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Visiting China – Questions & Answers

Great Wall of China - Jinshanling and Simatai
The best part of the wall to see from Beijing: Jinshanling and Simatai

Q. I need tips for China, I’m going there this week and meeting Anna on tuesday. We start from Beijing, and then have no idea where to go, have about a month there. Any must places outside of the big cities what did you enjoy, or anything else you recommend?

China huh, that’s where Mt. Huashan or whatever it’s called is, the other most dangerous hike in the world, going to do it? I think it’s towards the west somewhere; it was on our idea list when we went, but plans changed. We got kind of messed up because the earthquake in 2008 happened the day we were flying into Beijing from S. Korea, so our plans to head west to Chengdu had to be cancelled, which meant some of our stops on the way didn’t seem worth it anymore. We couldn’t get to Xi’an to see the Terracotta Soldiers either, because they evacuated earthquake victims to Xi’an. Haven’t been, but Xi’an and Chengdu both seem like musts.

Beijing

I think you know the basics about Beijing: Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Pearl Market etc., so I won’t mention those.

You’re obviously going to do the Great Wall of China, when you go to arrange it, you’ll find there are multiple options for where you do it. I’ve heard the basic and most popular area is shit, it’s all been redone, and it’s just a tourist trap. You’ll want to do the Jinshanling and Simatai part of the wall, it’s not a short hike, and if you’re out of shape it can be a little strenuous, but it’s awesome. It’s a lot of up and down, and sometimes the steps are pretty tall and narrow, but there are a lot of old Mongolian women everywhere who manage to climb it daily with a cooler full of drinks to sell you, so the average backpacker should have no problems making it through. Towards the beginning, there is an optional Gondola ride, we did it, I wouldn’t say it’s a must, but I think we made the right choice doing it, didn’t feel like we missed anything by skipping the first portion of the trail. At the end there is a zip line which looked fun, but it was closed when we were there, not sure if it’s still in use. Our bus broke down on the side of the highway on the way home, so that part sucked, but all in all, it was a very cool day.

Be sure to see an Acrobatics show while you’re there, you kind of feel bad for the kids because they must not have a life to be so good at what they do, and they’re most likely mis-treated, but it’s pretty amazing.

You can see, and hopefully sample, a lot of pretty crazy foods in the Wangfujing area. I recommend having some drinks before so you’re more likely to try some. We saw living scorpions, seahorses, snake, starfish, cock roach larva, lizards, mice, huge beetles, and more, all served as food. There is a restaurant right by the crazy food area, in what is now a big shopping area I’d guess since they were working pretty hard on it for the Olympics when I was there. I believe its called Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant, it seemed kind of famous, there were photos of people eating there on the walls who I assume were famous, I think there was even a US President. Get the duck here, they serve the brain and tongue on the side. Neither was much meat, but the tongue was actually pretty good, couldn’t really even tell how the brain was because it was a bit harder to get the meat out of the head. Does that make you hungry? The duck was very very good though.

Don’t have much to say about accommodation, we stayed at Wangfujing International Youth Hostel, it wasn’t a bad hostel, but a little boring.

Beijing Nightlife

We went to a couple cool nightclubs… I think most had cover charges of the equivalent of $5-20 USD

Shanghai

Because of the earthquake, we screwed up in Shanghai. They had 3 days of mourning while we were there, so most things were closed. One of the main things we wanted to do in Shanghai was party, so we decided to wait out the mourning period for the bars and clubs to reopen. We should have gone somewhere else and come back, oh well. We stayed at Koala International Youth Hostel, which was a bit out of the way, but cheap and nice, although you could tell it was just starting to fall apart, so not sure what the condition would be now. There was a Muslim Noodle place next door which was dirt cheap compared to the main area of Shanghai, about $1 usd a dish, but it was a point at the wall type place, no English spoken there. We also stayed at Captain Hostel, Bund Location, it was a little overpriced but nice. Not social, more like a hotel, but they have a bar on the roof with views of the river and skyline. Even if you don’t stay here, grab a drink here and watch the sun go down. The Shanghai Tower is worth a visit to the top, you can see the Worlds Tallest post office, which is just a box. I think there is a building next door which was under construction at the time, but was meant to be taller upon completion. Maybe see if they have a viewing platform there too. You can go under the river via this really touristy tunnel, and they have a little aquarium thing at the end which was alright for a few minute look. Do a river boat ride also. I smoked my first cigarette ever on one, because we got in trouble for moving chairs outside, and so did these Chinese guys (non english speaking). As a gesture of friendship one offered me a cigarette.

Shanghai Nightlife

Suzhou

We did a day trip from Shangai to a city called Suzhou, took the train. There was a temple there, some canals, was pretty cool. Wouldn’t say it’s a can’t miss, but if you have the time it’s nice to see.

Guilin

We stayed at the Xiao Yang Lou International Youth Hostel on the river, not a bad hostel. We didn’t arrive until night, so we just walked around the city center; saw the Fir Lake Pagodas which were pretty cool. The next day we booked the Ping’an Zhuang Rice Terraces (in Longi) tour out of the hostel. These were very cool, tried my first frog legs here, they’re good, but too many bones. I had never seen anything like this before at the time, if you’ve seen picturesque rice terraces before then this may not be as good for you. They also take you to see the long haired women of Huangluo long hair village. Next day we boarded a boat down the Li River to Yangshuo, you have to do this.

Yangshuo

Yangshuo is probably my favorite place we went in China. If you’ve seen photos of Halong Bay (as seen in the Vietnam Top Gear Special), its similar with all the mountain peaks everywhere, but it’s on a river instead of in a bay. We stayed at Monkey Jane’s Guesthouse which was relatively cheap. It was very social; Monkey Jane drank on the roof top bar with us each night, as did most of the guests. If you don’t want to mingle then it might be kind of loud though. You should do a Bamboo Raft tour on the river; you’ll probably get hounded right and left by people trying to sell this to you. We also did a tour of the BaiShaZhen Village, wasn’t long, I think it was an extension of either the boat trip to Yangshuo, or the Bamboo Raft tour. It gives you an insight into how some of the locals live, the type of poverty around, worth a look. There are fishermen in the area who use an interesting technique, you may have seen it before, I hadn’t. They use birds to catch the fish for them, and they tie the birds’ throats so they can’t swallow the fish, then retrieve it from the bird. You’ll see these guys on the Bamboo raft trip. There is also a cave tour which was kind of cool, the highlights of the cave were a giant waterfall at the end (not much water though) and a mud pool for playing around in. Next day came the Hot Air Balloon tour, and we know how that went… I don’t think they do them anymore because of another accident which killed 4 Dutch tourists, but if they do, definitely worth doing (despite the obvious risks).

Read about the hot air balloon incident here: Crashing A Hot Air Balloon in China or read more about Yangshuo here: Yangshuo, China

And that ended our time in China. Taxis are generally pretty cheap, we were taking them to and from airports. If I were to go back I’d definitely head west, I’m sure there are loads of amazing places which haven’t been discovered by the masses yet. Chinese people are generally pretty friendly, however they are going to try to rip you off, but you’re more than used to having to barter and fight for fair prices. The worst money scheme I encountered was a woman with her little daughter; she’s taught the little girl to smile at you, then hold your hand, then she won’t let go and the daughter starts begging you for money. This woman is letting her daughter forcefully hold our taxi door open even as the driver starts pulling away, still begging for money. Was not nice. All in all though, China was awesome, you’ll have a great time.

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