Xinjiang’s Tianchi (Heavenly Lake)

Xinjiang’s Tianchi (Heavenly Lake) is quite heavenly don’t you think?

Tianchi, or “Heavenly Lake”

The lake is about 28 miles outside of Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang Province. For those who don’t know where that is, imagine China’s shape as a giant rooster. Xinjiang would be the rooster’s backside. It’s the largest province in China, and was the entry point for the Silk Road for Eurasians.

Tianchi is surrounded by the Tian Shan (Heavenly Mountain) mountain range. That’s the mountains in the back. The lake is 6000 ft above sea level and about 1.9 square miles. You can take a boat cruise around the lake, and there’s even a monastery on it’s banks.

Damuo Monastery on the banks of Tianchi

Our 14 and 16 day Silk Road tours take you to see this beautiful lake, along with a plethora of other places. For more pictures of what you’d see, visit our Facebook.

Pardon the Dust

I have to ask you to pardon the dust on this blog right now. I’m working on the travel guides (up top), the Shanghai one should be completed soon. There’s just so much to see in the city; it’s hard to get a complete guide done in about a day. Hey, Wikitravel has multiple users writing theirs, this one is just me.

Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, I was going to Hong Kong.

First thing I noticed when getting out of the airport? The weather. I felt like I was hit in the face with a wet towel. Not very┬ápleasant. What was pleasant was the airport, surprisingly. I later found out that Hong Kong International Airport has repeatedly been voted the best airport in the world by leading airline magazines. I can see why now: the terminals are laid out nicely, signs are bilingual and easy to read. There are food courts everywhere, and the taxis are color coded depending on whether you’re going to Kowloon or Hong Kong Island. Since Hong Kong used to be a British colony, pretty much everyone speaks English (although the statistics with new immigrants and older people are considerably lower). I’ve been to airports all over the world (my least favorite might just be the San Fransisco International Airport, although that’s mainly because my 11 PM flight was delayed to 1 AM), and I actually enjoyed my experience in HKIA.

I stayed in the MetroPark Hotel-Causeway Bay, which was nice, although a little bit old (my room had that humid, sticky smell to it). The beds are extremely comfortable by the way, and they offer free internet in the rooms (one of my criteria for hotels).

Met some family, took a few pictures, but I mainly went photo crazy when I went to visit Macau. It’s a one hour boat ride from HK: you can take the subway to the Macau Ferry Terminal (for me it cost 12HKD, around $1.50). Once there, follow the signs up a couple floors to the ticketing booths. There are a lot of ferry companies that go to Macau; some offer tours when you get there, others don’t go to the actual main part of Macau, but to an island called Taipa. Make sure you check with the ticket person that you’re buying the right ticket. Anyway, I used TurboJet and paid for a “superclass” seat for 252 HKD (about $34). My seat was by the window, so I got a good view of Hong Kong as we pulled out

The weather just didn't agree with me that day...

They offer you food on the boat trip too: I got a set meal of fried rice, soup, and water. It…wasn’t very good, on par with airline food. They also hand out a form for you to fill out, since Macau is the other Special Administrative Region in China (HK is the other one), you’ll need to go through customs to get into the city. Make sure to fill the form out, and get ready to stand in line for a long time, especially if you have a foreign passport.

As for money, most places take Hong Kong Dollars, since a lot of the consumer traffic are people from Hong Kong. Macau pataca isn’t really valued: the casinos don’t even take it, requiring you to gamble in HKD (I found that hilarious by the by). The exchange rate should be around 1:1, don’t let anyone fool you.

When I arrived in Macau, I was greeted with well…tour hawkers. They hand you a free map, that’s fine to take (since you can pick those up at info booths anyway), and then they start pushing their tours. Feel free to take a tour; I didn’t because I hate going on guided tours (ironic isn’t it?). Instead, I decided to board a bus to Largo do Senado, which is a large square that leads up to most of Macau’s main attractions.

Largo do Senado

Feels very European doesn’t it? For those who don’t know, Macau was a Portuguese colony until 1999, when it was handed over to China. Thus, many of the buildings have a Mediterranean feel and lots of signs are in Portuguese. People here speak mainly Cantonese, although many also speak English and Mandarin.

If you head past the fountain, towards the buildings in the picture, the square turns into a large street that leads up to the Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral

The actual Cathedral has been destroyed, so only the facade exists. Behind the wall there’s a museum where you can see what was actually in the cathedral back when it was one. You can also climb up the facade to one of the windows on the second level. It gives a good view of Macau.

View from the ruins

On the way to the ruins, I saw a bunch of people lined up in front of this hole in the wall stand. I had to check it out. What I found was an old, wizened man making cookies and selling them for 10 HKD a bag.

The Cookie Man

The Cookies

It’s all made by hand, by him, right in front of you. His wife helps to make prepackaged ones, which aren’t as fresh and delicious as these. These were seriously amazing. Plain, simple, but spectacular. I showed these pictures to my cousin in HK and she knew from the picture of the stand that I was at Cookie Man’s place (this isn’t his actual name, I don’t know it).

I also bought some peanut candy from one of the many stores lining the street up to the ruins. Again, they were really really good. Freshly made, warm, wrapped up in front of you. I just about died.

Later, I climbed up this extremely steep hill to go see Mount Fortress. Word of advice, don’t do it. Especially in the spring and summer. Macau was hot when I went. Hot and humid. The climb basically killed me, although once I got up there the view was very nice. Mount Fortress used to be a military outpost, so old cannons are still sitting at the ramparts. The Macau Museum is also located there, although when I went it was closed.

Cannons on Mount Fortress

I also got a nice view of Macau, since the fortress is up a hill.

That Weirdly Shaped Building is the Hotel Lisboa

Afterwards, I was soaked in my own sweat and hungry, so I flagged down a passing taxi and headed to Macau’s most famous casino, the Casino Lisboa.

Casino Lisboa

Macau actually has a lot of casinos, the Venetian and the Wynn are the newest ones, while Casino Lisboa is one of the older but more famous ones. The picture above is the old wing; there’s a bridge that connects this building to the new building, which was that funky shaped building in the photo I took from Mount Fortress. Inside is 2 floors of gambling tables and slot machines, restaurants, and even a stage where I caught an acrobatic show. I ate at one of the noodle places inside the casino. The meal was nice, very light, and you got to choose the type of noodle you wanted to eat. I chose yigenmian, which is basically one long noodle that’s wound around and placed in soup. Very fun to eat, though I kept losing the end and I refused to break the noodle, so it took me a while to finish.

Afterwards, I headed down to the casino to try my hand at slots. Did I make any money? Why yes, I did. One whole American dollar.

By now it was getting late, so I caught another cab to the ferry and sailed my way back to Hong Kong, where I shopped till I dropped. Honestly, you have to go shopping in Hong Kong. There’s no sales tax, need I say more?