Exploring another world
You would need months to see and experience most of the country but who has the time. Most people can spend a maximum amount of 3 weeks during any vacation just like me.
My time was limited so I had to choose what I would like to see and what I had to leave for another time. For example the Terracotta Army which is probably one of the most famous sights in China had to be saved for another time because of distance and time issues.
For this trip I chose to travel along the coast of China from Beijing to the island of Hainan. This gave me the chance to see the incredible cities from the gargantuan (44 Mio. people) Guangzho in all its hideous glory to the “tiny” Guilin (4 Mio. people) and still have time to enjoy nature in another part of planet earth :).
Beijing – Peking – There are some obvious things to do and see like the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and its neighbor the Tiananmen Square. As for the wall try to get a tour that gets you just a bit further away from the closest location (Badaling) to avoid the masses. To really enjoy the full impact of this monument you would need to take a whole day trip to the coast were the first brick was set at the shore.
From there the fastest way is by plane or bullet train (around 5 hours) to Shanghai. The hipster brother to Beijing and definitely the coolest city in China (except of Hong Kong). Enjoy the immense variety of Chinese cuisine from the sophisticated restaurants mostly on the top floors of one of the hundredth skyscrapers forming Shanghai’s impressive skyline to the tiny food vendors selling grilled meat on a stick (yummy). I tried it all: including the 1000 year old egg (do not recommend), various animals and insects (all good – except the steamed eel as a whole) and snake blood (not so bad). From there you can enjoy a night out in one of hottest clubs in Asia (LOLA, 390 or Monkey Champagne). After a night out you can escape the high-tech world an explore Old Shanghai in the Yu Yuan Gardens.
Heading further south I stopped in Hangzhou for a night. On my plan: Dinner and exploration of the intensely beautiful West lake. This fusion of human and natural design with pagodas, temples and gardens dotted around the waterfront was absolutely worth the visit and remains one of the fondest memories of mine during this trip.
The train moves on to the infamous city of Guangzhou – an industrial city not really worth to hang out. Time to change trains/buses to get to Hong Kong.
One of my all time favorite cities. For me this is the real city that never sleeps and I joined the pulsating and enchanting heartbeat of this city. From the moment I got out of the metro station I could feel the difference… The combination of millions of people from every race and culture, the unforgiving heat and humidity and the sounds of the sea make it a melting pot unlike any other place. Time to move. Eat, drink, live. Take a trip to Kowloon and visit the temples, take a ride with the Peak tram to the top of the mountain to enjoy a view above one of the most densely populated places on earth, stroll along the waterfront, trek through the jungle in the New Territories and experience the nightlife at Lan Kwai Fong (LKF). I am barely scratching the surface of this city and you can spend two or three days here or 2 weeks. I will be back.
We leave the last metropolis behind and journey to Hainan Island. One of the few sandy beaches on the coast of China and decompress from a weekend full of party and food. Checking into one of the hostel/hotels, getting to know the locals and surf for a bit, that was all I was doing there for 5 days. Just relax, take a dumpling making course, drink tea and relax in a hammock. Here you get to know yet another side Chinese culture.
For my last stop I decide to move a bit inland to the Li River, one of the most famous and most beautiful river deltas in the world. I check into the next hotel and explore the cute village of Guilin. A couple of hours later I am already cruising down the river on my own raft and singing a “river” shanty with the locals. Passing the jungle covered hills I feel absolutely relaxed. I change from one raft to a bike and cycle from here to the next entry point where my raft awaits. All in all a true sense of natural beauty.
At the end China was without a doubt a wonderful experience but absolutely not for the new backpackers. The difficulties with language, transportation and general existing make this an advanced backpackers destination if you want to explore the country.
I will be back as I always promise.