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Trip report: Discovering crazy natural landscapes, fascinating cities and weird foods
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Here below some of the most fascinating photos from China. Together with the photogallery, you will find a funny and interesting trip report full of info and anecdotes describing the whole travel itinerary. If you haven't read them yet, check out all travel info and precise itinerary here:

Chinese signs - Hardly understandable to me.


In 2008 I was sent to China for a conference that was the ideal opportunity to visit the country. It was the year of the Beijing Olympics, that my girlfriend and I, travelling in July, missed just by a few days… no medals for us, unfortunately.
Organizing the trip wasn't easy. In fact, on the internet everyone was talking about guided tours, but we really wanted to travel as independently as possible and it was difficult to get much travel info. We did our best and in the end we booked a London-Amsterdam-Beijing KLM flight and some internal flights with China Eastern Airlines. We managed to plan trips to some of the most attractive destinations in China, but we had to miss many others.
For the visa, we sent our passports to an agency collaborating with the consulate. Luckily our passports came back with all the right things attached.
We landed in Beijing in the morning of the 20th of July. The airport was all new and shiny. When we got out of the hall, we were surrounded by thousands of crazy taxis buzzing around like flies. We hailed one, we showed the address of our Bamboo Garden Hotel (that we previously printed in Chinese ideograms) to the driver and we entered the chaotic traffic of Beijing. Taxis were almost the only vehicles on the roads, but they were billions! Drivers didn’t care about safety distance, half a metre was enough for them, even at 70 kph.
The hotel was nice, with the bamboos and the red lamps. It really looked like China. We left our luggage and we took the underground to start our visit of the town.
Beijing - The 'hutongs' quarter is very picturesque.
It was hot and humid and we were sleepy because of the jet lag, but we were brave and we stuck to our (random) Beijing travel itinerary.
We began our walk from the Lama Temple, fascinating Buddhist complex full of decorations and incense. The Confucius Temple was not bad either.
Buddhist Temple - Lama Temple (in the photo) and Confucius Temple are must-see.
Then we walked through the Hutongs, traditional quarters made of small alleys, shacks and old one storey buildings. It was all very Chinese.
The other parts of Beijing were very Chinese too, but in a different way: they were modern, with big, anonymous buildings built by the communist party after having destroyed the hutongs.
Our walk in the old center brought us to the Drum and Bell Towers, very simple but with a nice view on part of the city.
We had dinner in the hotel and we went to bed early in order to recover from the jet lag. In hotel we asked some info and we booked a day trip to the Great Wall for the following day.
We left in the early morning on a small van. An English-speaking guide explained interesting Chinese habits and other cultural stuff, that we soon forgot, but for a moment we felt really smart and knowledgeable.
Along the road we stopped at the Changling tombs. To reach them we walked along the Sacred Way (a grand avenue with big animal statues - I don’t know why they put them but they surely represented something really important).
Ming Tombs
Ming Tombs - The sacred way to Ming Tombs.
We stopped also at a jada fabric and shop. It was a big place with lots of shiny decorated sculptures, with all the smallest details well-carved into the stone. Many costed more than 10000 euros, so we didn’t even think about buying something (there was also cheap stuff, but it didn’t look good compared to the other beautiful pieces).

We reached the Great Wall in the Mutyaniu section, less touristic than the more famous Badaling that is usually included in any China travel itinerary. The van left us in a wooden village that lived on souvenirs. There were green mountains around. When I finished drinking from a plastic bottle of water, an old, wrinkled woman came to me and asked me (by gestures) if she could take my bottle. “I will throw it away, don’t worry”, I said. Of course she didn’t understand and kept on asking. Maybe she loved me. Then, with the guide’s help, I understood that the old woman’s “job” was to collect bottles and sell them to some company that would give her a little money to survive. Just to remember that a salary of 1 euro per day was pretty common, in China.
A chairlift (yes, it sounds weird) brought us to the Great Wall, on which we began to walk up and down, up and down, up and down. Maybe I am a little bit crazy, but I really desired to start my trekking and never stop again, following all 8850 km of the longest human construction of the world. In Mutyaniu the Great Wall of China stood on the top of green mountains, climbing up and down among the trees, but in other regions the Wall would probably cross steppe and deserts. I didn’t care. I wanted to walk and go on and on and explore everything.
Great Wall
Great Wall - The Chinese Great Wall (Mutyanu section in this photo) is very impressive and crazily long... it would be nice to cover its thousands of miles and miles.
After a while my girlfriend helped me to come to my senses and we got back to the start of our walk. To descend from the mountain we could take the chairlift or a long slide (yes, weird). Of course we opted for the slide, which in a few minutes brought us through the wood to the village and our van.
Back from the trip we stopped in Beijing city center. We noticed a food market. The stuff in there didn’t look edible, but in theory it was (there were smoking green beverages and fresh meat hung under the sun, surrounded by flies and gnats: it was scary, but very Chinese). For dinner we went to a Tibetan restaurant, which we reached by taxi. Luckily the menu translated long lines of ideograms with some English word. Probably it was a random, incorrect translation, but still it was English.
I pondered for a while, then I ordered yak stew and a delicious soursweet salad. I could have ordered also a dog, if I wanted. My girlfriend was rather disgusted by the food. However, we both enjoyed the atmosphere. The walls were decorated by typical Tibetan handicrafts. Then music started and two dancers, wearing fur hats, began waving among the tables. The dancers were very typical Tibetan girls, I think, and also quite pretty. The customers joined the balls. It was a funny, strange little adventure, if you consider that there were no tourists and that no-one spoke English (not even the waiters, of course).
Our last day in Beijing we visited some of the most beautiful and famous places of the city. We began from the huge Tiananmen Square.
Tienanmen Square
Tienanmen Square - This huge square also features the entrance to the Forbidden City.
and the Then, the Forbidden City, the big complex of golden buildings that was the Emperor’s residence.
Forbidden City
Forbidden City - Temples, buildings, squares and much more... just for the Emperor.
We also visited the relaxing Temple of Heaven.
The hot weather joined the Tibetan food in the battle against my girlfriend’s stomach. They were winning and my girlfriend succumbing. She looked pretty pissed by the idea of dying on Chinese soil. Then we relaxed in a park under the shadow of the trees and she got better.
Beihai Park
It was Beihai Park, a beautiful green area in the middle of the city, full of small lakes, trees, hills and panoramic pagodas, which I recommend for your travel itinerary in the Chinese capital.
Beijing Beihai Park - A nice walk in Beihai Park is relaxing and fascinating.
We had dinner in the hotel, mainly because my girlfriend didn’t trust Beijing restaurants anymore. I really wanted to try some other crazy place, but the Chinese food in the hotel was not bad anyway.
The following morning we flew to Shanghai on a China Eastern Airlines plane. We landed safely as we had planned.
The weather was even hotter and damper than in Beijing. We could barely see the sun through the dense, polluted air.
In a day and a half we visited Shanghai touristy places. We began our tour by walking on the Bund along Huangpu River, that crosses the city center. The Bund is a large, lively road with beautiful colonial buildings on one side and the brown water of the river on the other.
Shanghai Bund - From the Bund (the colonial promenade along Shanghai Huangpu river) it is possible to enjoy this amazing skiline.
The opposite shore of the Huangpu, instead, is home to some of the most futuristic skyscrapers of the world. We reached it by the efficient underground, then we took an elevator to the top terrace on the Oriental Pearl Tower. The view got as far as Shanghai’s grey suburbs. I would be happy to live in those suburbs, if the only alternative was to live in an igloo at the North Pole wearing just a thong. It’s likely that Chinese people who live there really don't have an alternative: the communist dictatorship is quite dictatorial, for certain aspects.
We crossed the river again and we walked to the old Shanghai, with nice wooden houses, very typical and very well kept, small alleys and water channels. We got to the beautiful Yuyuan gardens. The Chinese definition of “garden” is quite weird, with all those mirrors, corners, small spaces and strange shapes. The result, however, was charming.
Shanghai Old Town - These characteristic buildings are very well-kept.
In the evening we walked through Nanjing Road, the most commercial road of Shanghai, with its shops, restaurants, stores and bars. Walking together with thousands of people we arrived at People’s Square. Around us, big buildings and shiny skyscrapers. Later, we were rapt by the beauty of Shanghai skyline seen by the Bund.
Shanghai center - The city center is modern, full of shops and people and skyscrapers.
We slept in a 4-star hotel (40 euros for a double room). We didn’t spend much time in Shanghai, but it was enough: there are more fascinating places in China. We happily flew to Guilin, in the Southern part of China.
At the airport, my girlfriend and I were met by a guide that we had contacted through a website. We were going to have a 3-day tour with him and a driver. Total cost, 300 euros each, not much considering hotels, car, fuel, tickets, meals, etc.
My girlfriend and I were feeling weak due to the climate and the food, but the clean air of Guilin and especially of the countryside made us immediately feel better. Compared to the chaotic Beijing and Shanghai, it was almost cool. Guilin was a paradise surrounded by wonderful mountains that looked like Rio de Janeiro’s loafs.
Guilin - Amazing, absurd mountains along the Li River.
From the mountains our tour began. By car first and by feet then, we arrived at Longji, a village made of small wooden houses and mule tracks, positioned on the slope of a hill full of terraced fields. We really liked that village, even if our hotel room had been last cleaned in 1732, I think. We had dinner in a panoramic restaurant where we ate some delicious rice cooked in the bamboo and a tofu salad.
Guilin Longji
Guilin - Longji - Longji, in the hills near Guilin, is a very quaint village inhabited by farmers.
The following morning our guide led us to the mountains that stood over Longji while giving us some interesting cultural info. There were spectacular terraced rice fields and bamboo woods. Thanks to the natural landscapes and to the interesting farmer life it was a beautiful, relaxing day (well, apart from the moment when a snake jumped in front of us and the guide quietly said that it was very poisonous).
Guilin Longji
Rice terraces - Its rice terraces offer incredible views.
Guilin Longji
Longji Seven Dragons - And amazing shapes.
In the afternoon we left the mountains and we arrived at Guilin, on Li River. We were shown a cliff with a natural arch that looked like an elephant (in China they have great fantasy for these things), then we visited the Reed Flute Cave, a calcareous cave with stalagmites, stalactites and columns made even more spectacular by some well-studied artificial lights.
Reed Flute Cave
Reed Flute Cave - Colourful lights make this cave near Guilin even more special.
Guilin Sunset
In the evening we were left at the hotel. Then we went out and walked in the town center, where we noticed the Sun and the Moon pagodas, artificially lit in yellow and white respectively, thus creating nice reflections on the water.
On the 27th of July we lived one of the highlights of our holiday: the cruise on Li river.
Li River cruise - A cruise is the best way to enjoy the views... but also some trekking or any other adventurous activity would be a good idea.
We could admire one of the most spectacular and original landscapes of the world, a fundamental destination for any China travel itinerary. The wide river run through steep, suppository-shaped mountains (I could find a more poetic metaphore, I know). On the shores and on the mountains there were trees and bamboos and some water buffalos, while on the water there were several simple wooden boats that “attacked” our ship and tried to sell cheap souvenirs to the tourists.
Li River cruise
When we arrived in Yangshuo we were enthusiastic. The guide suggested for the night to go to a “theater” show. Luckily we trusted him, because it was an amazing performance. The “stage” of the open-air theater was a large natural lake surrounded by beautiful green mountains. Hundreds of actors played while standing on a boat or on a moving footbridge. Of course we didn’t understand a word, but I don’t think it was important. The music and the dance of artificial lights made the show incredible. Chinese spectators were even happier than us, as the combination of music, water and lights makes them crazy.
The day after we had a bike ride in Yangshuo countryside. There were cultivated fields, farmers and the “usual” mountains shaped as a suppository – the kind of suppository you wouldn’t really like to use. It was beautiful and intense.
Yangshuo - A Li River cruise ends at Yangshuo, which boasts a beautiful country, ideal for a bike ride.
Yangshuo fields - More amazing views.
In the afternoon we were driven back to the airport. We said goodbye to Jay and we flew to Xian where our travel itinerary continued. Here I had to attend a 5-day conference that was the reason I had come to China, even if what really interested me was to travel around. Xian, the old Chinese capital, maybe doesn’t deserve a 5-day stay and we would have preferred to go to Tibet or somewhere else. Still, we had a good time in Xian with an extraordinary highlight.
For start, we were accomodated in a nice 5-star hotel with free bowling and swimming pool – not bad. Moreover, I didn’t really have to attend all conference sessions, so we had time to visit the city.
Xian city center was nice with its big market. We also visited a typically Chinese amusement park. I liked the fact that there were no foreigners. The park was full of gardens, small lakes, water channels and reconstructions of old, historical buildings. The main attractions were paddle boats on the lakes and music and dance shows, plus the usual water/lights/sounds plays in the evening. We were impressed especially by the acrobatic moves of a small Chinese dragon (under which two young boys were hidden) that did martial arts and somersaults on the top of some 3-meter high poles.
Xian Dragon Show - Xian is China old capital and is rich of unusual shows for a foreigner.
We also attended some activities organised by the conference committee. The main one was the trip to Xian Terracotta Army. It is such a famous attraction that cannot leave you satisfied. The hundreds of natural-sized statues of warriors, each different from the others, are impressive, but they are placed in a big dull depot (which is necessary to preserve the statues). From a cultural and historical point of view, anyway, it is extraordinary.
Xian Terracotta Army
Xian Terracotta Army - So famous it can't be missed, despite the unattractive building that preserve the statues.
Always at the conference expenses, that night we had dinner in a nice restaurant in front of typical music and dance shows.
Xian Chinese Dance
Chinese Dance
Another night my girlfriend and I got lost in Xian modern town center and we arrived in a big square where we could watch a nice show with – try and guess – lights, sounds and water. In fact, there were fireworks and fountains with high spurts all rhythmed by a background music.
The last bang of the holiday – not just a bang, actually, but a true atomic explosion – was the visit to Xian ancient city walls. Well, the merit was not of the walls (still very impressive being between 10 and 20 metres wide), but of the total solar eclipse that we could admire.
The conference had in fact been organized in the right dates to let participants enjoy this rare and amazing phenomenon. In the afternoon the sun began being partially covered by the moon. By looking directly at it it was impossible to notice it, as we were blinded by the sunlight, but with a darkened glass we could see that a portion of the sun had a “bite” on one side.
Just before sunset, the eclipse became total. To the naked eye, it all happened very quickly. In a few seconds, the sky became darker and darker, then in a moment it got night and the temperature suddenly fell. The sun was a tiny black ball in the dark sky surrounded by a subtle, almost invisible yellow line. We were shocked.
Solar Eclipse China
Solar Eclipse in Xian - An impressive way to end a holiday, a very original and slightly terrifying show. The night suddenly came, few moments later the sun rised again, and then it was time for another sunset.
We didn’t have time to get used to the idea that the sun could suddenly disappear like that, without warning and not even making a call, that the sun quickly reappeared on the other side of the moon. It was like a second dawn. Fifteen minutes later it was time for a second sunset, the real one, after which the darkness would last not just for one minute, but for a whole night.
This experience, the Li river, Chinese lifestyle and our stomach-aches are all memories of one of the best trips you could have. The stomach-aches were light and they shouldn’t dishearten the traveler, so I hope you you'll use tris travel info and travel itinerary. Actually, they were nothing compared to the real problem: the trip ended and from adventurous travelling we went back to normal life. It was like changing Angelina Jolie for an orangutan. (Or, for the girls, changing Brad Pitt for an orangutan). (Or, for the orangutans, changing a beautiful specimen of orangutan for Angelina Jolie/Brad Pitt).
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