No, not mine. Since I have three children, travelling anywhere can be somewhat complicated. But luckily I can live vicariously through my brother. He and his girlfriend went to China 2 years ago and they were so kind to share their China adventure.
This was supposed to be our first holiday together and my girlfriend absolutely refused to travel for some all-inclusive sunbathing and Mediterranean Sea swimming. Exasperated, I looked for some interesting destinations (India was the first one but monsoon + some bombings in Bombai forced us to reconsider) until finally my Mum came up with China. It looked unreal for a few hours, but 3 days later we got our tickets to Beijing for 3 weeks, bought a Lonely Planet guidebook and started planning the whole thing.
We arrived at Beijing Capital Airport in the beginning of September, successfully avoided all the fake taxi scams and boarded the train to the city centre, where we had a reservation via booking.com. The room was so cheap it was…. underground and understandably, had no windows. We stayed a whole week in Beijing, spending most of our time travelling on the amazing metro system (it got into our heads so much that I can still hear “Next station- Yongeshong Lama Temple”, or Dongsi, or Donshikou in my head) and then walking (because contrary to what you see on the maps, even if a station seems close to your goal you usually end up with another 2 kilometres to walk). The important part was not resorting to any kind of tour operators- we wanted to get everywhere by ourselves, avoiding even taxis (I would come to regret my stubbornness in that matter, but more on that later).
This was great because it allowed us to immerse ourselves in Beijing and China much more, it taught us a lot about finding your way in this giant city and it was also cheaper.
The trip to the Great Wall was a great example of that. Instead of getting a tour we went to Beijing North station, boarded a train (which included running from the station to the train in a very weird form of race with myriads of Chinese- the winners got seats- I won! :)), arrived at Badaling (the most “tourist” part of the Wall, unfortunately the less popular destination, somewhat farther from Beijing was closed at that time) and spent as much as 6 hours walking to the end of passable route on the wall and back. We ended up paying half of what we would spend on a tour and got 6 hours of Wall experience instead of 45 minutes intercrossed with various shopping centres.
Naturally we also visited pandas (Gosia’s favourite animal) and after a week we were pretty satisfied with everything we managed to see on our tight schedule. Beijing was a strange city- it has lots of charm, hundreds of attractions, but also a very small number of English speakers. It was somewhat tiring to get photographed all the time as if we (and especially Gosia with her long blonde hair) were the main sight there.
Next stop Shanghai
From the very beginning of our China plans I knew, that we had to travel on the then-newest high-speed rail line in the world connecting Beijing with Shanghai (I’m a little bit of a train freak). The extremely comfortable and fast journey took us only 4 hours 48 minutes (1318 km!!!). Our hotel in Shanghai, which cost roughly as much as the one in Beijing was waaaaay better.
We lived right by Nanpu Bridge, which looks a lot like Świętokrzyski Bridge in Warsaw, but has a very funny out-ramp. Shanghai has a lot less to offer in terms of historic sites, but it had a few amazing cities nearby and we decided to visit them on one-day trips. One of them was Suzhou, dubbed “Venice of the East” for its beautiful canals, the other was Hangzhou. It was there that my geolocation skills failed me.
While buying train tickets in Shanghai I failed to notice, that I bought them to a station called Hangzhou Nan (Nan means south in Chinese). I realised I made a mistake when the train arrived at a station that wasn’t on any map in our guidebook, but being used to stations in one city not too widely spread (in Warsaw it takes roughly 30 minutes to walk from the Central Station to Western Station, and maybe 45 to walk to the Eastern one) I decided that we could walk the remaining distance to the city centre. Boy, was I wrong.
As you can clearly see on the map, it was more than 16 km IF you knew where you were going. It’s difficult to describe the scale of that city, we walked and walked and walked and couldn’t really get anywhere. After 2 or so hours Gosia’s frustration with me started reaching boiling point but I still refused to hail a taxicab. Trying to get us farther we boarded one bus, then another, and this one got us into a place, where there were no more taxis. Instead of a bustling city we ended up in a new part of the city, which was under construction. Finally after 4(?) hours we found a taxi, and it still took us 30 minutes to get to the centre. Gosia was furious, but all in all it wasn’t such a bad deal for us, because we arrived at the famous West Lake shortly before sunset, and in a funny turn of events were photographed by some wannabe artists while making up and kissing in an amazingly romantic scenery. Gosia saw them taking pictures of us and I approached them and asked if they could send us those photos. We checked my e-mail the same day in the evening and were amazed to find THAT picture.
Among other interesting memories of Shanghai (looking at Pudong while walking on the Bund or from the 100th floor of World Financial Center (474m) is something really special) the one we are really fond of is the soup-guy. One day while walking home we met a guy selling a kind of broth from a riding kitchen (??), where you chose what you wanted on your soup and then received it to-go. It’s difficult to describe the process and impossible to describe how tasty it was- we ate it for dinner for the rest of our Shanghai stay. All in all Shanghai was our favourite part of this expedition- it felt very European, our clothes and we ourselves didn’t stand out in the crowd so much and we really loved it there.
Finally it was time for us to leave- unfortunately while buying plane tickets from Shanghai I didn’t consider the fact that the metro doesn’t start running until 5 AM. With our departure at 7 AM it meant we only just made it. After a short flight we landed at Guilin, a much smaller city in the south of China renowned for its amazing landscapes. The two main attractions of our stay there were the Li River and the Longsheng Rice Terraces. The cruise down the Li River was the only thing we arranged by a tour operator during our whole stay- and rightly so, as they were so incompetent they managed to get me and Gosia on different boats for part of the trip. Even so, it was worth it, the views were amazing and the pictures can’t really show it.
The rice terraces were even more interesting, and even though it was a little difficult to get there (it involved changing a bus almost on the run because the one we wanted has just passed the one we were going with) we spent a whole day walking in an amazing scenery. Just look at the pictures, they tell their own story 🙂
The way home
In order to get from Guilin to Beijing I wanted to take a sleeper-train. Unfortunately, 1st of October is an important holiday in China when everyone travels to their family so all the berths were booked and all I could get us was two seats. We spent 30 hours in our seats getting to Beijing but it actually turned out to be pretty ok- it had a very distinct Chinese feel to it, travelling cramped up with all those Chinese people. We wrote our postcards, read our books, did our crosswords, ate our (original!) chinese soups and finally arrived in the capital. One last night, one last panda shopping spree and we were on our way to Warsaw.
I don’t even know how to sum up China. We spent 3 weeks there, all the time sight-seeing or travelling, but we still had a feeling like we didn’t even get to see 1% of what’s there. We resolved therefore that our next Chinese expedition will have to be much less urban, and much more western (geographically speaking). I hope we’ll go back there soon, it was a lovely trip, the food (everywhere!!!) was amazing (it makes you resent the local chinese food you can obtain in Warsaw), the culture is immensely rich and attractions are uncountable. I recommend visiting China to everyone, it is really safe and still pretty cheap there- so fear not and go there ASAP! 🙂