There seems to be a common theme among travelers that visiting China is an eye opening experience. Between the initial culture shock, adaptation to the local cuisine (excluding the delicious Sichuan cuisine), and frequent run-ins with the thick smog, China is often considered to be a love it or hate it destination. Those that love it rave about it, and those that hate it will make their reasons quite obvious in an instant. After my first week in the country, I was quickly falling into the latter category. It was only until my last week (right after the infamous China Golden Week) that the country began growing on me and I became sad to leave.
Getting Over the Rough Patches
Arriving to China via ferry from Osaka to Shanghai was like something out of a dream. As we slowly pulled into the harbor, the skyline of Shanghai opened itself up. Modern, sleek, and relatively clean due the World Expo, the city was nothing like I expected China to be. After a few days I made my trek up to Beijing, and my experience turned to a polar opposite.
Immediately after exiting the train into the station I began noticing a number of things that would come and haunt me for the duration of my time in China. The crowds were thick, children used the public squares like a communal restroom, and every single thing I ate did not appear appetizing nor sat well in my stomach. With 6 days in Beijing, my first four were not what I would like to call an ideal experience. Not feeling well, making the best of it was the daily struggle, yet the grey skies due to heavy smog with the same color of the concrete below me made it an uphill battle. Imagining another 3 weeks in the country at the speed I was at, I was contemplating an exit point.
The Redeeming Factors
It wasn’t until the fifth day in Beijing and 8th day in China did my experiences begin to turn around. The Great Wall of China was my destination, and the Huanghuacheng section did not disappoint. Far enough removed from the city, there was no smog to be found and the fresh air did wonders for my lungs. A beautiful hike, amazing photos, and I knew that I found what I came to China to see. But going back to Beijing brought a dose of reality and the pollution and crowds began to take their toll yet again.
My next city of Xi’an marked the turn around of my time in China where I met up with fellow travel blogger Michael from Art of Backpacking where he was teaching English at the time. The smog stayed and my lungs still burned, but a great night out eating dozens of skewers of hot pot turned me into a new person. Finally, I found good food in China.
The following destinations of Chengdu and Yangshuo were where China began to really shine and left its lasting impression. The Chengdu Panda Reserve, where you can see dozens of the beautiful creatures in an enclosed and protected habitat, was definitely a favorite, as was the world famous Szechuan inspired Chengdu food I ate date after day. Yangshuo was another surprise for being the natural beauty you would never think of existing in the country. When ever there is a reason to run away from a place you do not enjoy, the best spot to go has to be one that is either focused on food or has amazing scenery to help your troubles go away. A back-to-back shot of Chengdu and Yangshuo are the perfect combination for anyone looking to get out from the hectic “big” cities of China and back into a more relaxing pace.
Cue nearly ten days of eating amazing food and biking, kayaking, exploring Reed Flute Cave, and taking in the beautiful scenery. My trip was renewed. It is amazing how such minor things can turn an experience around nearly instantly, and I am glad I kept going to reach such amazing places. So I had to deal with a constant upset stomach, screaming and defecating children, and poor environmental conditions. These would have been a vacation ruiner in any other environment if it wasn’t for the amazing experiences that turned it around, and now China is on my list of destinations to return to, if only for the spots known for the food and natural beauty.
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Have you been to China and had similar experiences? Comment below!