Welcome to the most populous country in the world! With a population of 1.34 billion people your references of small town, large distances and crowd will definitely change. But China has impressed us with a mix of surprise and disappointment. We found nothing of the negative propaganda we see on TV and movies. On the contrary we found a China super modern, developed, organized and clean!
But despite all its evolution, it seems the people did not follow the same pace and even in big cities like Beijing they still have a very rude behavior. They talk loud, spit on the floor, take snot, their children wear pants with asses off in order to make their needs anywhere and seeing fights in the streets is normal.
The country is beautiful and huge and has plenty to offer and at the end is hard to choose where to go. But accumulate patience to travel here because is the most complicated country in Asia to make independent travel. Hardly anyone speaks English, even in the sights, and they have serious limitations to find other ways to communicate.
What was worth it: The charming little town of Lijiang and its surroundings, see the pandas in Chengdu reserve, hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge and the rice terraces of Dragon’s Backbone and enjoy the view Wonderful Li and Yulong River in Yangshuo.
What we wanted to do but we didn’t: It is impossible to say since we did not even see 5% of the country. But we wanted to have done much more for sure
A few tips:
- TRANSPORTATION: The best way to travel is certainly by train. They have an extensive network, the trains are clean and comfortable and the class “hard sleeper” is more than enough, there are three beds on each side, no door, the bed is comfortable, you get clean sheets and a nice blanket. Every train has hot water to make noodles and do not forget to bring food with you on long trips because the options to buy in the train are limited. Usually you need to buy a ticket about three days before if you want the beds underneath (which are slightly more expensive) and if it is holiday buy with much more advance because the Chinese travel a lot. You can also easily go everywhere by bus, but the night buses are not as comfortable as the trains, due to very small beds.
- LONG DISTANCES: The country is huge and some trips are very tiring, if you do not want to spend 36 hours on trains consider using the plane. There are local companies for internal flights with cheap offers, use these websites to search for discount tickets: Elong, Ctrip, 9588.
- NO TIME? WHERE TO FOCUS?: If you do not have much time in China an option is to focus on one or two regions. We did a lot in just 17 days, but it was a too crazy! We’d say the most beautiful regions and with a lot to see are the provinces of Yunnan and Guangxi. If you do these two we are sure you will not be disappointed. Just consider that most places are touristic in China. The difference is that you will not see many Westerners, as more than 90% are Chinese tourists.
- COMMUNICATION: Communicate in China is very complicated. Hardly anyone speaks English, even in the sights, and they have serious limitations to find other ways to communicate. The service in the tourist centers is bad. We do not recommend traveling through China without a good guide book and remember that your best source of information will be the hostels. Also don’t forget, whenever you want to catch public transport or do anything that requires the help of strangers in the streets ask someone at the hostel to write in Chinese in a paper, it will really make your life easier.
- TIGER LEAPING GORGE: If you are making the trek there you can do in a single day and in this case consider doing it in the opposite direction because it is much easier and faster (from Tina’s Guesthouse to Qiaotou), but do it in two days is much more pleasant and you can enjoy the wonderful views at the highest point sleeping in a nice guesthouse for an incredible price (Halfway Guesthouse). The trail is easy and you do not need any guide.
Our itinerary (17 days)
We did 24 hours by trem from Hong Kong to Beijin, where we stayed at a friend’s house for 4 days. Then we went by 9 hours night train to Xi-an, where we spent jut one night. From there we did 16 hours train to Chengdu where we also had just one night, for taking a plane in the next morning to Lijiang. We spent 4 days in the region, where we did the 2 days trekking in the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Ater we went down in a night train to Kumming, where we sightsaw during the day waiting for our next train of 16 hours to Guilin. From there we went directly by bus to Yangshuo, our last stop in China, and we rested for 4 days, when we took the night bus to Shenzhen to cross again the border with Hong Kong, where we should take our next flight to South Africa.
The best of the country
- Apr-Oct (weather graphics).
- 60,00 – 90,00 US$ for the couple
- The charming little town of Lijiang and its surroundings (Shuhe, Baishai, Tiger Leaping Gorge)
- The outstanding views of the Dragon’s Backbone rice terrace
- The beautyof Yulong and Li river and their peaks in Yangshuo
- The incredible great wall of China
- Admire the exotic and super cute pandas in the Chengdu reserve
- Two days trekking the Tiger Leaping Gorge
- Gangrou paomo (soup with small pieces of bread, noodle, mutton and broth) – Xi-an
- Crispy Duck – Beijing
- Naxi sandwich (grilled goat cheese, tomato, potato in local bread) – Lijiang
- China is a haven for mushrooms, try them all. A great option is the chashigis (tea tree mushroom) – Yunnan Province