Saturday, March 11, 2023

Adventure Days - year 10! Feb 2023

 Adventure Days is our middle grades special event where classes are canceled for two full days so students can pursue a project to advance skills of their individual choosing. 2023 was year 10 in our decade of prototyping and iterating on this big idea! I wrote about our very first year here, and wrote up the status as of Year 4 here at

The trajectory over all these years has been exciting! We've tweaked how we launch Adventure Days among both faculty and the kids. Working through Covid quarantine learning, for example, we discovered the value of short videos in disseminating instructional information. 

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Qingyan Ancient Town

During our 11-night stay in Guiyang, we took several day trips, including to the admittedly-touristy Qingyan Ancient Town. 

On all the websites for researching interesting features around Guiyang, everything completely assumes you'll be taking a tour, hiring a driver, or otherwise be shepherded around. Once I figured out the public transportation directions on Apple Maps, we were able to be totally independent! As you can see in the map below, we were able to take the #203 bus straight from our hotel to the bus station at Qingyan Ancient Town... just about a 1.5 hour bus ride, only 2 Yuan per person!

(As I mentioned in the post about Oriental Science Fiction Valley, the public transportation feature appears to only work within China. In the US, I get an information-not-available error message when I try to ask for the same directions via public transportation.)

There is admission to get into the town, but it's quite reasonable. We paid the full price so that we could also visit each of the buildings and monuments within the city, which I think was the right choice. Navigating was definitely not easy, but the town is small enough that we always stumbled back onto the main paths whenever we got vaguely lost.

Our trip to Qingyan Ancient Town turned into an overnight when we decided that we weren't quite ready to leave by late afternoon... I had brought our toothbrushes and passports just in case, and we found a tiny hotel that gave us a king-bed room for a decent last-minute price.

The town itself was maniacally crowded, ultra touristy - every business within the center of the town was clearly aimed at tourists - but lovely and really fun to walk around. 

Most of the "special Qingyan specialty snacks" were kinda terrible, but we LOVED the frozen waxberry juice. How much of that is just because it was frozen and we were roasting... I can't quite say. But it was delicious and tart.

After learning a little about Di opera at one of the tiny museums the day before, it was really special to stumble upon a Di opera performance the next morning!

If you're looking for more thoughts about traveling through China, you can find more about our trip here.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Oriental Science Fiction Valley

We based our trip to China this summer on finding super cheap airfare in and out of Hong Kong, so I spent a bunch of time research what we could do near there and trying to balance seeing and doing great stuff with minimizing how much time we'd lose in travel.

Chengdu fell off the list pretty quick, since it's a minimum 10 hour train ride with a transfer in Guangzhou. Zhangjiajie national park and Fenghuang ancient town both fell off the list as being too hard to navigate without a guide.

But then I found news articles about Oriental Science Fiction Valley, a brand-new virtual reality theme park in Guiyang, Guizhou. That sealed the deal... we were definitely going to Guiyang. It's also on a direct bullet train line from Shenzhen to Guilin to Guiyang, making transportation easy. I started finding other great destinations nearby like Qianlingshan park in Guiyang, and nearby Qingyan ancient town. Guiyang - slam dunk!

AAAAaaaaand... Of course, there's no information in English online about it. I couldn't find it on a map, nothing. Luckily, our hostel host was incredibly helpful.

Key information: search  东方科幻谷 in an Apple Maps app
Apple Maps then translates that to "Dongfang Kehuan Guzhuti Park" 
but won't find it if you enter the English/Pinyin writing directly.

The only way I could find Oriental Science Fiction Valley via my iDevice was using the Apple Maps app... the Google Maps app was basically useless in all of China. But the Apple Maps app let me find almost any location we were looking for AND gave excellent public transportation directions, especially in Guiyang. Once we figured that out, we took the bus all around, including to Oriental Science Fiction Valley.

The map above on the left is the best I can get on Apple Maps from within the US. But in China, on my Hong Kong SIM card, I'm able to get public transportation directions. The map on the right is from within China, and as you can see the #46 bus took us straight from our hotel to Oriental Science Fiction Valley! Just about a 1 hour bus ride, 2 Yuan each!


The challenge with figuring out how to find the park was absolutely worth it! The place was a cheese-ball blast. Not all of the rides were open yet, the food was impressively terrible, there was no English anywhere, but it was wonderful! There was almost no one there (we went on a weekday, and it's apparently not drawing big crowds yet), and the employees were all sweet, patient, and giggled at us. They also apparently are required to greet guests with the vulcan hand sign!

On the bus on the way to Oriental Science Fiction Valley

The giant robots are sprinkled all over the park

VR really doesn't lend itself to good photos to highlight the experience... We had a blast.

I don't even remember all the questions I had before our trip... Please comment with questions so I can improve any support I can give! Traveling around China is incredibly easy once you actually get started, but planning is challenging.

If you're looking for more thoughts about traveling through China, you can find more about our trip here.

Shenzhen - HKIA Ferry

This might have been the most stressful tiny piece of our trip to China this summer, but also the most effective and useful!

There's a ferry that goes from Shenzhen Shekou ferry terminal (and a bunch of other places) directly to the Hong Kong airport, and let's you completely bypass Hong Kong entirely! And, of course, information in English online is sparse and confusing. The airport's page about ferry transfers is super confusing, and the ferry schedule itself is nearly unintelligible. By comparison, taking the train was a piece of cake.

But wow it was convenient!

We didn't really want to go back to Hong Kong at the end of our trip - we were really enjoying Shenzhen. This ferry let us go straight from Shenzhen to the airport, and even got us through very easy security. In theory, if we'd gotten to the ferry terminal early enough, we even could have checked our bags at the terminal all the way through to Seattle - home.

Our flight from Hong Kong to Seattle was set to depart at 10:30am. Working backwards, that meant we were supposed to be on a ferry that reached HKIA by 8:30am. That meant we needed to catch the very first ferry at 7:15am. So we got a taxi at 6am from our hotel that was less than 5 minutes from the ferry terminal.

Waiting for our ultra-early taxi.

Inside was pretty much chaos, though. I had to go to four different counters and automatic terminals before I was able to just get our ferry tickers, and then all the lines were so long and slow-moving that it was 7:30 by the time we got to the security line. Luckily, that was the case for nearly everyone, so the ferry was delayed until everyone was on board.

But, man, once we sat down, it was this easy, quick trip over to the airport, and then we had a separate baggage check and security line just for passengers from the ferries.

Finally onboard the dang ferry.

I don't even remember all the questions I had before our trip... Please comment with questions so I can improve any support I can give! Traveling around China is incredibly easy once you actually get started, but planning is challenging.

(Oh, also... Shekou isn't as exciting as the rest of Shenzhen, but there's an adorable cat cafe!)

If you're looking for more thoughts about traveling through China, you can find more about our trip here.

Side-trip to Nanjiang Canyon

During our longer stay in Guiyang, we took a one-night trip out to Nanjiang Canyon. There's virtually no English information about Nanjiang online, which makes sense once you realize that there is no English infrastructure and no English speakers at Nanjiang Canyon. That said, it was a blast and I'd absolutely go back!

Apparently, our tagline for this whole blog series is going to be "It's an amazing place to visit, but pretty overwhelming and hard to plan! Like pretty much all of China..."

I don't even recall how I came across Nanjiang Canyon... I think I was looking up hiking options in the area around Guiyang. You can find it on maps as Nanjiang Gorge Scenic Area 南江大峡谷景区. 

The nearest train station is at Nanjiangxiang - the nearest small town. And it's a TINY train station. And there are no hotels to be found on TripAdvisor,, or anything else... I finally managed to find something on - related to, where we bought all our train tickets... But even that was a leap of faith. The maps were all unintelligible, and I had no idea how we would actually find the hotel. The Nanjian Daxiagu Hotel!

My biggest recommendation: contact the hotel directly - can put you in touch with them via WeChat - and ask if you can hire someone to pick you up from the train station.

When we arrived at the train station, we were the only people who got off the train, there was no bus or information, and there were about 5 or 6 people sitting in the parking lot waiting to offer their driving services. They were all highly entertained by the arrival of three Americans... Through complicated Google-translate-based translation and finally an audio WeChat call with our hotel, we arranged a reasonable price and were driven to the main entrance of the Nanjian Canyon park. This, however, was not our hotel... We wandered around for far too long before finding the ticket office and explaining to someone what the name of our hotel was... turns out we were in completely the wrong area! Our hotel was actually deep inside the park itself! A long walk, tram ride, and more walking... and we finally reached the hotel.

When we left the following day... I just asked the front desk about a ride, and the main desk clerk herself offered to drive us straight from the hotel for just a bit more than the drivers from the train station...


More details to come, but a few highlights:
  • There's this crazy river rafting, but both of my kids were too young for the "passion" rafting (14+). We could have done the "drifting," but it was pretty pricey for what it was. Over 100 Yuan per person.
  • There's nowhere to just swim! Not in the river, and the pool had clearly been drained for a long time.
  • The hotel restaurant isn't delicious, but the little snack shacks near the river rafting exit are a-o-k and cheap: just ramen and hot dogs, basically.
  • The hotel is... weird. It seemed to be about half kids' military-style summer camp and half corporate retreat. We were definitely the only family there... All the families that were rafting must have been staying somewhere else.
    • Hence, the huge obstacle course.
    • Hence, the big evening cultural performance.
    • Hence, the giant military-grade-weapons shooting range. No pictures of that one...
  • The hiking is really incredibly lovely, and the trail is mostly empty... everyone is rafting.
  • At the very end of the hiking path, there's a spot where apparently you can go for boat rides on the small lake up there... but it was closed for some reason. There were two tiny snack shops, and we seemed to be their only customers all day.

If you're looking for more thoughts about traveling through China, you can find more about our trip here.

Visiting Xingping, outside gorgeous Guilin

This is where I'll write up what we figured out about Xingping. It's an amazing place to visit, but pretty overwhelming and hard to plan! Like pretty much all of China... More details to come.

If you're looking for more thoughts about traveling through China, you can find more about our trip here.