Travel

The Sphinx: Didn’t the Egyptians think to Trademark it in China?

China's fake Great Sphinx of Giza, in Hebei province, close to Beijing

China’s fake Great Sphinx of Giza, in Hebei province, close to Beijing

 

China has been investing large sums into Africa to take advantage of the continent’s vast natural resources and build diplomacy. In 2012 alone, China dropped $27.7 billion between Cairo and Capetown and is showing no signs of slowing down. But even with China bringing all sorts of new infrastructure, mobile networks, sports stadiums and more productive farming to the continent, one country that isn’t looking too fondly on the Middle Kingdom is Egypt.

 

Egypt’s tourism industry, which accounts for 40% of the country’s non-commodity exports and is one its main employers, stands to benefit significantly from the rise of Chinese outbound tourism.  With 200 million Chinese expected to travel abroad in 2017, once Egypt settles a little, big-spending Chinese tourists will come flooding in.  So it is in Egypt’s best interests to keep China on side, but a couple of recent incidents by Chinese nationals will certainly be testing their patience.

 

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WTF Hangzhou?

In the sky there is heaven, on earth there is Hangzhou, so the old Chinese saying goes. Steeped in history, Hangzhou was one of Seven Ancient Capitals of China, reining as capital of the Wuyue Kingdom from 907 to 978. Today it’s a prosperous city of more than 6 million people, spoilt with its picturesque West Lake, countless parks, and surrounding lush hills and mountains. It’s less than a one-hour fast train ride from the concrete grit of Shanghai, but a world away. It’s hard not to feel at ease amongst the peace and tranquility of one of China’s most famous lakes.

 

Hangzhou's beautiful West Lake

Hangzhou’s beautiful West Lake

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El Nido, Palawan, The Philippine’s Absolute Stunner

Philippine’s ‘Last Frontier’, Palawan Island, is the westernmost point of the Philippines archipelago.  Once the realm of pirates, it’s now a relatively popular spot for sun, scenery and turtle seekers.  On its northern tip, along with 45 islands nearby, is the municipality of El Nido.

 

El Nido’s landscape is simply breathtaking.  Dotted with dramatic limestone cliffs humping everywhere, dropping down to countless sandy beaches.  It looks like something between Jurassic Park and Robert Louis Stevenson ‘s Treasure Island.  The golden sand, blue sea, green mangroves, palms and other foliage felt especially vivid coming from a slightly smoggy Shanghai in the winter.

 

el nido island

El Nido’s stunning island scenery

 

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Burma: Nice Spot, But Overrun With Tourists Unless You’re Happy Sweating

Burma seems to be Southeast Asia’s latest hotspot. The ‘opening up’ of Burma’s and talk of it being like Asia 30-years ago (not the first time that one’s been used) has seen tourists flocking to get a piece of the action before it’s overrun with tourists. Unfortunately that’s already happened. In 2012, Burmese tourism soared 43% and its infrastructure is struggling to keep up.

 

Hot Air Ballooning over Bagan

Hot air balloons take to the sky at sunrise in Bagan

 

There’s little wonder tourists are coming to Burma. The people are charming, smile at ease and, unlike some with of its neighbouring countries, you feel comfortable that they’re not going to be ripped off every time you slip your hand into your money belt. There are some big-hitting sites to see too. The scale of Yangon’s crumbling colonial grandeur is matched by few cities in Asia, maybe just Mumbai. The bizarre one-legged-paddling fishermen, floating villages and surrounding vineyards of Inle Lake are cool, although one does get a little souvenir-shop fatigue. And cycling between the 4,000+ temples that dot the grassy paddocks amongst goat herders and ox-pulled ploughs is right up there with Amritsar’s Golden Temple as my favourite things to do in Asia, or pretty much anywhere.

 

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Fake New Zealand In China?

Will the real New Zealand please stand up?

 

China is notorious for fakes.  There’s the counterfeit handbags and watches everywhere, bogus Subway restaurants and fake Apple stores that even fooled the staff working there.

 

New Zealand has had it’s share of products ripped off as well: fake NZ milk powder (because Chinese are worried they’ll be poisoned by the local stuff), pirated Separation City DVDs and fake NZ kiwi fruit – though we kinda stole it from them in the first place.

 

However, the latest theft has taken ripping off God’s Zone to a whole new level – they’re faking NZ!

 

China Stealing New Zealand

An the email from a Chinese airline, offering discounted flights down to Kunming, Dali and Lijiang, but with a snap of New Zealand’s iconic Mitre Peak in Milford Sound

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Chinese in Greenland – Good News You May Not Have Expected?

I visited Greenland about 10 years ago, and it still ranks among the most fascinating places I have been to. It made quite an impression on me, keeping me curious enough to read the odd article I stumble across about the world’s largest island.   One article that recently caught my attention was that 2,000 Chinese workers would be shipped to the freezing land to build an aluminium smelter.

 

Chinese in Greenland

The Chinese in Greenland. Background by Gerald Zinnecker

 

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Koh Rong Island, Cambodia: Paradise … for the Time Being

Something I love about travelling in places like Asia, the Nile River and even New Zealand, is discovering those jaw-droppingly-magical places that are still unspoiled from the tentacles of development.  We were lucky to stumble upon another gem, Koh Rong Island, in a recent trip to Cambodia.

 

One of Koh Rong Island's 23 beautiful beaches

One of Koh Rong Island’s 23 beautiful beaches

 

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Winter in Tibet – the best time to visit?

Mention Tibet and most people will picture snowy ranges, icy-bearded mountaineers and hardy locals wrapped in yak hides.  That’s with good reason; generally the higher you go, the colder it gets, and Tibet is high.

 

Tibet isn’t called the Roof of the World for nothing.  The Tibetan Plateau is the highest and largest plateau in the world with an average altitude of 4,500 metres (14,800 feet).  Just 36 countries have a mountain that reaches that height. Yet at that altitude, even in January, much of Tibet is surprisingly pleasant.

 

Winter sun in Tibet

Winter sun in Tibet

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Trincomalee – Home to Sri Lanka’s best beaches

Trincomalee on Sri Lanka’s east coast is my new favourite beach.  There are more dramatic bays, and seaside spots serving tastier margaritas, but something about Trincomalee’s beaches hit my sweet spot.

 

What makes it my favourite beach?  It’s raw, rustic and the first cheap, sunny, beautiful place that I’ve been to in a long time where the locals aren’t trying to peddle their wares.  Its people are wonderful, architecture charming, history fascinating and it ticks every box that I love to tick when I’m travelling…

 

Tamil fisherman overlooking Trincomalee Beach

Tamil fisherman overlooking the Indian Ocean at Trincomalee Beach

 

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Datong, China: Diamond in the Coal

Suggest a weekend of travelling to Datong and almost every Chinese man will screw up his face. Ye Dirty Olde Coal Town is officially China’s 4th most polluted city and is just down the road from the world’s most polluted, Linfen 7VFQXJHKFEKP. But with a history spanning 22 centuries, including two as the capital of the Northern Wei Dynasty, there is much more to Shanxi Province’s City of Coal than soot-swathed buildings. There’s a 1,500 year-old temple that hangs from a cliff face, China’s oldest and tallest wooden structure and caves chock-full of tens of thousands of ancient Buddha statues – some rivalling even those on the banks of the River Nile for scale and awe.

 

Datong sprawls across a coal-rich basin surrounded on three sides by golden-coloured mountains. The settlement was founded around 200BC and grew as a thriving pit stop for camel caravans transporting their wares north to Mongolia. At its peak as the capital of the Northern Wei Dynasty from 366-494, Datong saw many labourers construct some of China’s most magnificent sites.

 

Xuan Kong Si Hanging Temple, Datong, Shanxi Province, China

The gravity-defying Xuan Kong Si Temple 'hanging' from a cliff 17-stories up

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My wife Ellen and I are currently living in China, bumbling our way around this fascinating and fast-changing country. We kicked off our stay with a semester of Intensive Mandarin studies at Beijing Language and Culture University and are now living in Shanghai. These posts cover some of my experiences, views and curious facts in and around the Middle Kingdom. Please let me know what you think!


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