Pre-Tibet Hike to Heng Mountain

Mt. Heng Summit

Staying in the Florida of China for months makes winter a little less bareable each year. So, before leaping into the unforgiving frost of Tibet in Winter (as I’m told its quite chilly up there), I decided to pay a visit to Heng Mountain; the Southern Mountain and one of Chinese Five Sacred Mountains of Taoism. Heng Shan is a 150 km-long mountain range  with 72 peaks.

My post today is coming from a small hotel in the foothills of this historically important mountain. Of course, it’s also a pretty charming spot to visit if you are in the Hunan area. (Southern China-2 hours bullet train from Guangzhou/ +2 more hours light rail from HK) Last Chinese New Year I visited Song Mountain, which is the home of the Shao Lin Temple. It’s considered the Central Mountain of the Five Sacred Mtns. Someday I’ll get to the rest of them! (Northern, Western, and Eastern) Continue reading Pre-Tibet Hike to Heng Mountain

Oh-Bama! China’s Fountain of Youth

A River in Bama County
This week I’d like to uncover a hidden gem for all Asian Living readers. It is a natural occurrence which is not 100% understood by scientists, but honestly, is science the only way to understand our world? Reality slaps us in the face at times when science has no explanation. And that is why I hope we can all keep our minds open for my latest post about Bama.

Southern Guangxi province has a secret…. For hundreds of years the sleepy county of Bama never thought much of living past 100 years old. At present there are over 70 people living into the triple-digits, post-golden years. (Platinum years, perhaps?) With a population of 250,000, you’ll stumble across one for every 3,500 or so people. But this small agricultural region of centenarians is using this natural phenomenon as a way to boost tourism and market all kinds of products; from botteled water to snake-fermented liquor.

The region, which borders Vietnam to the south, is now steadily filling with tourists looking to get a piece of the magic from the Bama Longevity Cluster. It is understood in Chinese culture that leading a healthy life includes experience with Chi Ku [吃苦], literally “eating bitterness.” These way-past-retired locals are not just sitting around all day; they keep moving and live pretty active lifestyles. In order to do some Chi Ku activities, the local farms of centenarians will let you do back-breaking harvesting work for them! Tourists can be found digging up gourds and cutting down leafy greens for lunch and dinner. (Quite a sight when you know they have come for a holiday!) Some of the mystical properties of the region are said to come from “life-prolonging soil”and “longevity” spas, although genetics is said the be the main factor in distinguishing whether or not a person will live to 100.

A Picturesque Sunset in Guangxi

A 2008 write-up on Bama can be found in the Wall Street Journal here. If you are planning a China-Vietnam trip, it’s worth a quick visit to Bama after a few days in beautiful Yangshuo (Guilin).

Here are some products from Bama, which can be purchased on Taobao.

The Hawaii of China: Hainan

Sanya ~ DaDongHai Beach

What first comes to mind when you think of China…? The Great Wall, The Yangtze River, and perhaps super-modern megacities which have only recently hit the world stage. One image that probably doesn’t come to mind, or at least right away, includes beautiful beaches, palm trees, and baby-blue water. Welcome to Sanya, the Hawaii of China!

After working in busy cities and taxiing around countless industrial zones, there is nothing more enjoyable than taking a week to enjoy this little-known, very affordable Chinese getaway. Hainan is an island province in southern China, which is historically referred to as the Tail of the Dragon and the Gateway to Hell. But don’t let the old nicknames fool you, the prosperity of Eastern Chinese cities has started hitting the shores of this little province.

At 100-600rmb per night, depending on your taste, Sanya’s Da Dong Hai [三亚, 大东海] is a inexpensive locale with great beaches. And don’t be surprised if local vendors greet you in Russian; Sanya welcomed 331,000 visitors in the first quarter of 2010 alone! That’s quite amazing considering about 40,000 came in the entire year of 2005. Although Russian language won’t be required, speaking Mandarin will carry you a looong way.

My advice: Come now! With the busy summer season coming to a close, this is definitely the time to enjoy empty beaches, tropical dishes, and romantic sunsets. Explore this tiny enclave of Chinese beach culture before the big crowds come back in the winter.