ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “park

ARRIVAL IN SHIRETOKO, Utoro (ウトロ), Shiretoko Peninsula (知床半島), Hokkaido (北海道), Japan, 2019.06.15

Day 1 (2/2).

In the Northwest Pacific between the Sea of Okhotsk and Nemuro Strait (根室海峡) lies a pointy peninsula extending from the easternmost part of Hokkaido.  Translated as “the end of the world” in native Ainu, Shiretoko Peninsula is often considered to be the last pristine wilderness of Japan.  Because of the famous Oyashio Current (親潮) that brings the nutrient rich subarctic current from Alaska and Bering Sea to the east of Hokkaido, Shiretoko is blessed with magnificent biodiversity and probably one of the world’s richest fishery.  Shiretoko is also the southernmost point in the Northern Hemisphere where sea ice can be formed.  The peninsula is also defined by the volcanic landscape of the Shiretoko Mountain Range (知床連山), and of course the lovely onsens dotted around the peninsula, such as Utoro Onsen (ウトロ温泉), Aidomari Onsen (相泊温泉), Seseki Onsen (瀬石温泉), Rausu Onsen (羅臼温泉) and Iwaobetsu Onsen (岩尾別温泉).  The special natural characteristics of Shiretoko have led to the establishment of Shiretoko National Park (知床国立公園) in 1964 and later enlisted in UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2005.

Determined to test our luck to check out the beautiful wildlife including Brown Bears, Ezo-shika Deer, Ezo Red Fox, Blakiston’s Fish Owl, Steller’s Sea Eagle, and the Orcas, Sperm Whales and Dall’s porpoise in the sea, Shiretoko was the top priority for our Hokkaido travel itinerary.  From Memanbetsu Airport (女満別空港) near Abashiri (網走), we picked up our rental car from Toyota-Rent-A-Car and began our 1.5 hour drive to Utoro Onsen (ウトロ温泉) in the town of Shari (斜里), the gateway of Shiretoko National Park.

IMG_8638After an hour and 40 minutes, our JAL flight took us from Tokyo Hanada to Memanbetsu Airport in Eastern Hokkaido.

DSC_4257The road from Abashiri to Shari offered us beautiful scenery of the Sea of Okhotsk.

IMG_8642From Shari, we continued driving along the sea up the Shiretoko Peninsula.

DSC_4265Before reaching the onsen village Utoro, we arrived at one of the tourist attractions of Shiretoko called Oshinkoshin Falls (オシンコシンの滝).

IMG_8652Just two minutes up a flight of steps led us to the viewing platform of Oshinkoshin Falls.

IMG_8656From Oshinkoshin Falls, it was just a few minute drive to Utoro, where we would stay for two nights.

DSC_429158m in height, the Oronko-iwa Rock (オロンコ岩) is an iconic feature at the fishing and onsen village of Otoro (ウトロ).  The rock separates the village from the breakwater structures out in the sea.

DSC_4304At the Oronko-iwa Rock parking lot, we had our first fox encounter: a furry fox sneaked behind our black car while we were taking photos of the setting sun.

IMG_6305The Oronko-iwa Rock is a popular spot for watching the sunset.

IMG_8671It was 6pm when we enjoyed a brief moment of the peaceful sunset out in the Sea of Okhotsk.

DSC_4293From the Oronko-iwa Rock, we could see the onsen hotels at Utoro.

IMG_8657The posters at Utoro visitor centre promote the salmon fishery and winter sea ice of Shiretoko.

IMG_8676After the red-eye flight from Hong Kong to Tokyo, the short domestic flight from Tokyo to Memanbetsu Airport, and the drive from Abashiri to Utoro, it was time for us to check in at Shiretoko Village, our onsen hotel in the hills behind Utoro village.

IMG_8682We always look forward the the meals at the onsen hotels in Japan.  At Utoro, we were treated with local seafood, deer meat, local salmon roe, and hairy crab.

IMG_6325It was the time for hairy crabs in Hokkaido.  Each guest was provided with a delicious hairy crab.

IMG_8685Drifting ice is the most popular local feature to promote various drinks and food products from Shiretoko, from sake, beer to ice-cream.

IMG_8687We ended our first day in Shiretoko with a bottle of local grape juice.

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TAI TAM COUNTRY PARK (大潭郊野公園), Hong Kong

Occupying about one fifth of area of Hong Kong Island, Tai Tam Country Park is one of the more accessible hiking destinations in the city.  The park is famous for its four reservoirs.  Built in 1888, 1904, 1907 and 1917 respectively, the Tai Tam Upper Reservoir (大潭上水塘), Tai Tam Byewash Reservoir (大潭副水塘), Tai Tam Intermediate Reservoir (大潭中水塘) and Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir (大潭篤水塘) served as the major water sources for Hong Kong Island in the early 20th century.  These reservoirs are surrounded by a series of green hills, including Mount Parker (柏架山), Mount Butler (畢拿山), Violet Hill (紫羅蘭山), and Jardine’s Lookout (渣甸山).  A series of hiking trails wind through the hills and pass by the reservoirs, making the country park a popular hiking destination in Hong Kong.

DSC_8917One of the trailheads begins at Mount Parker Road, at a densely populated area of Quarry Bay and just a stone throw away from Taikoo Place, a busy business district in East Hong Kong Island.

DSC_8922 The country park provides a decent view for the adjacent residential developments.  Built in 1989, the five 34-level towers of Mount Parker Lodge (康景花園) present some of the most typical private residential developments for the city’s middle class.

DSC_8924Looking over to Taikoo Place, the 69-storey One Island East Tower rises above the densed residential neighbourhood of Quarry Bay.

DSC_8931.JPGOpposite to Quarry Bay and Taikoo Place, the second highest peak of Hong Kong Island, Mount Parker, is marked by the observatory station.

DSC_8934To the south we were treated with the scenery of Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir and Tai Tam Bay.

DSC_8936As we reached the lookout of Mount Butler, we were treated with the view of Quarry Bay, Taikoo Place and the distant Kai Tak runway and East Kowloon.

DSC_8941A series of four water bodies make up the group of Tai Tam Reservoirs.

DSC_8943Looking west we could see the silhouette of Wanchai and Central in the haze.

DSC_8957Completed in late 1980s, the 18-tower Hong Kong Parkview (陽明山莊) is a luxurious residential and service apartment complex right by the country park.

DSC_8958We walked from the lookout of Mount Butler down to Wong Nai Chung Gap.

DSC_8959Soon we came to a lookout over Tai Tam Reservoir.

DSC_8964Looking northwest through Wong Nai Chung Gap (黃泥涌峽), the valley in the middle of Hong Kong Island, we could see the International Commerce Centre (ICC) and East Tsim Sha Tsui across Victoria Harbour.

DSC_7192Constructed between 1883 to 1888, the Reservoir Dam and Valve House of Tai Tam Upper Reservoir (大潭上水塘) were among the first phase of reservoir construction in Tai Tam.

DSC_7169The original dam was 30.5m high and 122m long, connected to a network that brought water through tunnels and aqueducts all the way to Central.

DSC_8974On our way down to Wong Nai Chung Gap (黃泥涌峽), we passed by a former granite quarry.

DSC_8970The old quarry is now occupied by the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Depot where the police deals with explosives.

DSC_8985Hong Kong Parkview (陽明山莊) is famous of its surrounding scenic views, and also its occasional break-ins.

DSC_8992We exited the country park near Wong Nai Chung Gap.  So we came to the historic Wong Nai Chung Reservoir (黃泥涌水塘).  Built in 1889 as Hong Kong’s third reservoir, Wong Nai Chung Reservoir has been used as a boat park for 30 years from 1986 to 2017.

DSC_8997Wong Nai Chung Reservoir is one of the six pre-war reservoir groups in the city.


DAY 1 (4/6): NATIONAL MUSEUM OF WESTERN ART (国立西洋美術館), Ueno Park (上野公園), Tokyo, Japan, 2017.06.14

Completed in 1959, the National Museum of Western Art is the only building in the Far East designed by modernist architectural maestro Le Corbusier.  In 2016, the museum building has been inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage along with 16 other Le Corbusier’s works such as Villa Savoye, Unite d’habitation Marseille, Notre-Dame-Haut de Ronchamp, Chandigarh Capitol Complex, etc.  We came for the modernist architecture, although many paintings and sculptures on display by world renowned artists were quite interesting too.

01Precast concrete panels were used as the main cladding material for the museum.

02We were greeted at the front entrance by Émile-Antoine Bourdelle’s Hercules the archer.  Bourdelle was an influential French sculptor in late 19th and early 20th century.

03The Thinker at Tokyo National Museum of Western Art was made after the death of Auguste Rodin.

04The lobby atrium of the museum was a pleasant surprise.  The high volume of the space and the trunk-like columns drew our attention to the unique skylight above.

06A skylight consisted of multiple triangles provides an interesting design feature to the space, and also magnificent indirect lighting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn architectural model provides a sectional view of the atrium and shows the exterior form of the skylight feature.

05At one side of the atrium, a zigzag ramp led all visitors to the main exhibition on the upper level.

08On the upper deck, we could get a clear view of the lobby atrium with its statues.

09Again, the concept of bringing indirect sunlight into the interior was the clear intent from Le Corbusier.  The glazing bulkhead above the paintings provided the main source of ambient light.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe collection of the museum ranges from Renaissance to the modern ages.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe glazing feature brings in indirect sunlight, but it also creates a long bulkhead along one side of the exhibition hall.

12Some of the paintings and statues were interesting, but our focus was always on the architecture itself.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the museum courtyard, we could see the various facade cladding materials used at different periods of expansion.

14At the forecourt, another zigzag ramp supposedly leads visitors to the lower courtyard.  Now the entire area, including the exterior ramp, is closed off.

15After the National Museum of Western Art, we thought we had enough dosage of art and history for the day.  We were quite tired due to the red-eye flight.  We decided to check out another piece of architectural gem in Tokyo, Kenzo Tange’s St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sekiguchi.


Hong Kong Wetland Park (香港濕地公園), Tin Shui Wai (天水圍), Hong Kong

Just a stone throw away from Lau Fau Shan, to the north of Tin Shui Wai New Town (天水圍) stands the 61-hectare Hong Kong Wetland Park (香港濕地公園).  Created as an ecological mitigation area to compensate for the loss of wetland in the new town construction, the Wetland Park is doubled as a tourist attraction with facilities including recreated wetland reserve for waterbirds and other wildlife, boardwalk circuits over the mudflats to offer a close encounter with the wetland habitats, and a visitor centre hosting exhibitions on wetland’s biodiversity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKnown as the “Succession Walk”, an elevated winding boardwalk takes visitors out to the water pond to closely appreciate various types of aquatic plants.

DSC_5245Different types of waterlilies are some of the highlights of “Succession Walk”.

DSC_5234At “Wetland at Work”, visitors can learn more about the crops produced from wetlands, such as the rice from rice paddies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFollowing the boardwalk deeper into the park, visitor arrives at the “Mangrove Boardwalk”.

DSC_5317At “Mangrove Boardwalk”, there is a good chance to have close encounter with some of the inhabitants of the wetland mudflats, such as the Bluespotted Mudskipper and Common Mudskipper.

DSC_5316Able to breathe through their skin, these amphibious fish are quite active on the mud, actively skipping around to defend their territories.  Staying in mud burrows allow them to keep moist and maintain their body temperature.

DSC_5378-2Another type of common inhabitant at the mudflats is the Fiddler Crab.  The male uses its small claw to feed and the big claw to defend.

DSC_5398Little Egret are common in Hong Kong, and can be seen in all seasons at the Wetland Park.

DSC_5418The boardwalk of Wildside Walk takes visitors to the far end of the park, where a few types of tranquil pools await both the visitors and dragonflies.

DSC_5433At some pools, algae completely covers the water like a soft green carpet.

DSC_5444The pattern on the algae looks like an abstract painting.

DSC_5458After a loop of the wetland reserve, one can return to the modernist Visitor Centre for further information.  The building is one of the few in Hong Kong extensively using exposed architectural concrete.

IMG_0842The lobby where visitors arrive is always busy.

DSC_5460One of the exhibit highlights is Pui Pui, a Salt Water Crocodile caught at Shan Pui River in 2003 when it was a juvenile.  It is believes that Pui Pui was an abandoned illegal pet from the area that had grown too big to handle.  Hong Kong Wetland Park became Pui Pui’s permanent home in 2006.

DSC_5503Other wetland wildlife on display includes freshwater fish.

DSC_5515Looking out of the Visitor Centre, one can fully appreciate the extent of the wetland reserve, a common type of ecosystem that once dominated large areas of Northern New Territories.

DSC_5522The modernist concrete architecture matches well with the peaceful landscape of the wetlands.

DSC_5525It is pleasant to appreciate the serene wetlands from the upper level of the Visitor Centre before leaving.

 


DAY 4 (3/6): KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan, 2016.12.06

It was a short walk from Todaiji to Kasuga Taisha (春日大社), the most famous Shinto shrine in Nara.  The main path to Kasuga Taisha was a pleasant walk in the woods.  First there were just old trees along the path, but soon came the stone lanterns.  As we get closer to the shrine complex, more and bigger clusters of stone lanterns appeared.  Over three thousand lanterns dotted in and around Kasuga Taisha.  Every year, during the festival of Setsubun Mantoro (February 2-4, Spring Festival) and Obon Mantoro (August 14-15, Bon Festival), thousands of lanterns at Kasuga Taisha would be lit up at once.

01Atmospheric stone lanterns and old trees lined the path leading to Kasuga Taisha.

02Deer is considered to be messengers of the gods.  They could be seen all over Nara Park, including the grounds of Kasuga Taisha.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere seemed to be never-ending rows of stone lanterns on our way to Kasuga Taisha.

04We passed by the Treasure Hall before entering the main shrine complex.  The Treasure Hall houses a number of relics from the old shrine.

05Before entering the complex, we passed by a huge wall filled with names of donors.

06From the lantern lined path, we walked up the stair to enter the main vermilion complex of Kasuga Taisha.

07Close up of the moss-covered stone lanterns near the main entrance.

08.JPGMany lanterns were written with prayers from donors who made contributions during the 60th renewal of the shrine.  Traditionally Shinto shrines in the Ise Jingu would be demolished and rebuilt every 20 years to celebrate the concept of impermanence.  Since the Meiji Era at the turning of the 20th century, only the damaged parts of the shrine would be repaired instead of replacing the entire building.

09After the entrance, we passed by the wooden pillars that supported the Heiden and Buden (幣殿・舞殿, Palace of Offerings and Dance Palace).

10Then we came to a gravel courtyard dominated by the Great Cedar Tree (社頭の大杉).  The ancient cedar was about 800 to 1000 year old.

11Next came the most prominent building in the courtyard, the Chumon and Oro (中門・御廊, Central Gate and Veranda).

12Spreading both directions beyond the Chumon, the Oro Veranda is full of suspended lanterns.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 10m tall Chumon is the central gate in front of the Main Sanctuary of the shrine.  Many visitors line up to come in front of the Chumon to pay their respect.

14Vermilion is the dominant colour at the shrine, while green, brown and beige are also used in the ornaments.

15Each metal lantern along the Oro Veranda and East and South Cloister looks distinctive.

16The small shrines near the South Cloister blend in perfectly with the natural surroundings, especially during autumn times.

17There were so many lanterns in Kasuga Taisha.  How nice if we could visit the shrine again during Setsubun Mantoro or Obon Mantoro Festival when they were all lit up.

18Even the shadow of the lanterns look amazing under the afternoon sun.

19After the main shrine at Kasuga Taisha, we headed into the adjacent cedar forest to check out some of the auxiliary shrines.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the auxiliary shrines we visited was Meoto Daikokusha (夫婦大国社, couple shrine).  Dedicated to the Shinto deity for couple relationships, Meoto Daikokusha is popular for visitors hoping for happy relationships and successful match-making.

21Some local visitors and even tourists came wearing traditional kimono dresses.

22There were many quiet shrines in the forest, each had its devoted supporters.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe visited several of the auxiliary shrines.  The last one we saw was Golden Dragon Shrine.

24It was late afternoon and we were a little tired and hungry.  Following the two rows of moss-covered stone lanterns, we slowly walked out of Kasuga Taisha.

25Near the exit of the forest path, we saw a herd of deer outside the forest right by a beautiful grassland.

***

Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan


DAY 4 (2/6): TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan, 2016.12.06

It was only 10 minutes of train ride from Horyuji Station to Nara JR Station.  Our plan was to spend the remaining of the day touring the Nara Park (奈良公園), where wild sika deer (日本鹿) have been roaming freely for over a thousand years.  The park is also home to a number of top sights in the city, including Todaiji Temple (東大寺), Kasuga Taisha (春日大社), Kofukuji (興福寺), and Nara National Museum.  Despite located a little further from the park than the Kintetsu Nara Station (近鉄奈良駅), the Nara JR Station (奈良駅) is still within walking distance to Nara Park.  It took us about half an hour to reach Nandaimon (南大門), the south gate of Todaiji Temple.  The 57 x 50m Daibutsuden (大仏殿, Great Buddha Hall) of Todaiji is one of the largest wooden building in the world.  Despite its enormous size, the current building is actually 30% smaller than its predecessor at the same site.

dsc_3156It was about 11 when we stepped out of Nara Station.  The weather was fine and clear.

dsc_3158Once we entered Nara Park, we could see the warning signage on how to be cautious with the wild deer.

dsc_3175Some deer were quite aggressive, especially when a visitor had food in hand.

dsc_3194There are over 1200 deer in Nara Park.  Some researchers suggest the number might have already passed what the grasslands in the park can support.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe route leading to the 12-th century Nandaimon (南大門, South Main Gate) of Todaiji was loaded with tourists, vendors and deer.

dsc_3204We weren’t the only ones standing at Nandaimon looking back at the approaching tourist groups, but also a curious deer.

dsc_3199Made by Busshi Unkei and Kaikei, Agyo is one of the two 8.5m tall wooden Nio (仁王, Guardians of the Buddha)  were erect at the Nandaimon since AD 1203.

dsc_3233At around noon time we finally reached Daibutsuden (大仏殿, Great Buddha Hall).  Known as the largest wooden structure in the world before the modern times, the present reconstructed building was only about 2/3 the size of the previous version.  Since AD 752, the hall had been reconstructed a few times after destruction from earthquake and fires.

dsc_3241We were lucky that it wasn’t the most crowded time in the day to visit the Daibutsuden.

dsc_3254The 15m tall bronze Birushana Buddha is Japan’s largest, depicting Vairocana Buddha (大日如来).  Flanking both sides of the Buddha are the two Bodhisattvas.  Once inside, we were overwhelmed by the sheer size of the 550 tonne bronze Buddha and the enormous volume of the hall interior.

dsc_3271Even Even the large statue of Komokuten (広目天) was dwarfed by the steep stair and high ceiling.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALooking up to the wooden Komokuten from below truly made us appreciate the enormous scale of the building.

dsc_3279The bronze and gold used for the original 8th century building almost led to financial bankruptcy of the emperor.

dsc_3312The golden halo of the Birushana Buddha is 27m in diameter with 16 images.

dsc_3300Wooden model of one of the previous Daibutsuden building.

dsc_3324Before leaving Daibutsuden, we paid our respect to the bronze Buddha and the golden Bodhisattvas one last time.

dsc_3328The queue of visitor kept on appearing at the entrance.

dsc_3334The wooden Binzuru (Pindola Bharadvaja) statue.  Visitors lined up to touch and have photo with the wooden statue.

dsc_3340Once got out of Todaiji, we would need to confront the curious hungry deer again.

dsc_3357Deer, Mirror Lake and Todaiji.

dsc_3368Small deer taking a nap just outside of Todaiji Temple.

***

Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan


DAY 4 -FIRST GLIMPSE OF JIUZHAIGOU (九寨溝), Sichuan (四川), China

An hour-long morning flight brought us from the ancient Chinese capital Xian to the southern part of Minshan Mountains (岷山), a transitional area where the flat Sichuan Basin meets with the Tibetan Plateau.  Geologically it is right on the vaultline between the Yangtze Plate and the Qinghai-Tibetan Plate, and is therefore prone to earthquakes.  Ecologically it is the habitat for the endangered golden snub-nosed monkeys and giant pandas.  For travelers, it is an famous destination for two of China’s scenic attractions: Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝) and Huanglong (黃龍).  At 8:15am, we landed at the Jiuzhai Huanglong Airport, a highland airport (about 3400m above sea level) opened in 2003 to serve the constantly growing demand of tourism.  We hopped on a minibus outside the airport for Jiuzhaigou.  The bus ride took a little over an hour, traveling through villages, mountain passes, and valleys.  Just as suspected, the minibus dropped everyone off at a village parking lot some 10 minutes of drive away from Pengfeng Village (彭豐村), where the main gate of Jiuzhaigou National Park and our guesthouse were located.  A bunch of taxi drivers came over as if hawks saw their preys.  Despite the rain, we pushed away the drivers and attempted to find our own way to Pengfeng.  We walked into the adjacent village (don’t even know the name) and asked around.  We eventually flagged down a car whose driver (a guesthouse owner) was willing to drive us to Pengfeng for a small fee.  By the time we reached our guesthouse Friendship Hostel in Pengfeng, it was almost noon.

It didn’t took us long to refresh ourselves and began our afternoon adventure into Jiuzhaigou National Park.  It was a 20 minute from our guesthouse to the park entrance.  It was rainy and chilly and hardly visitors were entering the park this late in the day.  We bought the admission ticket excluding the shuttle bus fare as we wanted to do some hiking in the area close to the park entrance, while leaving most of the park highlights for the next day.  It was a slippery hike in a wet afternoon, but we had the trail pretty much all by ourselves.  Our plan was to walk as far as we could and get a taste of the park.  Along the Shuzheng River, in the remaining time of the day before the park closed, we covered the lower half of Shuzheng Valley (樹正溝).  Despite the rain, we had some tranquil moments on the trail until reaching the area between Bonsai Shoals (盆景灘) and Sparking Lake (火花海), where apart from the magnificent turquoise lakes and scenic waterfalls, we also had our first experience of the horrific tourist crowds, which unfortunately, was also what Jiuzhaigou is well known for in recent years.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWinding through valleys and passes, the airport bus passed by a kitschy welcome sign of Jiuzhaigou in the middle of nowhere.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASnow was already present at mountain passes on our way to Jiuzhaigou.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt noon, we finally reached Friendship Hostel at Pengfeng Village.  We chose to stay at Pengfeng because of its walkable distance from the park entrance.  Despite simple, the guesthouse had a causal and welcoming atmosphere.

dsc_8348We reached the visitor centre and ticket office of Jiuzhaigou National Park at about 1pm.  It was rainy and chilly and we were a little tired from the early morning flight, but our hearts were excited.

dsc_8349The trail along Shuzheng River was mostly consisted of boardwalk paths.

dsc_8374The hike was wet and sometimes slippery, but we felt like we were the only visitors for the first two hours.

dsc_8389Out of the nine Tibetan villages in Jiuzhaigou, seven are still populated.  Closest to the park entrance, Heye Village (荷葉寨) is also one of the biggest.  As we approached Heye, the rain began to recede.

dsc_8397Heye Village (荷葉寨) was the first village we encountered.  Houses in Heye were still decorated in Tibetan style.

dsc_8408Village houses of Heye Villag (荷葉寨).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom Heye Village, we continued to walk along Shuzheng River until reaching an area with a number of small lakes, including Bonzai Shoals (盆景灘), Reeds Lake (蘆葦海), Double Dragon Lake (雙龍海), Sparkling Lake (火花海), and Sleeping Dragon Lake (臥龍海).  Despite the gloomy weather, we had our first glimpses of Jiuzhaigou’s crystal clear turquoise water.

dsc_8427Water plants were clearly visible in the crystal water.

dsc_8458At Reeds Lake (蘆葦海), the reeds can grow as tall as human height.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADrying reeds on racks near Reeds Lake (蘆葦海).

dsc_8465Winding boardwalk along Reeds Lake (蘆葦海).

dsc_8484A Tibetan roadside shrine with colourful prayer flags.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABird enthusiast taking photos of an eagle with a professional telephoto lens.

dsc_8513With water coming from two opposite ridges, one of the highlights of our day was Sparkling Lake Waterfalls (火花海瀑布).

dsc_8558Looking down the turquoise water of Sleeping Dragon Lake (臥龍海) from the zigzag boardwalk on the higher ridge.

dsc_8541Small waterfalls at both sides of the boardwalk from one lake down to another were virtually everywhere in the Sparkling Lake (火花海) area.

dsc_8591It was almost 7pm when we returned to Pengfeng Village.  We opted for a recently established restaurant of Chongqing cuisine for dinner and retired to our guesthouse after a brief visit to a small grocery shop.  As we hoped for a good rest in a rather cold night, all we could wish was some fine weather in the next morning.

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Our posts on 2016 Xian and Jiuzhaigou:

DAY 1 – NIGHT ARRIVAL, Xian, China
DAY 2 – QIN EMPEROR’S TERRACOTTA ARMY, near Xian, China
DAY 2 – BIG WILD GOOSE PAGODA (大雁塔), Xian, China
DAY 3 – HAN YANG LING MAUSOLEUM, Xian, China
DAY 3 – SHAANXI HISTORY MUSEUM, Xian, China
DAY 3 – GREAT MOSQUE (西安大清真寺) AND MUSLIM QUARTER, Xian, China
DAY 3 – MING CITY WALL, Xian, China
DAY 4 -FIRST GLIMPSE OF JIUZHAIGOU (九寨溝), Sichuan (四川), China
DAY 5 – ARROW BAMBOO LAKE (箭竹海), PANDA LAKE (熊貓海) & FIVE FLOWER LAKE (五花海), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 5 – PEARL SHOAL FALLS (珍珠灘瀑布), MIRROR LAKE (鏡海) & NUORILANG FALLS (諾日朗瀑布), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 5 – LONG LAKE (長海) & FIVE COLOURS LAKE (五彩池), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 5 – RHINOCEROS LAKE (犀牛海), TIGER LAKE (老虎海) & SHUZHENG VILLAGE (樹正寨), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 6 – ASCEND TO FIVE COLOUR POND (五彩池), Huanglong (黃龍), Sichuan (四川), China
DAY 7 – FAREWELL JIUZHAIGOU & XIAN, China