~ a quick wrap up of a hectic month ~
We’ve just eaten a steaming bowl of spicy noodle soup for breakfast, washed down with a pretty average coffee, and are sitting in a sunny cafe in Shangri-la, the proverbial Chinese city of paradise where our time in China is sadly coming to an end. It’s been a country of long walks, long train rides and glorious scenery, and as we’ve just arrived at our highest altitude yet of over 3000m we thought we’d take some time out to reflect on the whirlwind this month has been while we take some time out to acclimatise to our new altitude.
China is a beast of a country. There is years worth of travel to be done here, and from the beginning we knew with only one month we’d have to be pretty selective with our destinations. We drew up our initial plan which we later realised was severely ambitious, and were quickly forced to cut it back to about a third of what we had initially planned.
The crippling censorship of the internet makes it only more challenging, and we quickly discovered that most of the tools we rely on for planning on the go aren’t accessible at all. Our blog’s also suffered, with no access to Weebly, Instagram, Facebook, Gmail or Google Maps, its made it frustrating at times, but once we figured out the Chinese way of doing things we were working our way through the laneways, highways and mountain trails of China like pros.
For travel tips, highlights and our itinerary, click 'read more' below.
~ Highlights ~
1. THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA
“He who has not climbed the great wall is not a true man”
No introduction is needed for this famous line of defence, but while the most popular spots such as Bãdáling can be extraordinarily packed with tourists, it is possible to get away from almost everyone not so far from Beijing.
We hiked from Gubeikou to Jinshaling, through mist and rain across rare parts of unrestored wall, through dense dripping jungle forest, and emerged soaked but amazed to astonishing sweeps of beautifully restored wall in Jinshaling…and we barely saw a soul along the way.
The Great Wall of China is everything you’ve ever thought and so much more. Its one of those places that you have heard about your entire life, imagined standing high up on the ancient stonework, and watching it snake through the mountainous landscape. But if you make the effort to get away from the crowds and especially to some of the magically overgrown spots, you’ll be so much more rewarded for the effort.
2. THE STUNNING KARST LANDSCAPES OF YÁNGSHUÒ
When you think of the classic, romantic, misty landscapes of China, this is where you’ll find it. We rode bikes through incredible karst landscapes to ancient Chinese bridges, rock climbed up the limestone cliffs and hunted through tiny villages on a scooter searching endlessly for the quintessential view above.
If you ever find yourself in this part of China, make sure you give it the time it deserves….a week is nothing, two will fly by.
3. THE GLOWING RICE TERRACES OF LONGJI
We lucked out with our timing for visiting the famous rice terraces of Longji, as Autumn was just setting in, the rice fields were just starting to turn golden before the harvest.
Always searching for ways to avoid the hordes of tourists, we set off on a day hike from the village of Dàzhái to Píng ãn. While the most spectacular views are around either of these villages, the hike still goes through some beautiful locations and tiny villages you wouldn’t see otherwise.
~Read about how to visit the Longji Rice Terraces here~
4. ANCIENT VILLAGE OF SHAXI
You’d be forgiven for thinking that charismatic ancient towns like Shaxi can be easily found all over China, but in a country where a ‘town’ of over 3 million is considered small, its harder than you think.
Shaxi was one of the few places we visited where we could really get away from the hordes of Chinese tourists, and explore the peaceful stone alleyways lit with Chinese lanterns in peace. We skipped Lijiang, the most famous town in Yunnang province for two nights in Shaxi, and it was one of the best decisions we made.
5. BEST BUDDHIST MONASTERY
We’ve seen many monasteries since we started out travels through Mongolia and China, but our favourite was the Baoxiang Temple carved into the cliffs of Shibao Shan Mountain. Its pretty far off the well travelled path here. Not a lot of tourists make it to Shaxi, and even less up to these monasteries.
With a waterfall cascading over the intricately carved buildings, and sun streaming down from the cliffs above, its hard to find a more serene place in China.
Close runner-up for best monastery was the huge complex at Shangri-la, where we managed to sidestep the ridiculously overpriced entrance fee to be blown away by the magnificent golden rooves looming over the valley below.
6. TIGER LEAPING GORGE
A two day hike taking in views of jagged snow capped peaks of Haba Shan down to the powerful Jinsha River below, Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest in the world, rising sharply over 3900m from the river banks.
Tiger Leaping Gorge was one of the sights we were looking forward to the most, and we weren’t disappointed. The hike ends at the very bottom of the gorge, by the ‘rock the tiger leaped from’, and sitting just above this incredible surge of water, watching nature’s force swell by below is mesmerising
~ ITINERARY ~
If you’re interested and looking for a place to start with some China planning, here is our itinerary, with a big focus in the south. The national holiday made it impossible to get to a lot of places we wanted to get to in the North, so we’ll be saving that for another time!
EMMA & PETE
We're just two Aussie's who met in London, married in Prague and travelled overland back to Australia.