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China Part 2 - Dongbei (The Northeast)

Qingdao, Yantai, Dalian, Dandong and Changbai Shan

sunny 30 °C
View China, Mongolia, Nepal, and Vietnam on HT's travel map.

Part 2 of our China trip continued up the eastern coast towards the North Korean border, ending at the Everlasting White Mountain (Changbai Shan) which straddled the China and North Korean border.

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Our first stop however, was Qingdao, home to the 2008 Olympic sailing events and the beer capital of China, which inherited a German built modern beer brewery of the famous Tsingtao Beer brand. It is also home to Lao Shan Beer, which is also one of my favourite (but far lesser known) China beers. On our first morning wandering the streets, we came across this old Catholic Church, which is now a very popular place for the locals to get their wedding photos done (there were about 6 groups lining up for their photos all over the square!). Note the sexy black leggings with lace and tennis shoes under her dress.
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Ah yes, the beaches in China...just like Bondi except no one is wearing a swimsuit! From what we could tell, the main attraction of the beach here was the opportunity to collect seaweed, small pipis and baby crabs from the rockpools... DSC_0037.jpg

The now simply named "Granite Castle" was originally built by a Russian prince (if I remember correctly) and must have been quite a sight 100 or so years ago occupying a commanding position right on the beach!
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While here, we also visited nearby Lao Shan (Lao Mountain), which had some nice mountain walks and a beautiful and very inviting reservoir at the end of our hike down (though no swimming was allowed...)
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We found this cool little old town area, which was full of great restaurants on one of the main streets in Qingdao and ate a few great meals here.
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Why not turn a bus into a restaurant?
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And last but definately not least, of course, there was the beer! The Qingdao Beer Brewery was on "Beer Street" (naturally!), which was an area packed with restaurants.
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Have you ever heard of Green Beer? We were told it was made with seaweed, which gives it the green color, and Tara found it quite refreshing! (Seems there is plenty of experimentation in China with beer these days - I have also seen lemon flavoured beer and a non-alcoholic drink with an advertising slogan something like, "Is it Beer? Is it Tea?"!)
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And if you don't have time to stop for a beer...No problem, just take some away in this plastic bag...! All the rage here in Qingdao, draft beer straight from the keg into a plastic bag...
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Hotpot in Yantai, a dreary port city with not much to recommend itself to, where we spent one day while waiting for our boat across the Bohai Bay to Dalian. The weather was also very unpredictable - the morning was blazing hot and clear but by mid-afternoon the skies turned black within 30mins and we were caught out in a massive downpour while walking the beach!
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Dalian

After another overnight boat trip, we arrived in Dalian. This city was previously a major trade port for the West into China and therefore has many impressive examples of early 20th century architecture. Today, the expat population appears to be dominated by Russians as well as countries with strong shipping industries such as Norway. It is also one of the nicest cities in China we have visited, with wide, tree-lined streets, beautiful beaches, clear and clean water as well as somewhat clearer skies.

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This is Bangchuidao Beach, where China's elite spend their holidays and includes accommodation and a golf course. Unfortunately, the water and beach area was not as inviting as the more popular Fujiazhuang Beach we visited the next day due to the masses of people fishing from the shore! 
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Compared to Qingdao, there was also a much stronger beach culture here - although there were some interesting exceptions with some funny balaclava type headwear (presumably to avoid a dreaded tan) and others snacking on seaweed pulled from the ocean!! I also finally managed to get my long-awaited swim here and found the water beautifully refreshing on a very hot day and clean!

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Dandong

Moving north by bus from Dalian (where we could have easily spent another few days at least but have to keep moving or we'll never finish this trip!), we arrived at the border town of Dandong, where it is possible to launch a visit into North Korea (although Tara didn't dare get too close due to the few known Americans getting snatched up from across the border and sent to labour camps), which was separated by a narrow river probably only 100-200m wide.

What would China be without a statue of Mao in every city!!
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Is China showing off to the Koreans on the other bank which seemed to be suffering from a blackout compared to the bright lights and buildings on the Chinese shoreline...?

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This restored section of the Great Wall, Tiger Mountain Great Wall, was built in the Ming Dynasty and previously extended into what is now North Korea. When we thought we couldn't come closer to North Korea, we jumped on a boat here that took us along a narrow stream separating China and North Korea where at the closest point, Yibukua ("One Step Across"), we could practically reach out and touch North Korean soil. Again, Tara stayed on the far side of the boat...:)

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Looking out onto North Korea...
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Sometimes, it isn't necessary to provide a description (and get it completely wrong!)...
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"The Museum to Commerate US Aggression" - a tribute to China's resistance and victory against the US in the Korean War! Even though the Chinese have a very warped theory of what happened in the war and no mention of any other countries involved, tourists still like to take photos with Tara, the foreigner from America. This happens everyday, and the numbers are climbing fast. In addtion to people asking to have a photo with Tara, she also has a special following of "paparazzi" that follows her around trying to sneak a few photos. 9DSC_0184.jpg

Changbai Shan (Everlasting White Mountain)

A popular destination for Koreans, this is also a beautiful mountain area straddling the China-North Korean border. Not only can you pay 5 dollars to stick your feet in this hot spring water, but you can also buy eggs boiled in the spring water (and some sort of hot dog-the red things floating in the water)...the eggs and the feet are in separate pools thankfully!

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The finale and highlight of our visit was ascending 2,500m to the top of the mountain, where there is this massive lake (Tianchi or Heavenly Lake). We were very fortunate that the cloudy skies cleared for us and we were able to enjoy the beautiful reflections given by the pristine waters in the former volcanic crater. In fact, the reflection was so clear that it was somewhat disconcerting looking down and seeing the clouds which should be above us! We heard later that many people visit the Tianchi and are disappointed by the frequent rain and clouds which can completely obscure the view, often for several days at a time.

However, it was not quite as tranquil as our photos suggest when shared with several hundred Chinese tourists (see video)!!
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Posted by HT 06:54 Archived in China Tagged backpacking

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