China Travel – Turning 4 Weeks in China from a Negative to a Positive

Posted By Jeremy in Asia

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Peaks of Yangshuo, ChinaThere 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

All of the bad things in China rolled up into one photo.

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

World Expo Shanghai, China 2010

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.

Shanghai, China skyline at night

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.

Eating scorpion at Wangfujing Street in Beijing, China

Have you been to China and had similar experiences? Comment below! 

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  1. When I was in China I almost felt bipolar. I loved it one minute and hated it the next. The spectacular landscapes and the amazing food really did wonders to ease the hate moments.

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  2. Haha same here! Especially the food part. The food there is awful. You know, even though I’m an Indonesian-Chinese, I can’t stand the food they offer there. Not to mention that the public toilet is way too dirty (and disgusting). And… the language is frustrating. They keep yelling at me with their language which I don’t understand at all.

    I couldn’t agree more!

    But I began to enjoy China the last week I was there. Xia Men city is great and Gulangyu island ( is beautiful..

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  3. Hi vstp!

    I am a chemical engineer! For my big trip in Asia in late 2010, I did that right after getting my Master’s degree. The school I went to fully funded my degree plus gave me a monthly stipend for work. After 2 years (and living with my parents at that time) I was able to save enough to get up and go.

    In regards to working now, the Master’s degree really helped me get out of the industrial plant environment. Rather now I work in an office designing said plants (Process Design was my best subject for sure). I work with a large company and get to travel a fair bit with them, but being new it isn’t as high as some other people I work with.

    If you want to talk more.. please email me!

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  4. Hey Jeremy,

    Great blog and website! I read somewhere (I think another travel blog that featured you) that you’re a chemical engineer?

    I would like to know how you actually manage to travel while being a chemical engineer and what your job is like?

    I’m studying to become a chemical engineer but the only thing putting me off is being stuck in some industrial plant on the outskirts of some city… I would really love to travel and discover the world (especially major cities) but it doesn’t seem likely being a chemical engineer in some plant!


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  5. Hi Kai – I wouldn’t necessarily say to get out of Beijing as quickly as possible but if you want scenic then I wouldn’t make Beijing the main feature of my trip. I thought the Great Wall, Temple of Heaven, and Summer Palace were amazing and are worth some time exploring. But if you are wanting nature I would definitely head out to explore that shortly thereafter.

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  6. Hi, il hopefully be going to china sometime in september, would you suggest getting out of beijing as quickly as possible? we are flying into Beijing airport so we would have to go there initially but i am much more interested in the scene nature side of china


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  7. That sounds a lot like my 2010 itinerary. Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu, and Yangshuo. I skipped Longji due to time constraints, but definitely would love to do Kunming and the southern areas next go around too.

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  8. I visited Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an and Chengdu the first time around. The World Expo 2010, the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Terracotta Warriors, Chengdu Pandas…the things people expect to see when in China.

    The second time around, I went to the Dongchuan red lands near Kunming, spent a few (rainy) days in Yangshuo, and had an amazing time hiking around the Longji Rice Terraces. The second trip was more nature oriented. Easier on the pocket compared to the first visit, and certainly more satisfying!

    Next round perhaps more of Sichuan and Lhasa!

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  9. That is exactly how I feel too! For some reason I may be upset about a place while I am there, but as time goes by I start becoming more and more fond of it. I know next time I go I’ll ONLY be hitting the beautiful parks. Even their “small” cities of 8 million people were too much sometimes.

    Where did you go on the first and second trips? How was it the second go around? Did you have a better feeling of it?

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  10. Couldn’t agree more. In 2010, I spent over 2 weeks in China, and it was a battle getting through each day with all the spitting, the toilets, and the crowds. But at the end of that trip, I knew I’d be back for a second (or even a third!) visit. Didn’t think it was going to be so soon, though! Just got back after spending another 2 weeks there, and now am looking forward to my next trip to China, whenever that might be!

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