Let Loose in China: The Weird & Wonderful Wonders beyond the Great Wall
To read Day 1 of my 30 Day Challenge click here.
It all started in China.
We kicked off our first ever backpacking tour in Beijing, China in September of 2008, and what a wonderful country it was to ignite the senses.
Millions of people every year explore the abundant landscapes of China to see what it has to offer. It is a vast country with a lot of history, culture and cuisines, and for this reason whether you realise it or not China offers heaps of opportunity to travel.
I must add that it has been a few years since we ventured to China, to begin our world tour. Rather than this post giving you lots of real time, up to date information, it is merely my recollection of the journey and why it might be somewhere you can add to your bucket list if you’d never thought about it before.
We arrived excited and weighed down with thee biggest rucksacks filled to the brim with crap we would never use, but of course leaving home for the first time to travel the world you think you’ll need absolutely everything, and I mean everything.
Christ I even had a travel washing line and soap sheets (what even are those??) and a disastrous looking pink cowboy hat. Seriously….What was I thinking?! Who knows! But I had it all. Inevitably over the course of the next few months I would casually leave a few things here and conveniently forget a few things there in an attempt to lighten the load.
Me, Janice and a few friends had pre-booked an Intrepid tour through STA Travel and when we touched down in China, our meeting point was a hotel centrally located in Beijing. With a few hours to spare on Day 1 we decided to use our time wisely, taste some cuisine, see some sights and suss out the city.
We hopped in a taxi directing him to Tiananmen Square, one of the biggest tourist attractions in Beijing and one of the largest Square’s in the world. Of course he would know where it was and understood our English perfectly well, or so we thought!
But that was not the case and so we learned our first lesson, that we could not be trusted to venture out alone in a city we knew nothing about. Luckily for us for the entire trip we would have an expert tour guide to show us the ropes.
A few hours later after a stressful bus ride back from where-ever we ended up (to this day we still do not know) we arrived safe and sound, albeit late, to the hotel for the tour induction.
If you are thinking about travelling to China and you don’t consider yourself “well-travelled” as they say, I would definitely recommend booking a tour through Intrepid. They had all sorts of tours for various budgets as well as luxury and basic packages.
The great thing about following a guided tour through any country is that you can pre select your route in advance. There are always tons of options from routes, journey lengths as well as budgets, level of intensity, culture, food etc. There really is something for everyone.
The tour we selected covered the West Coast of China from Beijing to Hong Kong. In between it covered a number of places we’d never even heard of but the itinerary sounded interesting. For the next 21 days our journey would take us from Beijing overland to HongKong, stopping off at places like Xi’an, Shanghai, Yangshuo and deep into the depths of the rice paddies. We selected the cheapest options for boarding and travel and so we would take a few overnight trains, sleep in a few hostels, hotels and eat the local cuisine from local restaurants or hawker stalls.
What I remember most.
What I remember most about the trip is being mesmerised by the culture, the people, the food and the freedom I felt while travelling.
The Culture & People
Chinese people just seem to sleep everywhere! It was weird to see hordes of people just napping on the streets and outside the train stations. It was bizarre but I’ve come to realise, living in Seoul for so long that this is very much an asian thing. Generally people work a lot more that us westerners and they commute a lot also, so taking a nap while you wait on trains or buses is common practice.
The people are very friendly and inquisitive. If you have while skin be prepared to be treated almost like a movie star. People will want your picture and some will even go as far as to get you included in their family holiday snaps. To them you are the person off the telly!
In the smaller cities not many people speak English and this can make it a little difficult to venture out without a guide book, map or a basic knowledge of the Chinese language. This may have changed in the few years that we’ve been but in general in the bigger cities you will encounter English Speakers, but less so in the smaller villages and rural countryside.
As you travel through China you will be amazed at the diversity the landscape offers. Large city modern infrastructures stand side by side with traditional hand crafted buildings while hawker workers sell snacks to highflying business men as they walk to work. In the countryside, Horse and carts still plough the fields, local tribes still occupy the landscape, each with their own way of living or unique cultural beliefs. There is an amazing mix of traditional and cultural blending together the deeper you delve into the country.
As we ventured into the depths of the rice paddies and even to the summit of the Great Wall, we were continually approached by women at a right old age offering to carry our heavy bags in exchange for a small amount of money.
Most of us were shocked by this, and refused politely but our guide informed us, this was their reality, how they made a living and if we agreed we would be giving money directly to the people who needed it most. I couldn’t bring myself to do it anyway and I’m still not sure how I feel about it but I struggled on (broken back) to the top of the mountain.
Having a tour guide to show us around meant we got to taste a lot of foods we wouldn’t have ordered ourselves. In a traditional Chinese restaurant, as with a lot back home, they have a revolving table that allows you to share. I love this!! I had a sore arm after every meal, spinning the table to try all the foods. Me and Janice especially were in food heaven our entire trip throughout China!
I wish Jan had had a better camera back then to get more pictures of the trip but as I said it was our first big tour and we were virgin travellers.
The food is nothing like the Chinese food you will try at home, and they certainly don’t have the menu choice that they offer in some smaller rural towns of China. As you can see from this one in Yangshou, you can order “Rat”, “Snake” and even “dog”.
I can admit that I’ve tried two out of three so far amoung other weird food of the world. If you’re a vegan or animal lover I apologise if you are offended by this, but each to their own and I am always one for trying new things and embracing new cultures! I mean we eat “cow”, if we were in India, this would be a sin so when you put it like that dog or cat ain’t much different!
Looking back through photos you can only try to remember how you felt and what you were going through while you explored uncharted lands, but you can never really know your exact feelings.
I am a firm believer in keeping journals for these reasons alone and I do have a number of journals from our travels taking up space in a drawer somewhere at home. One day I will look back when my head is filled with new memories from recent trips and I will remember the early explorations that inspired the next.
As you travel more, you grow more. What was once a culture shock suddenly becomes the norm. I don’t look at motorbikes carrying giant tubes of hay in amusement anymore or think it’s odd when a hawker stand pulls out a folding chair and table for you to eat noodle soup, only to stow it away and proceed once you are done.
I am still very much excited about travel as I once was and with each new country I find new ways to be inspired. As I always say I feel more comfortable on the road living a nomadic life that I do settled at home in my own home comforts. To me, travel is my comfort zone.
After writing this post I realised how amazing it was to visit China and one day I hope to return and travel more of it. When a person asks what is the best place you’ve been to, I never say New York or Paris. It is always those countries that surprises me most, shock my in a certain way or challenges my character. China is definitely one of those countries that leaves a lasting impression.
” Trade your expectations for appreciation, and the world changes instantly.” ~ Tony Robbins
I hope you liked day 2 of my 30 day Blog Writing Challenge. If you have any stories to share about China please do comment below. If only to inspire me to book another trip!
Where’s the best place you’ve been to in China?
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