue for the cable car ride. It also factored in some photo-shooting time. Accounting for the time you’ll get back to Huashan North station from the free shuttle service provided, you’ll reach Huashan North at about 3-ish pm. So if you’re worried, buy the return train ticket for about 6 pm plus. It’s better to wait than worry about being stranded at the station (which was what almost happened to my aunt and I as the train was so full). In my case, the return train we fortunately managed to get on was at 6.42 pm (train no.: G819). So we waited for about four hours at the station. Lol.

Tip 4: How to get to Huashan visitor centre from Huashan North station (and back).

To get there: Just follow the crowd as you get out of the station. You’ll see a horde of them rushing to the overfilled free green shuttle buses that leads you the huashan visitor centre. You’ll be able to spot the buses and taxi waiting right in front (towards your left) as you exit from the station. Alternatively, you can gather a group of four (or the taxi driver will gather them for you but you need to wait until he does so) and grab a taxi for 10 yuan/pax. There’s no need to fight with the crowd in this way.

To get back: At the Huashan visitor centre, follow the signs to carpark 2A, where you can take a free shuttle bus to Huashan North station. The only bad thing is if you reach the carpark at about 2 plus you’ll need to wait for the bus to fill up somewhat (at least half-filled) before the driver would move off. This can take a while but it varies (waiting time of 20-30 mins especially if you’re the first passenger on board during the non-peak period in a day). Make sure you’re on the right bus as there’s another bus heading to Huashan station, which is NOT THE SAME as Huashan North. But there’s a employee guiding people to the correct buses and you can always check with her for the correct bus.

Tip 5: Ascend the mountain early and entrance/cable car ticket information

Go early and you’ll not have to wait (long) to go up or down the cable car. Also, when getting your entrance tickets to the mountain, because they have to check your passport, it’ll take quite a while. We were the first group that arrived at the huashan visitor centre but we still had to wait close to 30 minutes to get our mountain passes. In fact, the next wave of people from the next express train arrived while we were still queuing. Can you imagine as people keeps flowing in how long you would have to stand in line? So arriving early was a good decision. 🙂

The tickets you purchased here (quite pricey in its own right) are only for the mountain entrance pass (180 yuan/pax to all 4 peaks that last for 2 days) and the bus ride to the North or West peak cable car station (FYI: there’s only cable car rides to the North and West peak). Bus ride up to the North peak (one-way) was 20 yuan/pax. You would also have to pay this price (total of 200 yuan/pax), even if you plan on starting out from the Soldier’s path (starting point is located at the base of the North peak cable car) . You can only purchase the cable car tickets either at the base/peak of the mountain. You’ll not be able to get them at the visitor centre. It’s important to remember that if you plan on taking West peak cable car, you’ll only be able to buy the ticket from the West peak (vice versa for the North peak). Cable car up the North peak was 80 yuan/apx (one-way) and cable car down from the West peak was 140 yuan/pax (one-way). Once you’ve descended from the west peak (i.e. base of the mountain), you’ll need to purchase the bus ride ticket down the West peak to the visitor centre (one-way) at 40 yuan/pax.

FYI: Bus & cable car prices would differ according to the peaks. It’s a lot pricier for the West peak.

Tip 6: Bring snacks and water! Proper attire!

Food and drinks on the mountain can be pricey as they’ve to be carried up laboriously by man. Pack a burger/sandwich, 2 bottles of mineral water and a small packet of sweet drink (to replenish your glucose level mid-way) for the hike. This combination worked for me. Most importantly, have something in your tummy before climbing so you don’t end up fainting on the mountain.

A point that cannot be reiterated enough: proper attire. Wear shorts/long pants, depending on the season you visit. If you’re going in the summer (which was what I did), shorts was good enough. Long pants would probably be too warm as it approached noon. Proper trekking shoes (or at least sports shoes) would be good. Even if stairs and handles have been built in by the government to improve the safety on the mountain, there are certain portions that can be dangerous if you’re not careful and slip and fall. I’ve seen so many Chinese woman wearing shoes with insoles (seriously?), sandals, wedges, heels etc. and complaining about the hike. How they lack the common sense to wear proper shoes is the biggest thing that befuddles me. There’s always a proper place and time for these footwear, seriously.

Tip 7: What route to take? How hard was the climb? 

I would highly recommend going for the hike from the North peak to the West peak. Sure, you’re ascending to the peak, which means climbing up the stairs, a lot of stairs. But it’s a lot less demanding on your knees and a lot less scary as compared to descending from the West to the North peak. There are certain points along this route where descending can be terrifying (because you’re looking down from the top and you can literally see the height from the ground). If you were to go up, you’ll only have eyes for the next step in front of you as you grip onto the metal chains at the side of the stairs. You’ll most likely not be looking around on the stairs cause a) it’s dangerous as the steps are pretty narrow b) there’ll be people at the back hurrying you on if you pause for too long. But plan your route well. If your aim is to go for the wooden plank route, then cater to it. Going from the North to the West peak (vice versa), you’ll actually not pass through it at all.

In detail the point of interest you’ll pass through: North peak – ear hugging cliff – up the heaven’s ladder – cang long ling – wu yun peak – gold lock pass (金锁关: jin suo guan) – West peak. There are also signboards, maps and people directing you at strategic location along the route. So directions were mostly quite clear.

Personally, I felt that the climb was pretty okay. No doubt, it was challenging, particularly at cang long ling (苍龙岭). This was due to the endless flight of stairs, which makes you feel like you want to give up. But there were actually old hikers encouraging me to carry on when I paused for a breather along cang long ling. That was pretty nice. But if you wish to skip out on this section of the route, you can go for the less intensive climb (but longer route) which, will also converge at wu yun peak (五雲峰: wu yuan feng). Coming to the end of my lengthy post, let’s admire the beautiful Huashan, one of the five most sacred mountains in China. ^^

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The starting point of the soldier’s path
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Entrance to the North peak cable car

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Part of the soldier’s path route from the cable car, and this was part of a milder climb up to the North peak.

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Approaching the North peak

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Map of Huashan, taken at an angle. Lol, but hope it helps! 🙂IMG_2022

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View of the West peak from the North peak
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Start of our climb, there’s no turning back now, haha.

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Ear-hugging cliff
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First example why ascending would be better. If you see the lady in the hat at the bottom of the picture, she actually suffered from a mild fright from the height and was too nervous to climb down. So a couple that was ascending had to slowly guide her down while the rest of us waited in line. You can only climb in a single row to make way for those that might be climbing down. Plus, it’s a lot safer to so as the stairs are quite narrow.

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The never-ending cang long ling.
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Finally! I made it up from the flight of stairs. Only to be met with more stairs up ahead. Oh lol!

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Midpoint check: the journey so far! You can spot the North peak cable car station (blue roof)!
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Wu yun peak, which literally translates into five cloud peak.
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A view of the Immortal’s palm peak
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Example 2 of a scary, almost vertical descend. The ascending route (on a separate flight of stairs) is just next to it.

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Pass this stairs, you’ll approach jin suo guan. That means, the end is near! Phew! In love with this pano shot form my iPhone 6. It even managed to capture the slightly fogginess at the mountain, which made the area all the more ethereal.

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This was taken when the tourist flow was marginally reduced. Well worth the wait.

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At the entrance to the West peak cable car!
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Coming down, we shared the cable car with a friendly Chinese family whose son could speak English pretty well. So we had a nice chat and enjoyed the antics of their sound daughter.

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If you try hard enough, you can actually see the line to go up the West peak cable car leading pass the blue roof. You can easily be waiting for more than a few hours and this was about 2 pm. Not much time for you to explore the mountain by then unless you’re planning to stay overnight up the mountains.

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Walking down this flight of stairs from the West peak cable car entrance to the buses. Another perk of why ascending from the North peak is so much better.
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On our last day, we wandered in the city area for some shopping before heading back to the hotel to rest up.

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Last day in Xi’an, I tried this popiah-like (a chinese-style wrap) thingy from the road side stalls just outside my hotel. It was pretty good when it was warm. Definitely 10 times better than the hotel breakfast, hehe! That’s all for my Xi’an post! Now, I’ve to back into the reality of my final year project which is pretty much at a limbo right now until my prof. approves a part of it. Getting quite stress up from it all as they’re both not replying my emails and I’m aiming to get this part done before October ends so I can focus on my finals. *Sigh, silently cries* Too much stress is going to my head, but anyway, till the next post, bye!
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Xi’an Day 3

Hi all!

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I’ve finally have some time to jot down the happenings from day 3 in Xi’an so here it is! We actually woke up pretty early (about 6 am) planning to head to 华山 (hua shan). But when we headed to Xi’an North railway station to buy our express train tickets to Huashan North, we realised most of the tickets were sold out and the earliest time we could get out of Xi’an was around 10 am. So we decided to just buy our train tickets for the next day (will talk more about it in the next post) before heading back to Xi’an.

At Xi’an, it was definitely one of the hottest days when we were there (or maybe because we were exploring the city as the sun rose to its peak). In any case, one should drop by the ancient city wall when you’re in the city. The wall was first constructed in the old Tang Dynasty and was completed in the Ming Dynasty! In fact, it’s the most complete fortification which, has survived into modern China! That’s pretty impressive!

If you’re staying in the central area (i.e somewhere near the bell tower), the closest gate to you would be the South (永宁: yong ning) gate. Entrance ticket to the wall is 54 yuan. This gives you access to all four gates which, is accessible to the public. Although you can combine this with a visit to the forest of stone steles museum for 100 yuan. P.S. The term “yong ning”does not mean south. It’s just the name given to the South gate. 

What can you do on this wall? To be honest, it’s actually a pretty boring place if you’re gonna stay for long. Even if you end up renting a bike (and I don’t think it’s a good bike since I see many struggling to ride theirs), you’re just going round the wall looking at bricks, more bricks and an endless road.

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The road from the wall leading to the Bell tower. And the smog that covers the city is just reminding me of the horrendous haze in Singapore. My eyes are practically irritated 24/7 and all our lungs are working OT to make up for the horrible air.

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Just look at the crowd when you ascend the wall at young ning gate O.O! On a side note, I can actually sort of understand the Chinese women preference for a big floppy hat and umbrella. It’s a good way to combat the horrible heat.

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As you walk further towards the West (安定: an ding) gate, the crowd lessens and you can grab a picture of the people-less wall. P.S. The term “an ding” does not mean west. It’s just the name of the West gate. 

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Finally, after marching on the endless road, we approached the bend to the West gate. Here’s a different view of the West gate (on the right) as I peeked through the gaps along the wall.

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After which we chilled at a cafe before walking back to vicinity of the Bell tower for some lunch/dinner at de fa chang (德發長) restaurant. If you can spot the signboard hanging on the building with Chinese-style lanterns adorning it, the restaurant is on the 1st level in the building. FYI: the Chinese characters on the signboard are written in the reverse direction from what I’ve typed above. This is actually my favourite food place in Xi’an. I wouldn’t say restaurant as most of the staff there are not the most friendly beings on Earth and look as if they would rather be somewhere else.

Address: No. 3 Zhong gu lou Plaza West Street, Lianhu district, Xi’an 

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I’ve read some conflicting comments regarding the food quality here. But at least for the dumplings (饺子: jiao zi) I’ve tried, dumplings with pork filling, which is how it’s traditionally made (猪肉饺子: zhu rou jiao zi) and fish filling dumplings (鱼肉饺子: yu rou jiao zi), as well as a cold noodle dish, they were all delicious. It’s neither oily or overtly heavy in terms of their seasoning. Everything was just right. The only thing I could complain about was that they should’ve give us more ginger for the dumplings but that’s me being stupid. Haha, dipping dumplings into vinegar with some ginger — that’s the best way to eat them! When you’re there, you should definitely also try out their hawthorn drink (山楂水: shan zha shui) – a refreshing and sightly tangy cold drink on a hot summer day, and the freshly prepared warm soya milk (豆花水: duo hua shui).

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The Friday late evening crowd, lol. It got more and more crowded as the night falls and temporary road side stalls were set up.

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Headed back as the sun sets like the old people we are to get some rest for the next day early morning climb. Till the next post (which I’ll try to churn out quickly, my apologies), bye! 🙂
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Xi’an Day 2

Hi all!

We rented a private car to bring us to the different attractions along the way to the Terracotta warriors (which frankly speaking, most people associate Xi’an with). And I’ll share with you in my next few posts why Xi’an as a pit-stop in your China travels has more to offer than just these ancient relics. In fact, the warriors while impressive, was not my favourite point of interest during my stay at Xi’an. But we’re going off-track.

Based on the recommendations from the tour promoter at our hotel, we visited Banpo Museum (半坡博物馆: ban po bo wu guan), Terracotta warriors (兵马俑: bing ma yong) and lastly Mt. Li (骊山: li shan). She recommended us to choose between Mt. Li and the Huaqing Hot Springs because you can see the green pool from the top of Mt. Li. So we decided to go for the mountain one. I would suggest going for a private car only if you wish to visit the sights along the way, other than the warriors. If not, based on the directions provided by others online, it seems pretty straight-forward to take the public transport.

We started the day at about 8.30 am and set off for Banpo museum but we barely BARELY managed to beat the tourist crowd. There was still a substantial number of them coming in behind us when we arrived. Luckily, our driver got the entrance tickets (65 yuan) beforehand and we didn’t need to queue for it, woohoo!!! So the banpo museum is a protected zone that shows the ruins from a Neolithic matriarchal community of the Yangshao Culture dating back about 6,000 years ago. It’s a fairly small museum but you’ll be able to see how the people lived and how they were buried.

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These little jars were burial jars and a child would be placed inside. The jars would then be placed near their houses. Can you imagine squeezing a child’s body in there?! They would have to have a fairly small build to even fit inside. But to be fair, it wouldn’t surprise me if children in the past are so small in build.

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The square outline below depicts the floor size of the houses in the past. It’s actually pretty small and you kind of appreciate the size of the houses we live in nowadays.

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An interesting pointed-end jar

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The museum also had a section talking about how the characters of our Chinese surname has evolved as well as it’s development from it’s ancestor surname. Unfortunately, my surname is considered too “new” to be on the list of important surnames. Haha.

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After the museum, we headed to the highlight of the trip: the Terracotta warriors. From the carpark, you have to walk straight for maybe 5 mins to reach the ticket office. Tickets cost 150 yuan per person. From this entrance, you’ve to walk another 10-15 mins to get to the pits. Alternatively, you may choose to take the tram. But I’m not sure how much that would cost.

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There’re 3 pits in the museum. A recommended route would be pit 1 > pit 3 > pit 2. Pit 1 is the biggest and has most of the terracotta warriors excavated. Pit 3 is much smaller compared to pit 1, with the area partially excavated.  Lastly, pit 2 is left largely untouched. In this way, you’ll first be amazed by the sight and as you progress along, you’ll get an idea of how the warriors were slowly dug up.

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It was a tough squeeze to the front to get this classic overview of the rows and rows of terracotta warriors. This picture came with a lot of shoving and pushing at the sides from the people around you.

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Just look at the crowd in front!

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Next up, is pit 3! You can see how some of the warriors are half “dug out” and half buried under the soils. It’s truly a tough job  to carefully rescue them from the layers and layers of hardened clay and soil without damaging the artefacts. Super impressive!

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Concluding the end of the museum visit with pit 2. Being a cheapo, I shamelessly stood (within hearing distance) of a family who had an English-speaking tour guide with them. See the wire covering the hole in the picture below. It’s actually dug by archaeologists who wish to see if there are any objects below that would make further excavating efforts worth it.

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This is in comparison to the underground tunnel built by thrives to steal the precious clay figures.

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Just look at the scale of this untouched place! One can only wonder at the amount of soldiers buried alongside the Qin Emperor (秦始皇: Qin Shi Huang).

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Piecing of parts in progress…

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The remarkable details on the sole of the shoe.

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Lunch was at this “hotel” place in the near vicinity of the museum. Atypical of a touristy place, food was pricey and bleh. The food below are cold noodles (凉皮: liang pi) and some tofu dish.

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The tofu dish was pretty salty by itself but I think it’ll go pretty well with rice. These two dishes were the only ones I could even swallow as the rest were simply not fit of human consumption nor worth mentioning.

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After lunch, it was about a 10 minutes ride to Li shan, where we took a cable car ride up to the peak and walk down. The price for the one-way cable car up and the entrance ticket to the scenic area (i.e. the path you’ll take to walk down the mountain) is 70 yuan. This comes with a chinese-speaking mountain guide who’ll explain to you the chinese legends that surround this mountain. But as my chinese is not super fantastic, there was some difficulty understanding what he was trying to say. Especially since he was 2 big tour groups plus my aunt and I at the same time. I gave up listening halfway down and ended up loitering at the back of the group so I could get some people-free photos. Lol. Would I recommend coming here? Not really. You’re pretty much walking down steps the entire time (pretty quickly as well) such that it’s hard to observe the surrounding scenery and pay attention to the guide at the same time.

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There’s a ton of red bands tied along the railings. It’s believed to bring safety and luck to the person in his/her journey.

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Sunset pavilion (晚照亭: wan zhao ting). Apparently the sunset here is one of the eight scenic sights in Guangzhong.

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Some ingots lining the pathway…

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The half-way point where we stopped for a short break and to enjoy the cool breeze. It was also important because my legs were getting pretty jelly-like after walking down the entire time. I did not have this problem when we hike 华山: hua shan 2 days later which I’ll talk about in the next few posts 🙂

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Sun moon pavilion (日月亭: ri yue ting) was constructed to commemorate the cooperation between the Chinese people. IMG_0405 copy

Each drawings on the side of the pavilion here is different and it shows the main scenic spots at Li shan.

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Finally down from all that steps.

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I shall end the post with a statue of the Nuwa goddess (女娃娘娘: nü wa niang niang) who was thought to create the human race according to the Chinese legends. Till the next post, bye!

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