Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays 2016
***This post may contain affiliate links.***
It’s that time of year again, the time where we check in with all of our friends, family, and readers everywhere to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. As another year comes to a close we like to take some time to reflect on all of the amazing triumphs and challenges this year has brought us, and of course, thank all of you out there who take the time to read our blog and keep up with all our travels and musings. Think of this as our Christmas letter of sorts to all our dear readers on the interwebs.
So here goes.
Do you guys ever make a list at the start of the new year of the things you want to accomplish? It’s something Justin and I started in 2016 and I have to say, we did a pretty dang good job of accomplishing our yearly goals. The one goal on both of our lists was “travel more”, go figure, and I can certainly say we used every opportunity we had throughout the year to do so. I think we were both feeling like we were already one year down, and hadn’t experienced hardly any of the amazing places in Asia that were the entire reason for becoming expats in the first place. 2016 is now coming to a close and that feeling is still lingering in both of us. The world is a big place full of amazing places to see, things to do and experiences to be had and we hope to experience as much of it as possible through our travels and life experiences.
We made a dent this year, starting with a trip to Chengdu accompanied by a friend visiting from the US. With a week in the city, we got to meet pandas at the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding and Research Center, explore the city’s many temples and Buddhist monasteries, tour the Giant Buddha in Leshan, and visit the Bifengxia Zoo on a failed attempt to see the Bifengxia Panda Base. My friend even got to experience the novelty of a Chinese hospital after a cold she brought from the US turned into tonsillitis on our trip. Unfortunately this meant we had to cancel our plans to go horse trekking in Tagong, a village on the Himalayan plateau (best laid plans). But we had a good trip despite the cold and sickness. Before she flew home, we spent a couple days in Hong Kong hitting some of the major tourist traps: Victoria Peak, Star Ferry Harbor Tour, and the night markets. I really enjoyed getting out of “China” for a couple days and eating our first western food in 3 weeks. A breakfast bagel sandwich was devoured every morning.
Just one week after my friend left, it was time for our Chinese New Year vacation on the island of Busuanga in the Philippines where we spent a week kayaking from island to island and camping on uninhabited beaches. This was my first time snorkeling in crystal clear tropical waters and it was indescribably awesome. The view from my mask was like diving into an alternate universe teaming with life. Even in February the ocean water was warm to the touch allowing us to swim for an hour without getting cold. Overall it was a great, if not rather salty, trip that gave us both our fill of the ocean for a while. The Philippines is an amazing place and we hope to go back and explore some more of this beautiful country in the future.
Our next vacation was a three day weekend for China’s Dragon Boat Festival in April, where we took the ferry to Hong Kong to explore some of the amazing hiking trails I had heard so much about from my friends. We hiked a good portion of the Lantau Trail summiting Sunset Peak and Lantau Peak before heading down the mountain to the Tian Tan Buddha and then back to the city. The island was absolutely beautiful with amazing hiking trails and camp grounds set up with potable water for hikers. We had an amazing time exploring the stunning Hong Kong countryside and can’t wait to go back for some more hiking. Hong Kong is truly a city with an experience for every taste.
A month later we came up on another 3 day weekend, Chinese Labor Day (they’re big on holidays here in China) where we jet-setted down the coast to the island of Hainan, China’s southern most territory, tandem bike in tow. Three days was the perfect amount of time for a loop from the northernmost port city of Haikou, through the mountains, and back. We would have loved to been able to ride across the island from Haikou to the famous resort town of Sanya, but at the time didn’t own a portable bike bag (problem solved now, yay!). Most people go to Hainan for the beaches and resorts of Sanya, but we have to say, they are seriously missing out on the gorgeous mountains in the middle. It’s pretty much the definition of tropical mountain paradise.
In late May it was time for our big travel trip of the year, home to the US for the first time after a year and a half living in China. We are definitely not fans of the 15.5 hour flight (and really, who is) but it was great to see our family and friends and eat American food, oh and of course Mexican food, so much yummy Mexican, and of course margaritas (I’ve been deprived in China!). Anyone else hungry for Mexican right about now? Besides eating, a lot, we took family vacations to Stone Mountain State Park in North Carolina, and the Susquehanna River Valley in Pennsylvania, as well as getting to watch one of my cousins get married at a mansion in downtown Philadelphia, PA. I also filled up on some very much needed horse time, testing out my sea legs after a year and half of horse deprivation. I have to say the muscles get sore now, where they didn’t used to, but I still got it! I just hope it stays that way for another two years.
Our next big travel plans weren’t until the Chinese National Day holiday in October, but feeling restless we took a short weekend getaway to Shangchuan Island, one of Zhuhai’s islands, a 45 minute ferry ride off the coast. We brought our tandem to ride around the island, which consisted of one road through the middle, but spent most of our time lounging on the beach. We would have loved to take a dip in the water, but in pure China style there was no swimming allowed and everyone had to wear a life jacket to walk in the water. Just another reminder for us that China is never what you expect.
As fall rolled around we set off on our first big tandem bike tour. Two weeks riding from Lijiang in Yunnan province to Chengdu in Sichuan province. The trip totaled 1400 kilometers with 3 days of 5 hour long climbs with elevation gains of 1500 meters and 4 days of riding at over 4000 meters (13,000 ft) of elevation. The views were stunning, and like nothing else we had ever seen. The countryside in Yunnan and Sichuan province is so rugged and wild it feels like a totally different country. We rode through Lijiang, Tiger Leaping Gorge, Shangri La, Litang, Kangding, Bifengxia, and Chengdu with huge stretches of breathtaking countryside in between. This trip was inspired by the numerous bike tourists we’ve hosted through a website called warmshowers, so we have all of you to thank for the amazing memories from this trip and for the inspiration to tour through this area of China.
Currently, we are spending Christmas in Zhangjiajie, home of the famous Avatar mountains. Yesterday we hiked up about 3000 steps to the top of Huangshizhai Mountain, where we were able to walk around the top of the mountain stopping every few meters to admire the awe inspiring views of the finger mountains shooting straight up into the sky with sheer cliffs on either side. It’s easy to see where the creators of Avatar got their vision of the “floating mountains”. Unfortunately the weather has not been so great here on Christmas Eve with lots of clouds and mist so our hike to Tianzi Mountian was severely lacking in views, our only shots were from the cable car on the way down the mountain. I guess in way we got a “white” Christmas here in China.
In other non-traveling news from this year, I passed my HSK 4 exam (out of 6 levels) which means I can now speak, read, and write Chinese at an intermediate level. Justin became part of a different bike racing team with strong guys who all do really well at the races and has gotten flown out to different parts of China, all expenses paid, to race. The Chinese bike races pay really well and the pay goes pretty deep so Justin has actually made a bit of extra money this year in race winnings which is super cool. As usual, I go to all of the local races to photograph Justin and his teammates.
I have recently transitioned from Chinese student to Chinese teacher, stopping my studies to help teach some of my fellow expats basic Chinese language skills. It’s been a really fun experience and I have been making my own lesson plans based on relevant info and specific topics that my students want to learn about. I’ve gotten some good feedback so far, and am looking forward to gaining more students in 2017.
Along with teaching Chinese I have started picking up some photography gigs, which I am really excited about, and am in the process of creating a Crawford Creations Photography website with my portfolio and photography info, so stay tuned for new creations in 2017!
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!
Cara and Justin
That’s all for us this year. What goals have you accomplished in 2016? Drop us a comment and let us know, we would love to hear about your year.
*** This post may contain affiliate links. By purchasing a product or service through these links you are helping to support this blog at no extra cost to you! We only recommend products we personally use and love! ***