This was an intimidating destination for me. I’m not sure why but the idea of traveling to China just seemed so foreign and so different. Just the visa process alone was enough to make me second guess it. But it was also going to be great because one of my best friends is from China and she was going to be meeting me there. So I headed out on a 15 hour flight to Beijing with only a vague idea of what I was getting myself into.
However, I quickly found that I was ridiculously excited to be there and it was not nearly as intimidating as I thought it would be. Once you hit the ground and realize that Google, Facebook and YouTube are off-limits, the culture shock does hit you. But on a day-to-day basis, China is not as different as we make it out to be.
I flew into Beijing, which is a great place to start. My hostel was walking distance to the Forbidden City. This is a worth a stop. I dedicated most of the morning to it and spent the rest of the day at the park which tops the hill overlooking the forbidden city. It costs around $17 for admission. It’s best to get there early if you want to enjoy it before it gets crowded. I was surprised here because Chinese tourists kept stopping me to take pictures. Since I am a girl who travels alone, I’m not exactly the type of character you think is going to steal your camera so I get asked to take photos for people a lot. But no, this time, they wanted to take pictures with me. I thought that was something that only happened in India but apparently its in China too.
Jinghsan Park was my first park in China and it was cool to see how active people are. There were Tai Chi classes and hacky sack as well as some local music which was….. interesting.
The next day I was off to see the Great Wall which I wrote about here. It’s seriously, just as amazing as you ever thought it could be. I also went out with a group from my hostel in Beijing and ate Peking duck and went bar hopping in the Hutongs. Its incredible really, two days in Beijing and you can see all that. It just barely scratches the surface of all that there is.
The next day, I was already on a high-speed train to Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors. The train travel in China is an experience in itself. I really enjoyed it but you also need to be prepared for it before you go. It’s different from other countries and difficult to navigate but I have some good tips here. Spending 5 hours on a train, driving through China totally opened my eyes to how fast this country is developing and how big the environmental issues here actually are.
Seeing the Terracotta Warriors was impressive. The site spans 3 enormous pits, each of which are enclosed to protect the excavation. You go to see them and the grounds surrounding, led by an English-speaking tour guide.
My last stop in China was to see my friend Mylie in Shanghai. Mylie is one of my favorite people so seeing the city with her was definately a highlight for me. I got to stay with her family as well and get a better feel for what life in China is actually like.
Shanghai is an incredible city. But you have to realize, most cities in China are mind boggling compared to cities at home. They are just so enormous by comparison and are changing so fast that it opened my mind to a totally different concept of what it means to be a developing nation. China is decades behind in rural areas and forging ahead in the cities.
All in all, China was a totally eye-opening experience for me. I was surprised by it in a lot of ways. I also really enjoyed it. I thought it would be much more stressful to travel through than it was. The people are also completely endearing and so different culturally. It is not usual t have your weight commented on at dinner or your salary brought up as a topic of discussion. It’s also fine to push back if people push you on the subway, no one gets offended. You are expected to be pushy when negotiating and waiting in lines. If you get that straight, it’s going to be fun.