101 Travel Experiences in China


Author's Note: Recently, I spent 40 days traveling through China. I traveled by train and hiked as often as I could, mostly on China's five sacred mountains.

In this post, I share with you both my positive and negative travel experiences. 

I took most of the photos - the exception being in the Potpourri section and a few other sporadic experiences. 

Thanks for reading and I hope you find this post a valuable resource for planning your journey through China. 



Cities: Beijing | Datong | Xian | Shanghai | Shaolin | Changsha | Fenghuang | Potpourri

Mountains: Hengshan North | Huashan | Songshan | Hengshan South | Taishan | Zhangjiajie



Travel Experiences in China

101) Sample the street food on Wangfujing street

Local street food purveyors line the street hawking everything from sweet, sugar glazed fruit to tiny black scorpions.

My two cents: I loved this street. It's a surreal combination of fear factor and local entrepreneurship. My advice; try the crunchy scorpion and stay away from gelatinous snake.

Blog Post: How to Eat Scorpion in Beijing

Travel Experiences in China

100) Take a Dumpling Class

In a sunny, open workshop off a secluded alley way, Michelle teaches me the art of folding a dumpling. I fat-finger one side of the dough and end up squirting the chutney of cilantro, ginger and beef out the other side. It's fine though, luckily the six other participants are better at this than me, I won't go hungry. Plus there's wine.

My two cents: I ate dumplings, drank a little wine and got to meet other travellers - what's not to like? The only downside is the hefty price tag.

Blog Post: Dumpling class Beijing

Website: thehutong.com

Things to Eat in China

99) Climb the Great Wall at Jinshanling

Here the wall is both wild and restored. There is enough brickwork in place to show you the scale, height and width of  it all, while still retaining authenticity. The views of the undulating and fortress topped terrain seem to go all the way to the horizon.

My two cents: You have to like hiking to do this section of the Great Wall, which I do. There are some serious elevation changes; two people in our group of four decided to bow out after a couple of kilometers.

Photo Gallery: The Great Wall at Jinshanling

Blog Post: Which part of the Great Wall near Beijing should I See? 

Travel Experiences in China

98) Toboggan down the Great Wall at Mutianyu

Weeeee! Heee! Heee! (cough) (cough) Sorry. 

97) Take a Hutong Rickshaw ride

Learn about the historic alleyways near the Forbidden City on the back of a rickshaw.

My Two Cents: I had mixed feeling on this one. My driver was fantastic, except when he was being an asshole. He told me tidbits of knowledge as we cruised about the Hutongs at a blistering 20 miles an hour. He took me past Mao Zedong's old residence and even more impressively, Jackie Chan's house. Finally, he took me to his "daughters" tea house and told me that tasting the tea inside is "free." Afterwards, when I didn't want to buy any tea, he said I owed him 50 Yuan (free only if you buy something.). Punk! We argued and I ended up threatening to leave without paying anything. We finally settled on the price of five yuan.

Travel Experiences in China

96) Check out the forbidden City

Two dynasties of Chinese emperors lived in the imperial palace, where entrance without invitation meant death to the perpetrator.

My two cents:

I prefer a more active attraction and the crowds can be monstrous.  Still, going to Beijing and not seeing the forbidden city is like going to Washington D.C. and missing the White House.

Further Info: Travel Landmark: The Forbidden City 

95) Eat fried Durian

South East Asian countries consider Durian the "king of fruit". Interesting name, considering that many countries have barred it from public transportation due to its strong odor.

My two cents: I had no idea what this fruit was until I got home and googled it. I will let Anthony Bourdain take it over for a second:

"Its taste can only be described as...indescribable, something you will either love or despise. ...Your breath will smell as if you'd been French-kissing your dead grandmother."

(Could anyone else hear Anthony Bourdain's voice in their head while reading the above?) When fried, however, the fruit's odor isn't overpowering, at least not to me. Along with fried banana, this was my favorite street food I tried in China. I guess I have a thing for fried fruits.

Things to Eat in China

94) explore Nan Luo Gu Xiang

You can find fried Durian on Nan Luo Gu Xiang, an 800 meter long historic "Hutong" (alleyway) built in the 13 century which has become a popular shopping and dining area. The street is filled with antique stores, hipster coffee shops and live music bars, making it a great place to start in an evening in Beijing.

Places to shop in Beijing

93) Pray at The Lama Temple

A Tibetan buddhist temple slapped down in the middle of Beijing, the Lama Temple lures both the devoted and tourists due to its 26 meter tall statue of buddha.

My two cents: The smell of incense surrounds you and watching the faithful take on the prayer ritual or, joining in yourself, can be a calming experience in frenetic and overcrowded Beijing.

Further Info: Travel Landmark: The Lama Temple 

Experiences in China

92) Try Peking Duck

Chefs use only ducks that have been killed exactly 65 days after birth to create this deeply roasted dish that is prized for being mostly skin with little meat.

My two cents: I was too busy eating fried fruit and scorpions to make it to one of the two well known restaurants of Peking Duck: Quanjude and Bianyifang.

Photo by: Matt Kowalczyk

91) Special Section: Take a train in China

The train system in China is the envy of many countries. I place it along side that of Europe in terms of infrastructure (although the toilets are much different than in the west). The quality of trains range from the luxurious high speed trains (C, D and G), which reach speeds over 310 km an hour, to top quality sleeper trains (Z), extra fast trains (T) and fast trains (K).

My two cents: I traveled over 6,700 kilometres by train, so I feel like I got a well-rounded perspective on train travel. My preferred way to travel overnight is a bottom bunk in a soft sleeper compartment. There are only four beds in a soft sleeper, compared to six in a hard sleeper, plus the door can be shut to a soft sleeper whereas the hard sleeper is open to the hallway. The bottom bunk also allows you featured access to the lone table in the compartment and obviously better access to moving about the cabin. The hard sleeper is not really "hard," the beds are just smaller than those found in the soft sleeper and, in a pinch, the hard sleeper will do just fine. Another benefit of taking the rail system is that you can get to know your traveling companions, who almost without fail, will offer you something to eat. Return the favor; offering just a little bit goes a long ways. And accept the food, whether it's weird tofu in a slimy bag or a fresh slice of orange, its all part of the experience.

I also recommend bringing a water bottle on board for tea. Besides teas therapeutic effects, it is an effective way to sanitize water. It's also what every single local does. I never saw someone without a tea water bottle, so if you want to act like a local, bust out the nalgene or buy a specialty water bottle and get to brewing.

A great website full of information on train travel in China can be found at Seat 61.com


Things to See in China
Things to See in China
Things to See in China
Travel Experiences in China

90) Take a trip back in time at the Yungang Grottoes 

From tiny buddhas the size of matchbox cars to colossal buddhas the size of semis-trucks, the Yungang Grottoes house over 51,000 rock-carved buddhas dating as far back as the 5th century. 

My two cents: The price is a bit steep at 150 yuan, however the scale and attention to detail of these 1500 year old rock carvings will leave you in awe. 

Blog Post: The Yungang Grottoes will take you back in time

89) See the engineering Marvel of the Hanging Temple

The 1,500 year old monastery sits 50 meters in the air. The only visible supports are a few feeble wooden stilts. In reality, the monastery is supported by crossbeams that have been inserted deep into the bedrock. The stilts are mostly for show - supposedly they could be removed without threatening the structural integrity of the monastery. 

Further Information: The Hanging Monastery: History, Tolerance and Engineering

88) Eat with locals

Meals are an important social event for the Chinese and their dinning habits exude generosity. For one, food is served on communal plates. Theoretically, food should first be transferred to a bowl that sits in front of them, but don't be surprised to see people eating straight from the bowl or even scooping food onto your plate. There is, however, one place sharing is not common place - the bill. Treating and hosting others is a matter of pride and good etiquette, so you may see a small tussle between friends when it comes time to settle up. 

Blog Post: 10 Things to Know about Meal Time in China

87) See the Huayan Monastery

The Huayan Monastery is a sprawling complex of pagodas and temples. Of particular note is the Great Hall, which was the largest of the Liao or Jin Dynasties. It contains five ancient buddha statues and six meter tall frescoes. 

My two cents: At times, I felt like I was walking through Epcot center rather than a 1,000 year old monastery. Many of the buildings are completely new, only having been built in the last 5 years. Still, the statues are interesting and an impressive view can be had at the top of Huayan Pagodo (number 85).

86) View Ying Xian Wooden Pagoda

The oldest standing wood pagoda dates from the 11th century and was built at the site of Emperor Daozong of Liao's grandmother's house. It stands at an impressive 220 feet tall (67 meters). Unfortunately, you can only access the first floor.

Photo Credit: Patrick Streule

What to see in China

85) Climb The Huayan Pagoda

If you want to climb to the top of a Pagoda in Datong, try Huayan Pagoda inside the Huayan Monastery. Unlike Ying Xian Pagodo where you can only access the bottom floor, you can hike to the top of this 43 meter structure on rickety, steep stairs. It is the second largest Pagoda using mortise and tenon technique. Sitting underneath the massive structure is the Underground Hall of a Thousand Buddha that consists of over 100 tons of copper. Unfortunately, this site is inaccessible. 

101 Travel Experiences in China

84, 83) See the restored City Wall and Old Town of Datong.

Datong is currently undertaking a massive restoration of it's city wall and old town to the tune of 8 digits (according to my taxi driver). Much of the work has already been completed and Datong may be unrecognizable to some that visited only a few years ago. 

My two cents: To be honest, I'm torn. The old, crumbling city wall that had so much character has been replaced by modern structures. It pains me to see something that was so old be discarded for something that is nicer looking. Perhaps it's my western selfishness to see something authentic, as my taxi guide told me that it is undoubtedly a good thing. In the past, villagers would take parts of the wall and use it for their own construction. It was an eyesore and caused illegal behavior. Now, they have a wall they can be proud of. 

As for the old town area, as the construction is still ongoing, walking through the empty streets lined with new buildings that were made to look old had an erie feel to it. The main square is so devoid of commerce that rollerbladers use the freshly laid asphalt for morning exercise. Give this "old" town a few years, and it will certainly find a trove of tourists to fill it up. 

82) Try some Flower Dumplings

Feeling restaurant in Datong specializes in a wide variety of different dumplings, many of which look like a flower.

My two cents: I love dumplings, so this place was heaven. The only problem was, I ordered way too much. Dumplings really should accompany a main dish and I ordered about 30 dumplings in total. By the end, it was a bit too greasy. Don't get overexcited like I did. Make sure to order a variety of dishes 🙂


Hengshan North

81) Climb to the Peak of Mount Heng

Mount Heng in Shanxi is one of the five sacred mountains of China. Hiking to the top requires about 4 hours there and back. 

My Two Cents: Due to its northern location, historically pilgrims have bypassed Mount Heng for the four other more convenient sacred mountains. Although Mount Heng may not be as popular as its counterparts, she certainly has character. I met two caretakers of taoist temples on my way up who actually live on the mountain and got to take a picture with one of them. The value for money is also quite good compared to the other sacred mountains (50 yuan vs. up to 150 yuan). 

Blog Post: The Mostly Overlooked but Greatly Underestimated Mount Heng

80) Visit Henzong Hall

Built on a cliff in 1501 to enshrine a golden statue of a northern emperor, Hengzong hall is also referred to as Original Spirt Temple. Getting there though requires braving a 60 degree stone staircase (103 stairs in total). 

My Two Cents: From this location, you can take some of the best pictures of the mountain. Atmospheric trees, lanterns and the cliff off to your right provide plenty of background for a good composition. 


Things to see in China

79) See the Terracotta Warriors

Thousands of clay soldiers were built during the reign of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor to unite all the clans of China, in order to protect him in his afterlife. It is said that no two soldiers look the same. Unbelievably, the warriors remained undiscovered for over 2,000 years. They were only found by a farmer in 1974.

My two cents: The terracotta warriors have disappointed many travel blogger friends. I disagree. If you spend time learning about the history - not just looking at the statues - it's a fascinating experience. I recommend going with a tour or hiring a guide for exactly this reason. 

Blog Post: Five things you may not have known about the Terracotta Warriors

Travel Experiences in China

78) Ride on the back of a scooter

Driving in China can be a harrowing experience in and of itself. Doing it on the back of a scooter just takes it up a notch. You weave in and out of car traffic, and rejoin a mass of other silent scooters, their electric engines whisking you silently along. 

My two cents: Of all the things I did in China, riding on the back of scooter taxis was probably the most dangerous. Multiple times accidents were only narrowly avoided. Then again, an accident is only an accident if something happens - and it never did. It's a thrilling ride and a good way to see and feel a giant city like Xian. 

Adventure travel experiences in China

77) Bike the Xian city Wall

Construction of a first iteration of the wall started in 194 BC, consisting of mainly dirt and earth. Today it stands as one of the best preserved city walls in all of China, going through several renovations throughout it's 2,000 year history. One of the best ways to see the wall is on the back of a bike. 

My two cents: The wall is not only a good place to get active, it's also an outdoor museum of sorts. English explanations of important architectural achievements are provided on placards all around its 13.7 kilometer perimeter. 

More Info: Bike the Xian City Wall

Things to do in China: Bike the Xian Wall

76) Visit the Muslim quarter 

A visit to the Muslim quarter brings with it an assault on the senses. The winding streets are filled with neon lights. The vendors shout at the masses, singling out those that will make eye contact. As you move through the quarter, an evolving backdrop of aromas is with you, from freshly made Biang Biang Mian, a large flat ribbon of a noodle, to fresh fruit with persimmon. 

My two cents: It was here, strangely, in a neighborhood where middle-east meets far-east, that I felt most enveloped in China. An unhurried stroll through the district is a way to fill your senses to the brim; to get drunk without ever having a sip of alcohol. 

Things to do in China

75) Try Roujiamo

Stew some beef in its own juices and throw in 20 exotic spices. Take one heavy part fat, and light part white meat, mince it, then throw it into a "mo" (flatbread). Bam, you've got yourself a Chinese hamburger. 

My two cents: I lived off Roujiamo when I was in Xian. The spices and the mixture of fat and meat are addicting. Plus, at six yuan a pop, they are easy on the pocket book. 

74) Visit the Grand Mosque

Xian is home to 20,000 muslims and 10 mosques, however it's the Grand Mosque that gets top billing here. Built in 742 AD, the Mosque covers over 130,000 square meters. It retains almost exclusively Chinese architecture, with no minarets or domes, however it does contain arabic lettering in many areas. 

My two cents: The sprawling complex and meticulous upkeep of the Grand Mosque makes it a must see. The only negative I would point out is that the mosque itself is not viewable to non-muslims. If you've ever been to a Mosque, say, in Istanbul and have seen the lavish and intricate interior design, you will know how disappointing this is. 

Things to see in China

73) Take a look around Daxuexixiang Mosque

I popped my head in Daxuexixiang Mosque, while getting lost in the Muslim quarter. Older than the Grand Mosque (built in 702 AD), the Mosque definitely shows its age. Doors are falling off their hinges; paint is peeling from the arabic signs adorning the door frames and there is a general lack of maintenance. In such a way, it had its own messy chic appeal. Plus, its free. And for that price, its a steal. 

Places to go in Xian

72) Go knick-knack shopping on Shuyuanment Art Street

Located near the south gate of the City Wall, Shuyuanmen is one of the best preserved ancient streets in Xian. Here you can find all sorts of arts and crafts made out of jade and other exotic stones, paintings done by world class calligraphers and various other knickknacks.

My two cents: In terms of tourists, it's not as bad as you would think. The street is still very atmospheric and definitely worth walking around for a couple of hours. Also, it's a great place to test out your bargaining skills. I bargained a local shopkeeper down from 140 Yuan to 70 Yuan for two calligraphy brushes. Pretty sure she still got the better deal. 

71 & 70) Hear a musical performance at the Bell Tower or Drum Tower

The Bell tower is considered by many to be a symbol of the city (along with the Drum Tower). A Ming era relic built in 1384, it is close to 40 meters tall and contains several large brass bells. During the day, there are six musical performances at 9:10, 10:30, 11:30, 14:30, 15:30 and 16:30. If you are just looking for a photo, come back at night when the entire building is beautifully lit. 

Erected 4 years earlier than the Bell Tower, the Drum Tower got its name from a huge drum that was played every day at sunset (as opposed to the Bell Tower whose instruments were played at sunrise). A 50 yuan joint ticket will get you into both.


69) Climb Huashan

Mount Hua is a short day trip outside of Xian. Reaching the northern summit takes approximately 5 hours and requires ascending a series of steep stone staircases (like most mountains in China). Five peaks can be explored once you arrive at the summit. Mount Hua's crags and spines make for a beautiful, all be it, precipitous trek. So much so, that its been labeled the world's most dangerous hike. 

My two cents: Parts of the hike can be a bit scary, with 60 to 70 degree inclines on route, however the hike takes place on stairs with chains that you can hold on to for security. Seniors and youth also make the climb regularly, so don't be too put off by its title. If you are in shape, the trek should not be a problem. There are three steep sections - Thousand Feet Canyon, Hundred Feet Gorge and High Lord Furlow which are close to the summit. Thousand Feet Canyon and Hundred Feet Gorge can be avoided by taking a new alternate route, Qinghu Road, however you can't avoid High Lord Furlow. If you fancy getting to the top with minimal effort, there is also a gondola that takes you to the top. Once you reach the top, the view is nothing short of spectacular and there are many other adventure activities to keep your pulse racing. 

68) Walk the Plank Road in the Sky

Once you reach the northern summit via the hiking path or gondola, you can explore the beauty and attractions of the five peaks. Probably the most infamous of all the attractions is the Plank Road in the sky, located on Mount Hua's south Peak. Fifty meters of wood precariously nailed to the side of a cliff takes you on a stroll 1000 meters above a spiky mountain range below.

My two cents: I was scared shitless before doing it, but I found that once I got there, it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought. And the view, sublime. 

Blog Post: The Plank Road in the Sky: A Lesson in Overcoming Fear

67) Conquer Sparrow Hawk Flipping Over

Sparrow Hawk Flipping Over is another attraction on the top of Mount Hua's South Peak. Steps lead down into oblivion, but the harness you have on stiffens your resolve. The steps are really just holes cut in the side of a mountain and you climb more than you walk. At points, you must criss cross your legs and almost flip over to get down. Once you do, you are rewarded with a dramatic view from a lonely chess pavilion. Expect only a few other people to be on this section of the mountain. 

My two cents: I did Sparrow Hawk Flipping Over before doing the Plank Road in the Sky and I felt like it was a good warm up. Actually, I thought Sparrow Hawk was technically more difficult, it just doesn't have the same stomach dropping view as its more famous counterpart. 

Blog Post: Sparrow Hawk Flipping 

Things to do in China

66) Eat something with zucchini in it

Little red basins filled with long, ripe zucchinis can be found on the steps of every shop lining the mountain. They look fresh and crunchy. You have to try one. 

My two cents: Although staying at a hostel on top of Mount Hua wasn't the lap of luxury, the food at the restaurant was surprisingly good. After seeing the zucchini every fifty meters on the way up, I had to try one. I ordered an egg, tomato and zucchini dish and it was the best food I had in days. 

What to eat in China

65) See the Sunrise on top of Mount Hua

Classical music plays on a handheld radio brought by some industrious locals. The hues of yellow, red, orange and blue are accentuated by the surrealistic landscape of the Hua Mountain range. A hush comes over the 150 people crammed on top of the East summit. The sun's crown rises slowly above a distant mountain range to the sound of excited chatter from the onlookers. Someone tells you that this sunrise is very powerful and you can't help but agree with them.

My two cents: I stayed overnight on a bed that was really just a board with a heavy blanket on top of it with a bunch of other smelly, snoring people just to get up in the freezing dawn to witness this. And it was absolutely worth it.

64) Climb the vertical stairs. 

Near the center peak you will find a staircase carved into the rock-wall. It extends 10 meters straight up. Test your mettle and climb to the top without any support or harness.

My Two Cents: Probably the most dangerous of all of the "extreme" attractions on Huashan, the vertical stairs don't look as scary as the Plank Road, but if you lose your grip here, there are no harnesses to keep you from falling. You probably won't die, but you would most likely break some bones. 

Adventurous things to do in China

63) Lock it up

Red ribbons flow in the breeze atop the lookout spots with the finest views. Attached are locks with the names of lovers, symbolizing the eternity of their commitment. 

My two cents: Do it (you can buy locks on top of the mountain for 20 yuan). Then draw a map to the location and tell your future children to find it. 

Adventurous things to do in China


62) Wonder where the Zen is at the Yuyuan gardens

In theory, this is a quiet and reflective place, cordoned off from the main bustle of downtown Shanghai, where one can sit and reflect amidst grotesque yet beautiful stones, shimmering pools filled with koi and towering gingko biloba trees.

My two cents: The garden is filled with interesting flora, architecture and stones celebrated for their unique grotesqueness (something that I came to appreciate as beautiful during my time in China), but you're kidding yourself if you think you will find a secluded and peaceful spot. Tourist hoards comb the area thoroughly for the most beautiful locations. Go, but set your expectations accordingly.

Things to see in China

61) See the Cold war from a different perspective at the propaganda museum

In the basement of a residential building not far from the French Quarter, quietly sits hundreds of propaganda posters from China's communist era. Prominently featured are Mao Ze Dong, Joseph Stalin, Fidel Castro and the "Paper Tiger" version of the USA.    

My two cents: Nationalistic propaganda is usually a one way street. While growing up in the US during the 80s, whenever communism was discussed, it was usually done with a side of vinegar. A trip to the Chinese Propaganda museum offers a unique lens to the cultural attitudes and political objectives of China at that time. A real eye opener. 

Things to do in China

60) Get day drunk at a Chinese wedding 

Get up early, weddings in China start at lunch time and a Chinese wedding is all about the food. Plate after plate of exotic dishes - octopus, black pickled eggs, stinky tofu, steamed lobster the size of a nightstand - rush past on your table's lazy suzanne at breakneck speed. Music blares, spotlights shine, bai jao is heftily consumed and in a flash, its over. A wam, bam thank you mam experience that will leave you fat around the belly and day drunk.

My two cents: I never felt more welcome, never so well looked after and definitely never so well fed at a wedding before; easily my fondest memory of my 40 days in China. Thanks Allen! 

Things to do in Shanghai

59) Roam Tiger Hill 

Tiger hill is a hodge-pog of attractions. Here you can find a seven story leaning pagoda, a rock said to have been split by a sword of legendary sharpness, a tranquil garden of bonsai, ponds filled with orange carp and taoist temples overflowing with fruit. 

My two cents: What is it about China that is so different? How can one encapsulate the culture, feelings and attitudes of a nation? Not easily is the simple answer. Like China, Tiger Hill it is not easily definable; you can't slot it neatly into a tourist cubby hole, which is what I found most interesting about it. 

Travel Experiences in China

58) Fall asleep on a boat ride

Tourists can take a sleepy ride along the perimeter of Tiger hill. 

My two cents: More of a moat than a canal or river, this body of water is as unexciting as it gets. After exiting Tiger Hill, resist the urge to rest your legs on the boat and use them to keep on walking past this tired tourist attraction. 

Travel Experiences in China

57) Take a stroll through the humble administrator's garden

A UNESCO heritage site tracing its roots from the 12th century, this garden is considered by some to be the most beautiful garden in southern China. It is home to small chess pavilions, zigzagging paths, peaceful lakes and a small museum.

My two cents: I preferred this garden to Yuyuan. Still not "quiet" (really with 1.2 billion people in a country, its hard to find secluded), the larger space makes the garden feel less congested than Yuyuan. 

Things to see in China

56 & 55) A drink with a view at Cloud 9 or Aura 

Order an expensive cocktail (about 20 dollars) and enjoy a view that's worthy of the indulgence. 

My two cents: You can go up into the space needle or the Shanghai World Financial Center and get a panoramic view as well, but for about the same price, you can head into a hotel bar, have a drink, maybe listen to a little music and relax in a fat, leather chair. Cloud 9 is located on the 87th floor of the Grand Hyatt and perhaps the view is a bit better. Still I enjoyed Aura Jazz bar at the Ritz Carlton more due to its live music and classy decor. 

Things to do at night in Shanghai

54) Underground ride from Bund to Padong

An underground gondola takes you through a lighted tunnel from the Bund to Padong. 

My two cents: Overpriced. This "ride" caters to the stupid (me) and extremely lazy. Take the metro. 

Things not to do in China


Things to See in China

53) Meet some monks at the Shaolin Temple

Kung Fu monks mill about the complex in their blue overcoats. The monastery, which is considered the origin of Zen Buddhism, actually gets it's name from the peak at which base it sits - Shaoshi. Only 10 percent of the original monastery remains due to a fire set by a warlord in 1928 and further damage done by the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. 

My two cents: The most touristy of all attractions in Shaolin isn't without its charm (just ask Mike Tyson or Robert Downy Jr. whose names grace a giant stone pillar in the front courtyard). My suggestion is to strike up a conversation with a monk. They are the real jewel to this place, not the buildings. 

Travel Experiences in China

52) Stroll around the Pagoda Forrest

There are more than 270 Pagodos located a stones throw from Shaolin Temple. The large stone structures, ranging in height from a couple feet to seven stories, are actually tombstones and carry with them calligraphy and art that dates all the way back to the 8th century. 

My two cents: Most tourists walk around the front of the forrest and never make it to the back. Less crowded and with an elevated view, the back of the forrest is where you can take better pictures. 

Things to see in Shaolin

51) Hike to the top of Wuru Peak

Steps - lots of them - lead to the top of Wuru Peak, where a giant fat Buddha stares down into the valley. The hike up only takes about an hour or two. 

My two cents: Don't miss The Bodhidharma Cave located three quarters of the way up the mountain. Inside, notice an indentation on the rock face. Supposedly, the shadow of Bodhidharma caused the indentation as the patriarch of Chan Buddhism sat facing the wall praying for nine years straight. I can hardly sit still long enough to type this sentence.... 

Travel Experiences in China

50) Take a kungfu lesson

There is a kungfu academy located 500 meters from the Shaolin Temple (the same location that you can see the Kung Fu show). If you fancy, you can take a lesson from a kung fu student or master. 

My two cents: Four hours cost me 200 yuan. I didn't receive my training from a master, but then again, when you are a beginner, you probably don't need it. This guy was badass, and the private training was enough to motivate me to take up the martial art when I returned home. The hostel I stayed at offered lessons as well, however two hours cost 300 yuan. The school is located on the left hand side of the academy complex. If you can't find it, just ask around and someone will point you in the right direction. They will train you in whatever you want, including weapons.  

Travel Experiences in China

49) Take in the kung fu show

A ticket to a 30 minute kung fu show is included in the price of your ticket to the Shaolin Temple. 

My two cents: Audience participation ads a humorous element to the show, but make no mistake, these guys are badass. The guy in the picture to the right threw a nail through a piece of glass to pop a balloon on the other side. 

Things to do in China

48) Take in some back alley Kungfu fighting

Most people stay a short bus ride away from Shaolin in Dengfeng, however it's possible to stay at the base of Shaoshi at the Kungfu Hostel. In this small town (I don't even know the name) students practice everyday. Sometimes they adorn boxing gloves and beat the crap out of each other. 

My two cents: Every morning I awoke to the sound of kids not older than 8 practicing diligently. Staying here is a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture. Be warned though, there are not many restaurants in the area and those that are here, don't have english menus. But hey, that's part of the fun 🙂


Things to do In China
Things to do in China
Things to See in China

47) Hike off path at Shaoshishan and try to find the summit

Songshan is considered the central sacred mountain by Taoist Chinese. Each of the five sacred mountains represents an element. Songshan occupies the axis directly underneath heaven and represents the element of earth (tu). There are two main summits in the Songshan mountain range, Shaoshishan (at the base of which sits the Shaolin Temple) and Taishishan. Shaoshi is taller at 1512m, however reaching the summit is tricky here. After the Pagoda Forrest you can take a cable car up to the Erzu Nunnery (or you can hike like I did), which contains four wells of water, each with a distinct taste (sour, sweet, pepper and bitter). However, don't be fooled, you are far from the summit.

My Two Cents: After reaching Erzu Nunnery, I set off in search of the summit. After climbing some stairs, jumping over some boulders and following the trash of earlier hikers (the area is not maintained), I met some young Chinese students blowing bubbles off a cliff. They warned me not to venture any further due to the bad weather. There are absolutely no sign posts to find the summit. I wish you better luck than I had! 

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46) See the suspension bridge and cliff side path at Sanhuangzhai

In the same area as Shaoshishan is the geological park named Sanhuangzhai, reachable by cable car or an arduous hike. At the top you will find a suspension bridge and a cliff side path (with handrails) over precipitous terrain. Unfortunately, the bridge and cliff side path were closed when I visited. 

Photo Credit: Little Ram

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Things to see in Changsha
Things to see in China

45) Inhale fresh air at Hunan Martys memorial park

Martys memorial park is considered a natural "oxygen bar"; the Chinese government reports the air quality is of "level 1 national standard", whatever that means. Inside the park you will find a lake, many secluded chess pavilions, 326 vegetable species and a memorial to over 100 Hunan Revolutionary Martyrs. 

My Two Cents: Find some noodles and a hidden chess pavilion for a leisured lunch. The park is truly an oasis of green in a sea of concrete.

Things to see in Changsha

44) Wander around Mao Zedong memorial museum

The Museum contains: 89 engravings of Mao Zedongs poems and antithetical couplets, a giant statue of the leader, an exhibition hall and the leader's former residence during his revolutionary years.

My Two Cents: It's interesting to see another side of the oft labeled despot (as the west sees him) and the myth and legend that the Chinese view him as. Mao's humble home brings the "great leader" down to a tangible level for the people. Still, the giant statue and 5 meter painting adorned to the exhibition hall loom large; a reminder that Mao's ideology still holds currency here. 

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43) Eat at the largest restaurant in China

An imposing complex of 5.8 hectares, the West Lake Restaurant in Changsha employs over 1,000 people and serves 700 chickens and 2,600 pounds of pork every week.  

My Two Cents: Arriving at the restaurant is a bit disorienting. It's more of a combination of restaurants and structures rather than one actual brick and mortar location. I had no idea where to eat, so I wondered down an alleyway and found a "place" (read restaurant) that had a space for coals inside the table to keep the food warm. The food was good, but nothing special. I will say, however, that the complex itself is quite staggering. Wandering around the little lakes that shine green from colored lights and the numerous massive, columned halls is worth the trip itself. 

Things to Eat in China

42 & 41) Visit the Yuelu Academy and hike to the top of Yuelu Mountain

Established in 976 AD, the Yuelu Academy has a rich history and is today one of the most prestigious universities in all of China. After a peaceful stroll around the temples and courtyards of the Academy, most people make the hike up the mountain bearing the same name.

My Two Cents: Since I was planning on hiking Mount Heng the following day, I didn't make it to the Yuelu area. That being said, I found Changsha a charming university city, if that can be said about a huge Chinese metropolis. At a local Starbucks, I was engaged by two exuberant university students. We discussed many topics at length from the cultural revolution to the great firewall of China. If you are looking for a city where you can engage with educated locals, you could do much worse than Changsha.  

Photo Credit: PatrickHe

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Hengshan South

Travel Experiences in China
Travel Experiences in China
Travel Experiences in China
Things to See on Mont Heng

40) Pray at the Grand Temple of Mount Heng (Nanyue Temple)

The Grand Temple was first constructed between the 6th and 8th century. The sprawling complex covers over 120,000 square meters and was most recently rebuilt in 1882 following the layout of the Forbidden city in Beijing. Standing at 22 meters tall, the most impressive structure is the main hall. Inside, 72 pillars support the hall, which is a reference to the 72 peaks of Mount Heng. If you are going to hike Hengshan, stop here, light some green incense (as the sign at the entrance says "Green incense is always preferred)" and get ready for a long hike a head of you.

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39) Get lost in fairyland (Buddhist Sound Valley)

The first stop on your 12 km hike up Hengshan is Buddhist Sound Valley. A stone path follows a gurgling creek deep into the forrest, sporadically finding waterfalls, chess pavilions and the occasional bridge.

My Two cents: Most sacred mountains are rife with two things: Stairs and Tourists. In Buddhist sound valley, there are little of either (if you can't tell already, I like my hikes devoid of vast swathes of people). This was easily one of the most serene parts of any sacred mountain I hiked. The area is not very well signed, so you may get lost (like I did). No worries. You're next stop is Martyr's Shrine. Find a local and point to it on the map. He'll send you in the right direction. 

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38) Reflect at Martyr's Shrine

After hiking 4 kilometers in Buddhist Sound Valley, you will eventually find yourself at a shrine for the Chinese that fought against the Japanese occupation in World War II. 

My Two Cents: Outside you will find a slightly out of place sculpture of five rockets. Inside, you will find pictures and corresponding text in Mandarin. Although you will have no idea what is going on, you might as well walk through it. The choices are either asphalt road or this shrine, so you might as well have a look.

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37) Wander through Rock Passing Poetry Forrest

50 Poems from the Tang and Song dynasty are inscribed on giant boulders. 

My Two Cents: Again, this is all in Mandarin, so culture-wise this is not going to do you much good. Still, the entire area is like a maze, and many of the boulders have a beautiful view to go along with the indecipherable words. 

Things to see on Mount Heng

36) Have tea at the famous tea garden

Yanxia tea yard receives more than 240 days of fog every year, an ideal climate for growing tea. 

My Two Cents: Due to a time crunch (it takes 8 hours to make the hike), I couldn't stop for tea. If you have time, I imagine it would be a nice place to recharge. The view of the fog and terraced tea plants seem to fit dreamily into the mountain. 

What to drink in China

35) Strap on some Twine Booties

As you approach Zhurong summit, the weather takes a nasty turn. Icicles form on the buds of branches, the fog is as thick as a moonless night and the steps are glazed with ice. One wrong step and you can end up a statistic in the People's Republic of China.

My Two Cents: Luckily, the Chinese invented these little twine booties that fit over your shoes. Although they're not quite crampons, they do provide just enough grip to give you a sense of security. 

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34) Climb the icy stairs to the top

Now that you have your stylish twine booties on, you are ready to ascend Zhurong peak. Hiking in winter may be a treacherous ordeal, but the charm of the forrest provides some motivation to forge ahead. Icicles will form around everything, both the living and the inanimate.

My Two Cents: Up high on the sacred mountain, with nature at its most brutal, you feel strangely connected to it.  

Blog Post: Why you should hike Mount Heng (Hint: it's kind of beautiful)

Things to do in China

33) Savor the deliciousness of spicy beef

After making it up and down Hengshan successfully, you will want to fill your belly with something hot and spicy. Spicy beef please introduce yourself. 

My Two Cents: Lord please! is all I have to say. I was cold, tired and wet, but this hot dish filled with spicy green and red peppers and marinated beef filled my belly with deliciousness. 

Things to eat in China
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Nature in China
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Monkeys in China

32) Hike Zhangjiajie National Park

Although similar in stature to the Karst Mountains in South China, the pillars in Zhangjiajie are made out of a unique physical weathering phenomenon not out of a chemical process. The trails are well laid out and infrastructure is quite good on the mountain (there is even a McDonalds if you can believe it). 

My two cents: You can knockout a good portion of the highlights in one day, if you don't mind taking the crowded bus around. If you like hiking, then two days should be sufficient to see the major highlights and three will cover everything you need to see here. 

31) Battle Monkeys 

At the entrance to Zhangjiajie you will find monkeys roaming freely. 

My Two Cents: They may look cute, but these monkeys are not to be trifled with. If you turn your back on them with a piece of food in your hand, consider it gone... along with a finger if your not careful. Seriously, these guys are ruthless. I had one follow me for a half a kilometer, eyeing my delicious fried potatoes. I had to keep turning around and throwing my hands ominously in the air while making idle threats about his monkey-hood so that he wouldn't get too close. 

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30) Tiambo Mansion

After winding around exposed rock faces, slinking through small crevices sideways and climbing up a rickety, metal ladder you will find yourself with a gorgeous view of canyon littered with pointed rock formations.

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29) Gaze at the inspiration for Avatars Hallelujah Mountain

In former times - before the movie - this particular column was called Heaven and Earth Column. Due to the success of a little movie by James Cameron, the people with power at Zhanjiajie have renamed this formation as “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain." There is even erected a nifty little Ikran dragon sculpture for photo op purposes.

My Two Cents: The most crowded part of the park is still a must see... If only to tell your friends back home that you saw the inspiration for Avatar. 

Places to hike in China

28) Spot the Fairy throwing flowers

The mountain is filled with interesting rock formations... and for Chinese that means it's time to anthropomorphize. Can you spot the Fairy throwing flowers in this photo?

My Two Cents: You have to have a keen eye to discover many of the formations. Most of time I just sat there with a stupid look on my face until I gathered the nerve to ask a Chinese tourist to point out the corresponding formation. A great way to interact with other travellers on the trail.  

Travel Experiences in China


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Travel Experiences in China
Things to do in China

27) Visit Guandi Temple

Dedicated to the Taoist protector of peace, Guandi, this temple features old worshiping and performance halls, a stone that is said to "bring the clouds" and twisting scholar trees said to be a thousand years old.

My Two Cents: Not polished like many temples in China, Guandi retains its charm through authenticity rather than opulence. Walking beneath the knotty scholar trees makes one feel small within the hourglass of time. 

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26 & 25) Treasure hunt: Find the Confucius Stone and the one Scholar tree still alive

On your four hour hike to the top, stop first at the Geoheritage Scenic area to see odd radial rock formations. Legend has it that Confusious sat on one rock in particular. Using the information from a stone tablet placed in the general vicinity of the rock, see if you can spot which one it is. 

The next task, should you choose to accept it, is to find the one remaining Scholar tree still alive. Legend has it that Emperor Cheng Yaojin planted 4 scholar trees way back in the 7th century and only one remains alive.

My Two Cents: It took me a good 2o minutes to find the Confusious rock and I'm still not even sure I got the right one. As for the Scholar tree, I found two out of three dead ones, but the live one escaped me. See if you can do better. 

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24) Light incense at Doumu Palace

Built in 1542 under the more dramatic name Dragon Spring Temple, Doumu Palace features a quiet view of a triple waterfall out back and a famous scholar tree out front.

My Two Cents: A charming temple that provides a secret view of the waterfalls for those in the know. 

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23) Hike the Path of 18 Bends

If you've ever seen a picture of Taishan, chances are it was of its iconic stairs that seem to stretch to heaven.

My Two Cents: Walking the 7,000 stone stairs can be a tiring endeavor. Expect to see people sitting down to rest their wary legs. Lonely Planet claims that the stairs are nearly vertical, however that's not really true. At the most, they are 70 degrees 🙂 (In any case, not as steep as Huashan's stairs).

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22) Reach the Summit of Taishan

An entire village can be found at the top off Taishan and there are numerous famous sites including: Confucius Temple, Qindi Palace, Jade Emperor temple and North Pointing Rock -the best spot to see the sunrise in the morning. 

My two cents: Taishan is considered the most sacred mountain in all of china, but for my money, the experience on Huashan was better. I think most western tourists will feel this way, mainly because the sacred mountains are not ingrained into our culture like it is to the Chinese. In a beauty contest, Huashan makes Taishan seem like a plain Jane. 


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That's China for ya
Things to do in China

21) Stay in a riverside bungalow 

Stilted buildings made of wood rise feebly above the Tuo Jiang River. These buildings are home to apartments, bars and hotels.

My Two Cents: The rooms charm you. You wake up with tea in the morning while wooden canoes that barely rise out of the water drift by. But you must check the condition of the room first and always negotiate a little bit. To get an idea of pricing go to a couple of different purveyors before choosing your location. Aim for a 20 percent discount. Those who are early to bed may want to seek accommodations elsewhere, the nightlife from across the river doesn't stop until after midnight or later. 

Where to Stay in Fenghuang

20) Take a ride on a river boat

Entrance into the old town costs 148 Yuan, however the price includes a ride on a small boat and access to ten attractions. You can also sneak in through some alleyways if you are only here for a day. 

My two cents: Nothing too exciting, although it does give you a different vantage point for photos. 

Things NOT to do in Fenghuang

19) Have a coffee at the cat and dog cafe 

Little kittens and a golden retriever will nestle up to you while you drink a latte. 

My Two Cents: I'm a sucker for animals, so I loved this place. The coffee was good, but expensive, which is no surprise in China considering that this is the land of tea. Hipster vibe included. 

Places to eat in Fenghuang

18) See the cultural and historical buildings of Fenghuang (especially that of Huang Yongyu)

Provided with the through ticket, one can see up to 10 different historical sites including the East Gate tower, Yang Family Ancestral Hall, Hong Bridge upper gallery, Former Home of Shen Congwen, Wanshou Temple, Gucheng Museum, Huang Yongyu gallery and the Phoenix Natural Scenic Spot. 

My Two Cents: Some of the sites are quite boring, however I enjoyed the work of Huang Yongyu thourghly. His gallery and the Phoenix Natural Scenic Spot (which he designed) are a place where creativity abounds.

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17) Taking period specific photos

Back in the day, Fenghuang was known as a wild west town of sorts. Touts will fleece you with offers to take pictures while you carry a period specific rifle and don a stupid cap. 

My Two Cents: Look at you, man. Just look at yourself! 

Things NOT to do in Fenghuang

16 & 15) Try compressed almond cookies and a spicy hotpot dish

Being a tourist town, Fenghuang does not disappoint on the culinary side of things. Hot Pots (spicy stews made of various meats and vegetables) and cookies made with almonds are especially popular here. 

My two cents: You have to try the cookies made with compressed almonds. The machine that makes them looks like something out of a steampunk novel. Oh, and they are always made fresh, so you get to see the kickass machine in action.

Blog post: If you are looking to go outside your comfort zone, try pickled fish in Miao Ethnic Style.

Things to eat in Fenghuang


14)  Wander the Potala Palace in Lhasa

Until the 14th Dali Lama fled to India in the 1959 Tibeten uprising, the Potala Palace was the chief residence of the Dali Lama. Today, it is considered a world heritage site and, from it's lofty perch 900 feet above the valley floor, it boasts more than 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and 200,000 statues.

Photo: Boqiang Liao

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13) Walk the glass plank road on Tianmen Mountain

If you felt inspired by the plank road in the sky, but prefer to have a railing between you and oblivion, than the glass path on Tianmen Mountain maybe for you. The mountain itself is quite a looker, with perhaps the most wind-ey road in the world and a keyhole cut through the mountainside, which some crazy people have flown through in wing suits. Tianmen Mountain is located near Zhangjiajie, so it's natural to double up on the attractions (Unfortunately, it was closed for maintenance when I went).

Photo: Jacques Beaulieu

Travel Experiences in China

12) Trek through Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger Leaping gorge is one of the largest canyons in the world. The distance between the river and the highest peak is some 3790 meters (12434 feet). A 22 kilometer trek around the gorge affords one spectacular views.

Quote from Ytravelblogs.com's piece called "Hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge in China"

The dramatic scenery and relaxed hike along the high path through the rural villages of the Naxi minority people make this a very enjoyable travel adventure to have in China.

Photo: Travel Freak

Travel Experience in China

11) Make a pilgrimage hike to Mount Kailash 

Although the truly devote make the trip in one day, most hike the 32 mile base of Mount Kailash in three days. A pilgrimage trek around this sacred mountain is said to erase the sins of a lifetime. 

Photo: ccdoh1

Blog Post: Spiritual Center of the Universe: Mount Kailash

Things to do in China

10) Get spiritual at Mount Wutai

Mount Wutai is one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in China. Also a Unesco heritage site, there are 41 temples here, although visiting them all, would probably take you a week. Don't miss the East Main Hall, the highest surviving timber building from the Tang dynasty, which contains life size clay figures. Good hiking can be found in these parts, although many tourists start at the top of the mountain via cable car and descend downwards in order to save some strain on their legs. I say go against the grain and hike to the top! 

Photo: llee_wu

Blog Post: In Photos: Wutaishan Scenic Area, Shanxi, China

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9) Hike Huangshan (Yellow Mountain)

A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Yellow Mountains are known for peculiarly shaped granite peaks, hot springs, pine trees and some top notch quality tea. 

Quote from walkflypinoy.com's piece called Guide to Traveling to Huangshan, China

Day trippers coming from Tangkou or Tunxi have a full-day's trek through Huangshan Scenic Area if they want to make it down the mountain before dark. It can be very tiring and unnecessarily quick that you may not get to enjoy the place. That is why it is recommended to stay a night or two in a hotel up in the mountain.

Photo: Tauno Tõhk / 陶诺

Things to see in China

8) Explore Dragon's Backbone Terraces

The multi-tiered rice terraces are said to look similar to the backbone of a dragon. First built over 650 years ago, the multi level agricultural area is a photographers wet-dream. 

Photo: Julie Laurent

Things to see in China

7) See the Grand Buddha of Leshan

The Grand Buddha in Leshan is the largest stone Buddha in the world, sitting at 71 meters tall. Construction began in 713 by a monk named Haitong in an effort to calm the tumultuous waters of Minjian, Dadu and Qingi, at the confluence of which the Buddha sits.

Photo: Xavi

Things to see in China

6) Get lost in the ancient charm of Pingyao

The vision of a traditional China, rickety wood temples, tiny alleys and ancient storefronts with red lanterns hung out front, come to life in Pingyao. It also boasts one of the best preserved city walls anywhere. 

Photo: Martin Long

Blog Post: A step back in time into the ancient city of Pingyao 

Places to see in China

5) Do some Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a Chinese Martial Art that is known not only for its defensive properties but also for its health benefits. If you wonder around a Chinese park long enough, no doubt you will see a crowd practicing, slow and methodical Tai Chi routines. 

My Two Cents: While doing research on Tai Chi, I found out that it can loosely be translated into "Supreme Ultimate Fist." How awesome is that?  

Photo: leniners

Things to do in China

4) Jiuzhaigou National Park

Jiuzhaigou is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in western China. It's colorful lakes, snowcapped mountains and multi-tiered waterfalls make it a popular with nature lovers. 

Quote from saporedicina.com's piece called "Jiuzhaigou - Planning a trip to the gem of northern Sichuan"

In my eyes, a visit to Jiuzhaigou is rewarding almost any time during the year, with a few exceptions. The most popular time is the autumn months of September and October.

Be warned that during the Chinese National Day, which occurs the first week of October, the population of Jiuzhaigou explodes. 

Photo: oarranzli

Things to see in China

3) Visit Kashgar's Markets

There are over 20 different bazars located in this multicultural city. The Uighur, a Turkic-Muslim group that is an ethnic minority group everywhere else in China, is the group that dominates the city. One of the most popular attractions of the city is seeing the ethnic markets here, and one of the most interesting is that of the animal markets held on the east gate of the city. 

Quote from Uncorneredmarket.com's piece called "Disappearing Donkeys: Kashgar on the Edge of a Developing China"

From 7AM, the entrance to the market was besieged by herds and animal carts. By 9AM, the market inside exhibited a time-tested organization: camels at the entrance, donkeys in the back, sheep and goats in the middle, and a “test-drive” area for horses off to the side.

Photo: La Priz

Travel Experiences in China

2) Stand slightly confused at the Watchtowers of Kaiping

A mixture of Moorish, Chinese and European styles, these Dialou were built in early 20th century by returning Chinese immigrants from the US, Canada, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Half residence, half guard tower to protect against bandits, only approximately 1800 of the 3,000 originally built structures are still standing today. Today they are protected under UNESCO. 

An excerpt from David's piece titled Ancient watchtowers of Kaiping:

Some of the villagers looked as old as the buildings themselves and I wondered what stories they would tell if I could communicate with them. While the changes in China’s big cities have been enormous out here in the countryside life is still fairly basic.

Photo: Payton Chung

Places to see in China

1) Visit the Giant Panda Breeding base in Chengdu

Pandas are endemic to south central China. Perhaps the cutest of all Bears, this threatened species only numbers in the thousands in the wild. A trip to the breeding base in Chengdu is a rather unexpected experience. 

An excerpt from Borders of Adventure's piece titled Pandas in Chengdu: The Giant Panda breed base

In my mind I had imagined an oversized zoo, with a few cages and uninviting box rooms scattered here and there full of pandas looking less than pleased with their lives of captivity and where tourists still found it a wonderful sight regardless – much like the pandas I saw at Ocean Park in Hong Kong. 

Instead I spent hours wandering around what seemed like a never-ending open space of perfectly landscaped, dense green forest and beautiful park land. This is no zoo, but a huge conservation base spanning 7,000 square metres. 

Photo: claire rowland


Travel Experiences in China
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