An entire month of traveling in China confronted us with both the beauty and the downfalls of this country. If you can live with some small negative points, this country is however a must-see! Discover what we liked and disliked about the country so you know what you are up for.
Why NOT to travel China
1. The smog in big cities
It is common knowledge that there is a lot of pollution in China, but we physically experienced the smog in the big cities in China, as we spend a couple of days with a sore throat and headache. Especially the skies in Beijing and Xi’An were extremely grey, and we were happy to see the blue sky again once we headed more south.
2. Chinese tourism craze
Chinese people are masters in creating tourist attractions out of literally anything. You want to visit a park in the city? No problem, just pay admission fee! You want to enter a village? No problem, hand over some yuans at the city gate! You want to walk up a mountain? No problem, my family has built this road, so please pay us for the maintenance of this dirt and stone road! For some places like national parks, this is a good thing as it costs a lot of money to maintain these natural environments. For other places, it is not. Everything becomes commercialized and it ruins the authenticity of a place in some sort of way.
3. Expenses easily add up
As stated before, once you go outside your hostel, you have to pay for almost every sight, attraction or walk you want to do. This makes travelling in China more expensive than we thought it would be. Also keep in mind that this country is the fourth largest country in the world, so transportation costs can easily add up.
4. You are never alone
China’s population counts about 1.4 billion people at this moment. We were in Beijing during the golden week (a week where almost all Chinese get a week off). This means that queuing just to walk in the street to a normal metro is no exception. Beijing felt like a giant Disney Park, where you have to queue for one hour just to have a small ride of 2 minutes. But even besides the golden week, Chinese people don’t travel much outside China, but the more they travel in their own country.
5. Expensive and hard to get visa
From all the countries we have traveled China is the hardest one to obtain a visum. Furthermore at 120 euro per visa it is rather expensive. If you ever have to arange a visa yourself than keep this quick tips in mind:
- Make sure you have returning flight tickets (if not make some fakes, google is your friend).
- Have a copy of a detailed itinerary
- Have a copy of the hotels where you stay
- Stay calm if they question you or give you a hard time
Why you should travel China
1. The rich Chinese culture and history
The Chinese culture is one of the world’s oldest cultures. Although Chinese have adopted several western aspects in their manner of living, the Chinese culture is still highly visible. Typical buildings between skyscrapers, Chinese people practicing tai-chi in one of the many parks, sharing food at the table, … Certainly a culture you have to experience.
2. Convenient transportation
China is a huge country. As a consequence you have to travel long distances when traveling China. Luckily, the transportation system in China is very convenient. Major cities have a metro, several railway stations and many bus stations that can bring you to almost every other major city. One of our favorite transportation methods was the night train. These trains take you from one location to another while you are sleeping, for a very reasonable price. We had to travel a lot of kilometers in China, and we almost every time choose for a hard sleeper. Don’t be mistaken by the name, because the six bunks in each compartment are really comfortable and equipped with a soft pillow and blanket.
3. The warm and friendly people
There go a lot of rumors about Chinese people and their manners. They constantly spit on the ground, they eat dog and they don’t wait for their turn. They have indeed some strange habits, but they are kind and heart-warming people. Just to give some examples:
- During our 24 hour Dali tour with the e-bike, we had to rely on the local people for charging the battery of our e-bike. That night we met a woman who took us to the local dance lesson on the square, a couple of guys working in a restaurant who saw we were cold and offered us a bottle of hot tea, a baker and his wife who offered us, besides electricity, also a delicious breakfast.
- In Guilin, we were eating at a local market. All of the sudden, a Chinese girl and her boyfriend offered us banana pancakes as dessert, saying that we really had to taste it.
- In Datong, we were looking for a public bus that went to the train station. We were on the wrong bus, but the driver took a detour just to drop us at our destination.
4. The delicious food
When you read the title above, you probably think about the Chinese take-away around the corner. But honestly, the Chinese food in China is so different from (and so much better than) take-away Chinese food. Sweet and sour tenderloin, fried eggplant, fried rice or noodles, dumplings, … it’s all equally delicious. One of our highlights regarding Chinese cuisine was Beijing duck. It is so delicious because the duck gets a special treatment. They inflate the duck with air, separating the skin and the meat. After hanging, drying and glazing the duck with syrup for 24 hours it gets roasted. The result: crispy skin and very tender meat. You eat it together with pancakes and some sort of plum sauce.
Of course, we didn’t taste everything, as some ingredients were sometimes to exotic for us.
To be able to make some of our favorite dishes at home, we took a cooking course of 4 hours at the Yangshuo Cooking School. The course started with a visit to a local market, where especially the meat section was rather confronting. Apparently, 30% of the Chinese people still eat dog meat, and the meat was sold at the market. It was hard to see the dogs hanging there for their meat. Luckily, it was not on our menu. After the visit to the local market, the cooking started and we prepared five different dishes: green vegetables with garlic, eggplants yangshuo style (favourite!), chicken with cashew nuts, stuffed vegetables and a local specialty: beer fish (favourite!). Afterwards, we enjoyed our meals in a beautiful scenery.
5. The rural scenery
In the north of China, we traveled to some large cities like Beijing and Xi’An. We went to the south to experience rural China. And it was magnificent. Top recommendations are the Tiger Leaping Gorge in Lijiang (two day hike), the Erhai lake in Dali and the karst mountains that surround Yangshuo.
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