I wrote a bit over the summer here with questions about traveling through China. Thank you for your help and the ton advice in the forum! My month long journey through China was a success. Too bad I didn't get a 10 year visa.
I tried to write a short summary… But if you're interested in more details and photos, I documented it here: https://dianasodyssey.wordpress.com/category/china/
To start, I didn't know what to expect of China nor what compelled me to go there.
Yet, there I was in Beijing in early September. It was the day after the military celebration. The air quality was pretty good and I got amazing views of the Palace Museum a couple days later. I stayed at City Walls Courtyard house, a hostel in a hutong north of Jingshan Park. The owners were very friendly and the guests as well were open to conversation. Many late nights because of that. My first meal was hot pot with a few people from the hostel.
I was rather surprised to find that the top sites-- Palace Museum, Summer Palace and the Great Wall at Badaling-- were not that crowded. Was I really that lucky with my timing?
Oh, the Great Wall. It was the top reason for me to visit China. I knew I wanted to visit the Jinshanling section for sure. The guide books I read before hand label it as "wild" which isn't entirely true. There was a giant welcome center! Perhaps via public transpiration you arrived at some back entrance, I don't know. It was lovely and overgrown. For the second section, I chose Badaling because it was a train ride away. It wasn't my top choice. I watched the sunset along with five other people.
I spent a week in Beijing. Some will say that's too long but I enjoyed the city and not rushing to see three sites in one day.
From Beijing, I took the train to Datong. I was more concerned with what was outside of Datong than the city itself-- Hanging Monastery and Yungang Grottoes.
Can I talk about getting on trains for a second? Getting through the Beijing station was tough and quite comical. Line is a very loose word for how Chinese people queue. It was a mosh pit– pushing, shoving their luggage onto the X-ray machine and jostling through the metal detector. Good lord! How can it always be that way?! I got used to it and found myself laughing through later ordeals.
Back to the train to Datong… My stop was coming up and so I pointed to my phone with the location of the hostel-- Datong Green Island Youth Inn. The woman started talking to other people. Maybe she didn't know where the street was? I just needed to know which way to start walking as it's very close to the station. Another woman came over. She spoke English and told me her and her mom will take me to the hostel. I was grateful because it was hard to find the entrance even with natives of Datong. They were so sweet!
This hostel was more modern than Beijing but it didn't have mattresses like I'm used to. It was clean and that's what matters. I ended up befriending two other guests and we experienced taking a taxi to the Hanging Monastery. Also, in Datong I realized that there's a type a sauce or glaze for meats and vegetables that while it tastes good, my stomach hates. Any stomach issues were now solved.
I spent about two days in Datong, one for each site. I took my first overnight train to Pingyao.
I wasn't even expecting to stop there, as online it showed the train tickets were sold out. The hostel owner in Beijing helped find tickets, saving me from backtracking to Beijing to take the train to Xi'an.
So, Pingyao… This "small town" as the guide books said, was in fact a city. This was something to learn. Most places from the guide books were cities despite their description. I left the station and start walking to the old town section… At least I hoped I was walking in the right direction. I felt better once I saw the old city walls. The hostel was Pingyao Yamen. Not my favorite but it was cheap and only for one night.
I liked walking around Pingyao in early morning and I did so on both days. I mostly spent my time in the old town section but have tried a couple restaurants outside the city walls.
The next day I took a high speed train to Xi'an. I stayed at Ancient City Youth Hostel, where I met the most adorably kind roommates. They all spoke Chinese but used all the English they knew. When communication failed, we used google translate.
Two things set them off– traveling alone and speaking no Chinese. They swoop in, inviting me to dinner and to the museum the next morning. I’ll refer to these three kind ladies as mother and older sisters.
Mother likes to keep me within reach. She’ll gesture or pull me closer when we’re out. When crossing the street, she’ll hold my arm to be sure I’m not hit by a moped. She doesn’t speak a lot of English but she tries very hard. Older sisters know more English but our conversations are slow.
I ask if there’s a restaurant nearby to have dinner. They suggest KFC and McDonald’s. It’s too early in the trip for such things. They ask if Chinese is okay. YES.
I did join them at the museum the next morning but did my own thing in the afternoon. Mostly a lot of walking through different neighborhoods.
I spent about three days in Xi'an, seeing the sites and eating. I went to see the famous Terracotta Army and have mixed feelings. They were really cool but you can't get close to them. I also met up with my friend from Datong to visit Mount Hua. If you don't plan on walking and climbing a lot of stairs, then expect to spend a lot of money. Mount Hua was lovely and we befriended a Chinese tourist who later helped us get back to Xi'an.
On my last day in Xi'an, I booked a last minute flight to Kunming for the afternoon, train tickets and a hostel in Dali. It was a long day. And surprisingly it all worked out. The next morning, I was in Dali checking into the Dragonfly Guesthouse. While I ate breakfast at the hostel, I was invited to go bike riding with a bunch of other guests. Actually, it was mopeds so I had to learn how to drive one through the busy streets. We drove around Erhai Lake and it was gorgeous! I really needed a break from the cities! The next two days were hiking at Mount Cang and another moped ride.
I left Dali and stopped in Shaxi. I was trying to spend some time in rural or lesser visited areas to have contrast from the hot spots of Beijing. Shaxi was a small town. I wish I knew where to walk to get to another town or hike on the hill sides. I didn't find much online. I stayed at Horsepen 46. They were hosting a day trip to a near by tourist attraction so I was disappointed that they didn't have a less obvious hike available. The next day I visited Qianshi Shan (One Thousand Lion Mountain). The hostel couldn't offer much help with this as they never heard about it. It was a manmade attraction but it looked so interesting online that I wanted to go anyway. Unfortunately, I didn't have much time but went as far as I could. Should you find yourself in the area I do recommend it! There were a lot of stairs too. The Chinese believe walking up 999 stairs will increase your lifespan. China added another twenty years to mine.
I took the bus to Lijiang and spend the night at International Youth Hostel Lijiang. The entrance is a little tricky to find but the hostel is okay. There wasn't much time for me to rest as I planned to start the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike in the morning.
I had a rough start as I didn't know the hostel is locked at night and didn't open till 7:30. So I didn't get a chance to look for breakfast but lucked out with steamed buns on the way. I made it on the bus where I befriended another woman and we started the hike together. We kept meeting people on the hike and formed a small group. It was so much fun!
On the third and last day of the hike, I planned the reminder of my days in China and booked my flight out.
Back in Lijiang, I picked a hostel outside the city center for a couple nights called House & White Lakeside Lodge. There was a lot of construction going on in the area so I was glad that it was still light out when I arrived. At the hostel, I ran into two of the woman from the Tiger gorge hike. What are the odds?
I walked through some areas of Lijiang but not the old town area. Instead I visited to two small areas nearby, Baisha Old Town and Suhe Old Town. Baisha is small and less commercial than Suhe but I enjoyed both.
And that's my month in China! I left in the middle of Golden Week.
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