Photo Friday: Beihai Park (Beijing)

Asia, International Travel, Photography

Beihai Park is an imperial garden to the northwest of the Forbidden City. First built in the 10th century, it is amongst the largest of Chinese gardens, and contains numerous historically important structures, palaces and temples. Since 1925, it has been open to the public as a park.

At the center of the Park is Qionghua Island. The Bai Ta (White Pagoda) is a 40 meter (131 ft) high stupa placed on the highest point on Qionghua Island. Its body is made of white stone. Destroyed in 1679 by an earthquake, it was rebuilt the following year and restored again in 1976 because of an earthquake which occurred at Tangshan, near Beijing.

Photos taken July 2012.

Photo Friday: Beijing’s Hutongs (China)

International Travel, Photography

In Beijing, hutongs are alleys formed by lines of siheyuan, traditional quadrangle courtyard residences. Many neighborhoods were formed by joining one siheyuan to another to form a hutong, and then joining one hutong to another. Nearly all siheyuan had their main buildings and gates facing south for better lighting; thus a majority of hutongs run from east to west. Between the main hutongs, many tiny lanes ran north and south for convenient passage.

Following the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, many of the old hutongs of Beijing disappeared, replaced by wide boulevards and high rises. Many residents left the lanes where their families lived for generations for apartment buildings with modern amenities. Today, the surviving hutongs are considered by many to be a quintessential part of Beijing. In particular, the Houhai area has become a focal point for tourists, where they can enjoy the lakes, along with the Drum and Bell Towers.

Photos taken July 2, 2012.

Hybrid Travel

International Travel

ImageThere will always be a debate over which type of travel is best. Some will argue for the type of travel that involves a one-way flight and a backpack, while others prefer the fewer hassles of an organized tour. Personally, I have travelled on my own, in small groups, and in large groups and have found that each has its strengths and weaknesses.

However, one area few talk about is what I would call hybrid travel—combining organized tours with do-it-yourself.  My wife and I did this two summers ago. We started with an organized, small-group tour of Nepal and northern India, followed by independent travel in Beijing and Cambodia, then another organized, small-group tour of northern Thailand.  While Thailand can certainly be explored on one’s own, it was nice to let someone else worry about the details after a few weeks of doing that ourselves.

You can also do hybrid travel within one country. This December we’re heading out to Colombia. We found a small group tour that we liked, but it didn’t include a region we really wanted to go to (well, that I wanted to go to as Colombia was my idea). So, after our organized tour, we’re flying from Bogota to Medellin to head out to Guatapé and El Peñón on our own. We’ve only allotted one day for this, so here’s hoping Mother Nature plays along.

Another variation is to travel on your own but with a few organized day trips thrown in. We did this while traveling in the western Balkans. We’d rented an apartment in Dubrovnik, near a major hotel. I’d found a local tour company that would pick us up from this hotel, so after exploring a few days on our own, I booked some day trips with them, including one that took us into Montenegro and another taking us to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We then went back on our own, hopping on a public bus to Sarajevo then, after a few days there, another bus back to Croatia (and another apartment) to explore Split in the north of the country.

There is nothing wrong with traveling entirely on your own or entirely with an organized tour. It depends a lot upon your temperament, budget, and organizational skills. However, nothing says you can’t blend the two now and again.

Photo by Jesse Edwards (originally posted to Flickr as passport stamps) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons