When we first floated the idea of going to China beyond just the bigger cities of Beijing or Shanghai, we were confronted with many cautionary tales: China is dirty and unhygienic. The people in China are unfriendly. It’s incredibly difficult to get around without Mandarin or Cantonese.
Our time in China proved all of these wrong. It’s one of the cleanest countries we have ever visited and even its street food markets boast pretty hygienic standards. The people are incredibly friendly, always helping you when you need it, taking photos with you and smiling widely at the foreigners on their trains, subways and streets. And, speaking of trains and subways, it’s astonishingly easy to get around China! The infrastructure is out of this world with bullet trains, reliable buses and a squeaky clean, convenient subway to rival any in the world.
Not to mention that, beyond the functional bits, China is a fascinating place to travel. We ticked off the key sights of the Forbidden City in Beijing, or the Terracotta Army in Xi’An, or hanging out with some giant bamboo-guzzling pandas in Chengu; all of which took our breath away. But it was our time in the smaller cities and the natural and traditional beauty of the country that really blew our minds. A day hiking the Great Wall from Gubeikou to Jinshanling, walking a trail of 17km out of the over 21,000 incredible km that it stretches. Walking the old city walls of Xi’An, a 13km loop where you can take in the sights but feel transported back to an older, simpler time. Revelling in the ancient town of ‘Phoenix’ or Fenghuang, which has been maintained to it’s medieval standards. And three days in Zhangjiajie National Geopark, where we saw the limestone karsts that inspired James Cameron’s blockbuster film, Avatar, a natural ‘hole’ in the Tianmen mountain, only reachable by a precarious mountain road with 99 hairpin bends and 999 steep stone steps, and faced our fear of heights on death-defying glass walkways.
If you haven’t been to China… go. And venture beyond the big cities like Beijing to find the hidden gems of the world’s most populous country.