Yangshuo — by Bike, Kayak, and Canoe

In a way, this trip has been all about different modes of transportation.

Our plane flights from SFO to Beijing totaled 7000 miles (plus an airport tram). Our bullet train ride to YueYang was more than 900 miles. And we’ve taken two other flights since. But we also rode a limo to the airport, took a gondola up to the Great Wall (and a toboggan on the way down), and have ridden on multiple and varied tour buses and passenger vans, even the subway in Beijing. And maybe you could count the roller coaster and the bumper cars in Chengdu.

And then there are our three days in Yangshuo, which set a new standard for adventure in transportation. We weren’t done after our bamboo rafts (and the three-wheeled motorcycle tuk-tuks) the first day.

On Day Two in Yangsuo, we rented “bicycles” (such as they were) and went on a “ride” (such as it was).


IMG_5686It all started innocently enough, with a pleasant cruise through the spectacular karst cliffs. But then the chain fell off the tandem bike that Karen & Felicia were riding. And in general, it turned out that “brakes” were somewhat optional in most of our bikes. And then our map led us onto some footpaths that really weren’t wide enough for bikes. And we rode through some mud, and had to lift bikes around some obstacles.

But the views were outstanding, and I’m sure we would have done it all over again!

Later that afternoon, we booked a trip to the Moon Water Cave, one of many, many caves inside the karsts, but one of the less-touristy options recommended by our resort. So it began with a rickety rope-drawn canoe ride deep into the cave, which was followed by a fun ascent through awesome stalagmite and stalactite formations, with some short and narrow passageways. At the end, we were treated to a mud bath in an enhanced man-made pool.


Not to be outdone, our last full day ended with a kayak ride down the Li River out of Fuli, itself not quite as unique as the barge ferry ride we had to take to get to the riverbank to ride the kayaks.

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Too bad we didn’t also get to ride those real-life yaks (although I think they might technically be water buffalos)!

Bamboo Surfing Down the Yulong River


IMG_5410It was hard to avoid the draw of riding a bamboo raft down the Yulong River, especially since our balcony view afforded us a constant stream of other tourist riding the boats. So we joined in the fun!

All along the river, there were barges with drinks and snacks for sale, and there were some full-on restaurant barges as well. But the most industrious use of floating pontoons was the “photo booths” stations just beyond each man-made breakwater dam. These folks had a whole digital photo set-up, compolete the photographers, computer monitor, color printer, and laminator.

While they weren’t exactly Class VI rapids, the breakwaters along the Yulong River were fun to “surf” over anyway:

Seriously, Have You Seen Our View?

And then there's the view from our balcony - Guilin Yangshuo #mkChina

We’re staying at the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat for three days before jetting to Hong Kong. Seriously, this is the view from our balcony. As I type, there are bamboo rafts gliding downstream full of tourists and sightseers. But the Girls are still sleeping, so that can wait for a bit … And then there’s the view from our balcony – Guilin Yangshuo #mkChina

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Chengdu … Because Pandas!

Following the important visits to YueYang and Changsha, we will spend the rest of our China vacation being pure tourists. So, of course, we had to go see the Giant Pandas.

IMG_4983Chengdu actually turned out to be a very pleasant city, with lots to see beyond visiting just the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Although we didn’t see the pandas until the second day, we’ll give you those pictures first!

We had originally hoped our “panda plan” would include a visit to a more remote authentic panda reserve, but an earthquake a few months ago altered our trip.

The Chengdu Panda Base is a sprawling city zoo, focused on Giant Pandas and Lesser Pandas (the “red pandas,” which are are actually closer to raccoons, but cuter).

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In the hot summer months, pandas — like tourists — prefer to remain indoors in their air-conditioned rooms. We did get to see them, but they weren’t as active or close to us as we might have hoped. Fun, nonetheless!


IMG_5165We also had a great lunch at the Panda Base, although this restaurant was a little more “Americanized” than the other authentic places we had eaten. Food was less spicy, and they even served french fries!

Immediately from the beginning of our stay, our guide “Jack” become famous for his food orders, which easily could have fed the entire Martin clan — all 14 of us, twice! — had the whole group come along.

After lunch we walked around Swan Lake watching hungry fish fight for food. These guys could have used some of our leftovers.

Chengdu (also cool without Pandas)

IMG_5146_jmkBefore we even got to the Panda Base in Chengdu, we knew we would enjoy exploring this city. Even on the ride from the airport to the hotel, it was clear that this city was different was different — cleaner, more modern, vibrant, pleasant, etc.

It had been a very early flight out of Changsha, so we hit the ground running in Chengdu, with a visit to the central Bamboo Park. The park featured historic tower architecture, and more than 100 different types of living bamboo.IMG_4764

It was a relaxing introduction to the city … until we got to the children’s “kiddie rides” section, where the Girls managed a quick roller coaster ride before taking a spin on the bumper cars. These rides were nothing unique to China, but provided a nive break form the tourist grind.

For our evening entertainment, we decided to see the Sichuan Opera, which was an awesome cabaret show of classical Chinese entertainment, including traditional instruments, hand shadow puppets, opera singing, and the famous “changing faces” masks of Sichuan.


IMG_5202As one of China’s great agricultural centers, Chengdu is also famous for its local teas. In the afternoon of our last day, we explored street markets where Tea Houses offered relaxtion and souvenir opportunities.

Our time in Chengdu ended too soon, but holds many great memories.

YueYang – “Care First, Enjoy Last”

IMG_4370Our time in YueYang and Changsha was the intended highlight of our trip – a visit to Kiana’s home city and Hunan province!

After a six-hour bullet train ride headed south from Beijing (900 miles, ten stops, and speeds in excess of 300km/h), we arrived in the YueYang. Our guide (English name ‘Smile’) introduced us to this “medium-size Chinese city” of 1.5 million people (with an addition 5 million in the metropolitan region).

Kiana came to the adoption center in YueYang as one-day old baby in May of 2002. She was known then as Yue Xiayang (aka “summer ocean”), a moniker she uses today as her middle name, officially Xiayang; she was lovingly addressed this way throughout our visit to the orphanage in YueYang and the adoption center in Changsha.


Visits to both centers included warm receptions and meetings with agency officials. In both cases, the directors of the centers were all present during Kiana’s adoption journey in 2003. The current director of the YueYang Social Welfare Center was on staff in 2003, and the Hunan Adoption Agency director today signed Kiana’s original document certificates ten years ago as the agency registrar. Xia Yueng clearly had the Midas Touch!


In both cases, we also got to see current children being cared for by the centers, including about 30 special needs children in YueYang, and at least one toddler being officially adopted during our visit.

IMG_4232Touring YueYang and Changsha (Hunan)

After our visits each day, we toured famous parts of each city.

In YueYang, we discovered the Island region of Lake Dong Ting, walking through lush gardens and ancient temples along the important waterway that connects the Xiaoxiang and the Yangtze rivers.

The YueYang Tower (top of article, above right) along Lake Dong Ting inspired many famous Chinese poets, including Teng Zijing and Fan Zhongyan, who defined Chinese Cultural theme “Care First, Enjoy Last,” a philosophy that seems very prevalent among the Chinese people wet have met on the trip so far. It was a beautiful setting long the lake, and the traditional architecture was fun to experience.

IMG_4613Our Thursday in Changsha included a visit to an Embroidery Museum which Karen, Jenni and Kiana had toured on their original adoption trip in 2003. We also traveled under the Xiaoxiang to the university region and the Yuelu Academy, China’s oldest university (established in 976).

It rained for most of our visit, but we had a great time nonetheless. After our touring on Thursday, David wandered east of the Huatian Hotel toward the railway station, and discovered the discount market area, where shirts, backpacks, and other sundries could be had for bargaining. It was so much fun that the time wore on, the rain continued unabated … and he arrived soaking wet and late for dinner with the family. Our dinners were enjoyed at “Food Street,” a made-to-order cafeteria-style restaurant in the hotel that was the same as it had been during the moms’ first visit.

Beijing – Squares, Stairs and Big Places

You can’t schedule a two-week visit to China without planning a stop in Beijing. But you also probably can’t do Beijing justice in just two weeks, let alone three days … Incredible!

Tianamen Square
& The Forbidden City

A lot of things in China strike you immediately as simply huge. Like Tiananmen Square. Said to be large enough to hold 1 million people, Tiananmen straddles the space between the old city walls (above right) and the entrance to the Forbidden City, once home to China’s Emperors, but now guarded (below) by Chairman Mao’s portrait. IMG_4755

As our first tourist stop on Sunday, Tiananmen was fun, and big. We walked across it, stopping a few times to marvel at its size and the the other tourists teeming around us (many of whom were taking our picture, or listening to our tour guide).

IMG_4810The entrance to the Forbidden City and the Imperial Palace was even more crowded, and the significance of these sites to the Chinese was palpable.

We walked the full length of the city and palace grounds, catching our private tour bus across the mote that still separates the City from the rest of Beijing’s 22 million residents.

IMG_3371After lunch, we toured the grounds of the Temple of Heaven, where emperors led prayers in support of good harvests during the Minq and Qing Dynasties, following its construction in the 1400s.

Monday: The Great Wall

The middle day of our Beijing visit was spent at the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, which will get its own post shortly.

Rickshaws Through the Hutong

Tuesday was our last day in Beijing, and it was also a little more intimate, with a fun rickshaw ride through the historic Hutong (neighborhoods) in the center of the city, followed by lunch hosted by a family living in the Hutong on their fifth generation over 150 years.

After lunch, we headed to the Beijing Central Railway for a six-hour high-speed train ride to YueYang, ready for our tour Kiana’s home town and her original orphanage.

Great Wall at Mutianyu – With Stairs!

IMG_4889Of course we also saw the Great Wall.


We selected a location a bit further from Beijing, but well worth the drive. Despite the longer drive and the overcast weather, it was amazing to see this great wonder of the world for ourselves — and to walk along the steep ramps and staircases connecting each tower … And did I mention we rode up in a gondola — and then rode down in a toboggan!? **

IMG_4890 We were able to walk to the top of one of the guard towers, where we had a panoramic view of the wall and the Mutianyu region.

At the end of our walk, each of us had our own toboggan to ride down. The ride took nearly five minutes (much longer than the similar experience we had in Germany’s Bavarian mountains).

** Toboggan video to be posted once we get to a country that allows video sharing.

Latest Trip: CHINA! … #mkChina

Since our Cousin Kiana (aka “Super-K”) was adopted from China 10 years ago, its about time our entire family visited! … We are off the orient this week for a two-week stay. We’ll be visiting Beijing, Guilin, and Hong Kong.

Of course, our preferred method of sharing our vacation with you is Twitter. But technically, Twitter is not preferred by the Chinese government; in fact, it’s banned. But we may have discovered a top-secret work-around, using Yahoo Mail, Flickr, and IFTTT. If it works, you’ll find updates here:

If the embedded Twitter widget isn’t working, maybe you can follow all those #mkChina posts in MK Blog style, or just check out the latest:

From David (@dhkeller):