If you’re looking for wicked adventure which won’t plunge you into crippling debt, why not spend two weeks in the land of tofu and internet censorship?
This was our itinerary…
Day One: Chengdu
There is one main reason to visit Chengdu… Pandas. And the ‘Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding’ has all the pandas you could hope for. They have large pandas, small pandas, sleeping pandas and… Well, lots of sleeping pandas. I was initially concerned about the ethics of the organisation (China isn’t exactly known for the ethical treatment of animals) . However, the researchers seem to be doing some great stuff for the conservation of pandas and their habitat.
Once we had your panda fix, we wandered to Jinli Street for a taste of Chinese culture. With hanging lanterns, ancient architecture and bizarre foods, the marketplace is a great place to capture the essence of China. Here tourists can try a classic Chengdu ‘Hot Pot’ dinner or brave some street food*.
*I do not recommend braving the street food.
Day Two: Train to Yichang
It’s train time! Day two was spent speeding through the stunning mountain scenery from Chengdu to Yichang. It might sound like a boring day, but the views alone made the trip worthwhile.
Day Three – Day Six: Yangtze River Cruise
The next day we hopped on board a cruise ship and set sail along the Yangtze River. The Yangtze River region is home to China’s most breathtaking scenery. For four days we sailed between rocky gorges topped with lush, green forest.
The cruises offer a range of day trips. We, of course, opted to take all of them:
Three Gorges Tribe
A history walk like no other, we spent the morning strolling along the boardwalk that snakes around the Yangtze. Here tourists can experience both the natural beauty of the Yangtze and the cultural traditions of the Tujia minority. The incredible beautiful of the walk blew us away, with bamboo forests overhanging the most stunning blue-green river.
We also saw monkeys… They were assholes.
Three Gorges Dam
Sure, it just looks like a giant slab of concrete that has displaced thousands of people… But wow, what a feat of engineering! The hydroelectric power plant creates 3% of China’s electricity (that is a heck of a lot of electricity).
Lesser Three Gorges
For this day trip we boarded a far smaller vessel to experience the beauty of the Lesser Three Gorges. After piling into a wooden long boat we were steered through the (relatively) untouched paradise by a local tour guide. Here tourists can sneak a peek at the marvellously morbid ‘hanging coffins’.
Fengdu Ghost City
Temples and statues and shrines, oh my! The Ghost City of Fengdu encompassed everything I had imagined about religious worship in China: ornate decoration, gorgeous roof lines and more colour than you can poke a stick at. Although some of the temples are not original, they still give great insight into Buddhist and Taoist beliefs.
Day Seven – Xi’an
Once the cruise was over it was time to step off the boat and fly to Xi’an. Xi’an is known as the Ancient Capital of China, and for good reason. As the final destination along the Silk Road, the heritage in Xi’an is unbelievable. A tour around the museum led us deep into the ancient world of the Zhou, Qin, Han and Tang dynasties.
Day Eight – Xi’an
I could have spent all day just strolling around Xi’an, embracing the history of the city. We were told ancient stories under the Wild Goose Pagoda, took a calligraphy class in the park and rode bikes around the Ancient City Wall. There are not many places on this earth where you can ride a bike on top of one of the oldest walls in the world. That was one experience I will never forget.
Day Nine – Xian
Xi’an is not only the Ancient Capital of China, but also the home of the famous Terracotta Warriors. On day nine we took a bus to the Terracotta Warriors Museum and spent the day marvelling both at the soldiers themselves, and at the story behind their discovery.
In the afternoon we went for a stroll down Muslim Street, where tourists can taste some of the famous sugary snacks that the vendors have to offer. Alternatively, you can pick up a 100% definitely authentic Burberry scarf for 5 Aussie Dollars.
Day Ten – Training
We were on the move again. While this time the scenery wasn’t so exciting, the destination definitely was… we were off to Beijing
Day Eleven – Beijing
Our first day exploring Beijing did not disappoint. We made our way through Tiananmen Square where masses of Chinese tourists flock to see Chairman Mao’s mausoleum, ignorant to the fact that the rest of the world view the area as a symbol of government oppression and violence. We then strolled through the enormous and extravagant Forbidden City, marveling at what a goddamn waste of money the whole bloody thing would have been.
Day Twelve – Beijing
What sort of China trip would be complete without a visit to the Great Wall? We ended up visiting the Juyong Pass, which is an incredibly steep (though very scenic) part of the wall. The trek to the top of the pass is hard… Really damn hard… especially in 38 degree heat and 100% humidity. By the time I reached the top I think I was running on sheer stubborn determination. Having said that, I would 100% recommend at least attempting the climb. Just remember that trekking down is the dangerous part…
Day Thirteen – Beijing
Well and truly exhausted from the previous day’s trek, we spent our last day in China pottering around Beijing. We started the morning with a tai-chi class at the Temple of Heaven, a lovely spot to relax. We then spent the afternoon browsing through the Beijing Pearl Market. While the pushy vendors and crowded stalls made for a not-so-relaxing experience, the Pearl Market was a great deal of fun. Here we haggled our way through the last of our gift shopping before heading back to the hotel to pack.
Day Fourteen – Home
Our trip through China had come to an end. I was incredibly sad to be leaving, but more than looking forward to being back in country with English restaurant menus. It was time to head to the airport and spend the next 24 hours eating, stressing, and definitely not sleeping… But that’s a blog for another time…