Three weeks ago me and Rob boarded a plane from Manchester to Beijing. Here’s a brief summary of the time we’ve had there and hopefully some hints and tips for those of you that fancy visiting in the future.
Did you know?
- China is the world’s most populous country, with over 1.38 billion people, and the second-largest country by land area.
- China uses 45 billion chopsticks per year.
- Almost a third of San Francisco’s air pollution comes from China.
- The sunrise in parts of China can be as late as 10am because the country joined its five time zones into a single one.
- The PlayStation is illegal in China.
- In 2013, a zoo in China angered visitors by trying to pass off a Tibetan mastiff dog as a lion.
- Facebook has 95 million users in China despite being blocked.
Where did we go and what were the highlights?
STOP 1 – Beijing
- Arrived from the airport by taxi, mainly because we were too tired after the long haul to be able to navigate public transport, retrospectively I’d recommend getting the subway (cheaper and safer!).
- Stayed 3 nights at Peking Station Hostel (£23 per person per night) which was in a good location, close to subways, street food stalls and was very clean. Breakfast was quite pricey, it’s definitely worth while venturing out for some street food samples to start the day.
- Visited the Great Wall of China (see post here for more details), ate lots of steamed buns, explored local hutongs and visited the lake bars.
- Beijing was a weird place for me, it was the first stop on our travels and probably a shock to the system, but as time went by I’ve realised Beijing is very different to the rest of China. People seem scared there, everywhere you look there’s people wearing red armbands and guards and police lining the streets just watching. Watching what I really do not know, but it was a little bit too 1984 for me. The further we got away from Beijing, the more welcoming(ish) the people were.
STOP 2 – Pingyao
- Arrived on train from Beijing which was a nice chilled way to travel, we packed a couple train beers and some steamed buns and started watching Breaking Bad (again…).
- Stayed 2 nights at Hongyuyuan Guesthouse (£5 per person per night), the homestay offered to collect us from the train station, after winding in and out of scooters and people the driver pulled up to a back alley and ushered us down the road where we surprisingly exited onto the festive streets of Pingyao filled with lanterns and food. When we arrived at the homestay we were welcomed with a cup of sesame tea, the place was decorated exquisitely and had a lovely family vibe.
- Check out here what we got up to in Pingyao.
STOP 3 – Xi’an
- Arrived on train from Pingyao and got the subway to our homestay.
- Stayed 4 nights at Twincity Homestay (£7 per person per night) which was ran by the lovely Leo who was so helpful in giving advice on what to do in Xi’an.
- Xi’an’s main attraction is the Terracotta Warriors (see post here for details) but within it’s old city walls lies probably my favourite thing in Xi’an… the muslim quarter. It’s full of weird and wonderful food and is a definite to visit. There you can eat the regions’ famous rougamo (meat sandwich) along with many other delights, despite not speaking English many vendors will ply you with plenty free samples.
STOP 4 – Yangshuo
- Arrived on plane and then a bus to Yangshuo town.
- Stayed 5 nights at Mountain Stream Inn (£10 per person per night) where we had a balcony and a view of the beautiful Guilin karst hills. This hostel was by far my favourite in China, I can’t recommend the place enough. Far enough out of town to not have the dust and pollution, surrounded by farm land and hills, the hosts were very friendly and have a pet tortoise and a dog that have free roam of the place. It was the perfect stay in a wonderful town.
- Yangshuo town is a very busy, touristy place with lots of bars. We managed one evening out in the centre (Rob’s birthday), but the rest of the time we spent closer to the hostel away from the crowds. Yangshuo’s main positive is it’s setting. One day we ventured out to a ‘secret beach’ (see post here for details), other days we walked round the park and went on bike rides. We made daily runs to the fruit and veg stalls, the dumpling street food lady and the roti street food lady. They were just too good to not keep going back and back again.
STOP 5 – Guilin
- Arrived on two buses from Yangshuo.
- Stayed 2 nights at Ease Hostel (£7 per person per night) which was again in a great location, very clean and with a good social area.
- Not far from our hostel was a night market, which in all honesty was pretty rubbish. The first night we expected to spend a lot of time at the market, but instead stumbled upon a floating, lit up island on the lake where a band and lady were singing classical Chinese music. It was brilliant! On our only full day in Guilin we ventured to see the famous Elephant Hill. It was seriously humid and hot, but we sweated our way up to the viewing tower and explored the landscape that legends named Elephant Hill due to the way the rocks are formed to look like an elephant drinking from the Li river. In Guilin we finally ate Peking duck from a restaurant just below our hostel, it was great and only cost £5!
STOP 6 – Shanghai
- Arrived on plane and subway.
- Stayed 4 nights at Hidden Garden Hostel (£16 per person per night) which was a decent hostel, good location, just had a really strange smell!
- Just yesterday I posted about Shanghai and what we got up to there (check it out here).
How to get around?
In order of frequency – walking (definitely shaved a couple of millimetres off the old Birkenstock soles) – trains/subways (so cheap and efficient) – buses (extremely cheap, but uncomfortable and confusing) – planes (more pricey, but sometimes the only way to get from A to B).
- Always have change – buses do not give change so you need the exact money and most subway machines only accept 10’s or 20’s.
- Be prepared to go through lots and lots of security at subways, train stations and double security at airports.
- Push. If you don’t push, you may loose out, nobody else seems to care!
- Use Maps.me. It’s a life saver. I will continue to mention it over and over again.
After the first day we decided to set ourselves a budget to live off daily. We agreed on 150 yuan (£15) between us. Most days we were under budget which subsequently helped pay for transport and admission to attractions.
- Very few attractions are free. If you want to stay on budget be picky on what you choose to gain entry to. A lot of the attractions look just as good from outside as in (Pingyao).
- Eat street food and eat local.
- Get public transport. Yes it’s a little bit more difficult with heavy bags and manoeuvring around people, but it’s worth it. AND getting a taxi isn’t always an easy ride, trust me, until you’ve been in a car on China’s roads you wouldn’t understand.
What will I remember China for most?
Pretty dragon flies everywhere, nail clipping in public (especially public transport and even supermarkets), the noise of spitting, someone letting out a loud fart as they walk past, asking for my photo to be taken, being stared at (especially my feet… very odd), delicious dumplings, their love of iced drinks (in plastic cups, with plastic straws, in plastic bags… sigh), sticky rice, people constantly on phones, cheap Tsingtao, uncertainty of what meat you’re eating, men’s tummies on show to ‘cool them down’, young extremely cute children shouting ‘hello’ at you, being run over by scooters and bikes on the path and super pot noodles.
I enjoyed China, but I think it was more fascination of the place rather than actually having too much fun. It’s a strange place because it’s so far removed from what I’m used to, but I’d definitely recommend it for the experience. We’re now in Osaka and I can’t help constantly compare China to Japan. So far, I am loving the place! If anybody has any suggestions for Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo please get in touch!