Hello all! Sorry for the long absence, but June was a very crazy month since I worked a lot of overtime, and I really didn’t have a lot to write about. But I had two weeks holiday in July and decided to go backpacking around China. As soon as I got back, August got very crazy too and I’ve only just found time to write about the experience.
This was my first solo backpacking trip, which made somethings very different. I could keep my own schedule, just worry about what I wanted to see, and not feel bad if I felt like spending a day resting. Traveling with friends is a lot of fun, and there were times I missed having a traveling companion, but I think it was good for me to try it alone. I went to four different cities in China and then stopped in Hong Kong before flying back to Beijing, and got to experience the high-speed trains for the first time.
STOP ONE – XI’AN, HOME OF THE TERRACOTTA WARRIORS
My first stop was Xi’an. I decided to take the high-speed train from Beijing West Railway Station to Xi’an North Station, and get a taxi to my hostel. Of course, taxi rides in China are never as straightforward as you want or expect. I had saved the addresses of every hostel I reserved, in Mandarin, to help taxi drivers, but in spite of that and GPS, the driver took me to the wrong place, and then had to turn around. Thankfully, the actual street I needed to be on wasn’t too far from there, but then there was the challenge of finding the actual hostel once the driver dropped me off on the street. This is a common problem no matter where I travel as most hostels are not the easiest places to find, so it’s not really this hostel’s fault, or the fault of my map app. A friendly older gentleman saw me with my backpack and tried to direct me to the Inn that was also on the street, since that’s a popular one with foreigners but it was not the one I booked. It looked nice though and after half an hour of walking up around, I thought I might consider seeing if they had rooms available. I eventually did find the place I had booked, but they had lost my reservations. Since the place didn’t look very nice I decided to check out the inn, and that was a good decision on my end. The staff at the Han Tang Inn was very friendly, got me a bed for the night, and had a tour available to see the Terracotta Warrior Museum, which was my main reason for going to Xi’an.
I made a friend in the dormitory who had found a street with lots of bars, so we went to have some beers in a neighborhood he’d found the previous night. I’m one of those annoying people is somewhat particular about beer, but the bar we settled on had some pale ale that I really liked. Then the next day we were off with the tour group to see the Terracotta Warriors. It was an incredibly hot day so luckily most of it is out of the sun. It’s an active archaeological site, and that is obvious in some places due to the work. It does cost some money to get in (about 180 RMB, around $25) and it’s more on a tour, but I recommend taking one if you are able because it’s so much easier to get there.
The only negative part of the day was the weather later in the day. The sky opened and it started pouring. At first this was nice due to the heat we’d endured all day, but then the hail started. But that’s China in the summer for you, heat and then incredible thunderstorms. After some food at the hostel I went to bed and got ready for an early train in the morning.
STOP TWO – SHANGHAI, MEETING FRIENDS
I stayed at the Blue Mountain Hongqiao hostel, which was one of the better hostels I stayed in, except for the fact that the bathroom wasn’t in the room so I had to carry my shower stuff to the bathroom like in college (not my favorite feature of some hostels, although that’s a personal preference. The bathrooms were very clean and well taken care of). I’d stay there again, although I’d probably stay at their Bund location rather than Hongqiao as there isn’t that much that interests me in the Hongqiao area.
I was able to meet up with some friends from my job training who live in Shanghai for drinks. I had some of the best mac n cheese I’ve had in a long time at Liquid Laundry as well as some fabulous cocktails. They took me for a walk around the French area of Shanghai, and then I went home to get some rest. My friend had the next day off so after a mishap regarding identification, we decided to spend the afternoon at a theme park within Shanghai. Unlike Shanghai Disney, which would have been packed, this place was fairly empty, which meant it’s probably not the best park to go to but it was fun.
The day after the park, I went to some museums with the friend I met in Xi’an, as we agreed it was far too hot to do anything else. Air-conditioned museums were the place to be in the late morning and early afternoon, and we got to see a full model of the whole city! In the evening, I stopped by the famous Bund to see the tower. I considered trying to go up the tower, but I ended up deciding to simply enjoy the view instead. Sometimes the famous touristy activities just aren’t appealing in the moment, and I enjoyed watching the lights come on as the sun began to set.
STOP THREE – CHENGDU, HOME OF THE PANDAS!
Chengdu was an interesting experience. I flew there from Shanghai and took a taxi into the city, which was a fairly long ride. After the taxi dropped me on the street, I walked up and down trying to find my hostel. It was actually off a side street and my Chinese phone couldn’t find the address. After nearly 30 minutes of wandering around with my backpack, I found a business that was still open and they let me use their wi-fi, so I could use the map on my American phone to find it.
I finally did, and instead of relief, all I felt when I walked in was dread. This place was filthy, I didn’t even want to go into the bathroom. I told them I would just stay for the one night, as it was after 10pm and I was in an unfamiliar city and didn’t want to wander around. I got on their wi-fi and found a different hostel that had better reviews. At 7am I high-tailed it out of the sketchy place and found a taxi that took me to the new hostel. I didn’t know if they’d let me check in that early but figured I could at least drop my bag there. They were very friendly and since the bed was available they let me go up. After a hot shower and a nap, I felt better and ready to go explore. I arranged for a ride to the Panda Base the next day and walked to a subway station to go to the People’s Park, which was a beautiful walk and had a lot of beautiful flowers and monuments.
The next day I was picked up by a car and driven to the Panda Base on the outskirts of the city, with a couple who was also traveling through China. It was morning so the Pandas were awake and active, for Pandas. The driver got our tickets and gave us three hours.
After the pandas, the driver dropped me off in the city center, so I made my way to the famous Jinli St. I didn’t buy anything (tight budget) but I did enjoy the scenery and walking around. Once I was done there it was time to go back to the hostel and take another shower because it was so hot out. If I was going to take this trip again, I’d go at a time of year that is slightly cooler. Chengdu has a lot of great sites to see outdoors, but I am more sensitive to heat than most people so it was just too warm for me to enjoy it the way I wanted to.
STOP FOUR – GUILIN, LI RIVER
My last stop in China was the city of Guilin in South China. After a slightly delayed flight, I got a bus and taxi to my new hostel. This one was decent, although far from my favorite. The bathroom had a western style toilet but it was elevated over what clearly used to be a squat toilet, which would have been fine except that it didn’t allow water from the shower to drain easily so it was a constant puddle. The room was also too tiny. It should have been a four-person dorm but they squeezed six people in there without a place to store stuff.
In spite of this, it was a nice place to stay and they had some really good food. They also were able to set me up on a tour for the Li River, which was probably the highlight of my trip. We took a bus there and the ferry boat was probably the nicest one I’ve ever been on. It had very comfortable seating, and plenty of room for everyone to see all the sites and take their photos. When the boat got to Yangshuo, we took a bus through the town and took in some sites on a smaller boat local boat ride, followed by a longer bus ride back to Guilin. The rest of the time in Guilin I visited the Solitary Beauty Peak and the Palace, and enjoyed wandering around the river towers.
STOP FIVE – HONG KONG
By the time I got to Hong Kong I was exhausted from traveling and mostly slept at the hostel. This was more of a visa run than anything as I’d already been to Hong Kong twice, but the second night I did go out to see the “light show” across the river from Hong Kong Island, and spent some time drinking with people sharing my hostel room. The next day it was time to head back to Beijing and go back to work. It’s a credit to how much I like this job that I almost didn’t mind having to go back to work, although it took a few days before I was back in the swing of things.
Up Next: My short trip to Busan, South Korea! Wasn’t quite what I hoped, but that’s not the fault of the city.