He Said/She Said: China Favorites

He Said/She Said: China Favorites

China is a huge country and the place we have spent the most time thus far, 3 months, so what were our favorite places?  Where would we recommend others visit and what places would we go back to?  Here are our top China picks.

HE SAID…

China is the country most like the USA in the world.  They are almost exactly the same size, offering beaches, mountains, tropics, deserts, and everything in-between.  They both have modern, forward thinking, cities and small towns that seem to resent the cities.  For all we know, towns in China may even refer to themselves as “real China” as has been suggested about the backwaters of America.  Due to this it is hard to pick a favorite thing in China.

Just as comparing the Grand Canyon with New York City, in a country so big, with so many different things, comparisons aren’t fair.  Here are some of my “highlights”: Shangri-La, Datong, and Lijiang.  I must add that Shenzhen and Shanghai are perfectly great cities, they have everything a Westerner may want, great food, comfortable hotels, are clean and nice.  If I were to live in China, I would want to live in one of these two cities.

The Tiger Leaping Gorge path, between Shangri-La and Lijiang, follows a sheer wall along the river.

Shangri-La and Lijiang, are gorgeous “old-towns” in the South of China.  They are small, Tibetan-influenced, towns with snowy Himalayan peaks rising above them.  Lijiang suffers from the “Chinese Tour Bus Syndrome”, where dozens of tour buses, packed with Chinese tourists, descend on it daily, crowding the tiny alleys while carelessly walking, littering and spitting everywhere.  The great thing about these tourists though is that they never leave the main roads…just go a little off to a side to escape the crowds.  Shangri-La on the other hand has fewer tourists, but also has less to do.  It has a great monastery that is a must see if you aren’t going to make it to Tibet, and a calm atmosphere that lends itself to resting.  The highlight of both cities is hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the deepest and most scenic gorges in the world.  Before and after the hike you can enjoy one of China’s best hamburgers at N’s Kitchen conveniently located in both cities.

The head of Buddha at the Yungang Grottoes in Datong.

Datong is a traditional stop on the Silk Road.  As Buddhism traveled north, through Datong, the pilgrims and evangelists carved huge Buddhas into the cliffs near Datong.  These have withstood everything China has endured in the last 1400 years to stand proudly, still showing some of the original paint.  Best of all, they are being well preserved and cherished with a brand new, top quality, museum and visitor center.  As high-speed train lines are built it will only be 3 hours or so from Beijing, making this a must see on tourist itineraries.

China is a wonderful place.  Travel is actually easy compared with many countries.  There are daily communication struggles, but it is worth it.  If I were to advise anyone considering going to China I would make one suggestion: go South.  The north, Xi’an and Beijing, is an overcrowded, smog-covered catastrophe.  The beauty of China is in the South, with mountains, smaller towns, Panda bears, blue skies and relaxed pace.

SHE SAID…

The Lonely Planet China guide outlines an itinerary of China’s “superlatives” with an aggressive schedule taking over a month.  With so many amazing places to see in China and the diversity of sights it’s hard to pick one favorite, but there are definitely a few places that stood out for me in our three months in China.  I loved tramping through the rice terraces in Yuanyang, watching the pandas in Chengdu and joining the pilgrims in Tibet while taking in the mountain scenery.

Sunrise over the Yuanyang rice terraces

Yuanyang rice terraces made my short list of China favorites because it was the only place in China where we didn’t have to fight any crowds.  Not only was it quiet and devoid of Chinese tour groups it is gorgeous.  I imagine this is what Sapa, Vietnam would have been like in the right season.  The green and yellow terraced rice paddies set in a wide valley and dotted with colorful villages is a beautiful sight.  We were also happy to see blue skies during our time in the small town of Duoyishu. The hospitality of our hostel owner, an older Chinese woman whom cooked all of our meals and is affectionately known simply as “Auntie” made our stay all that more enjoyable.

The pandas in Chengdu were a surprise highlight for me as I couldn’t get over how funny they were as they ate their bamboo breakfast.  The Panda Breeding Center was fascinating, providing a detailed history of the panda’s decline and the complications of mating them to bring back the panda from the brink of extinction.  As I mentioned the pandas themselves are highly entertaining and absolutely adorable as long as you catch them when they’re awake early in the morning.

A young Buddhist making the Barkhor circuit doing full-body prostrations around the entire one kilometer circle. Notice the dirt on his forehead from putting his head to the ground.

If I were pressed to name just one favorite for China it would have to be Tibet.  The stunning mountain scenery, turquoise lakes and devoted spiritual pilgrims made Tibet magical.  I loved getting up early and walking the Barkhor circuit with the pilgrims in Lhasa and the road trip to Mt. Everest is not one I will soon forget.  To top it off we shared this experience with Bob, an Irish gentleman we met in Beijing that became a quick friend.

After traveling over 11,000 kilometers in China and visiting 20+ cities I still have many more places I would like to see.  However, if and when we return I hope that we can go back to some of our favorite places.

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Comments

» Mom A :
Oct 12, 2011

When we were in China,I loved the magic of the Yangtze River, the entirely different view of the countryside from a river, and the feeling often of being in a traditional Chinese scroll painting. But I would go back again to see more of the beauties IN the countryside in the south of China as you recommend. Glad I got to see more of that through your camera lens! Shanghai would be my pick, too, over Beijing for the city experience. But what I must say, more than anything else, is that – no matter how much I read, both historical fiction and types of non-fiction, I could not begin to understand China until I was there. Now I have only begun, but from a better vantage point.

While traveling in China from place to place could be challenging and tiring, it will be interesting to see how traveling from country to country more frequently compares!

Safe and joyful travels!

LOCAVORista Reply:

Mom, thanks for sharing your favorites- it has been fun to hear more about your trip as we travelled through China. It definitely is a place you have to visit to wrap your head around and a place we would really recommend for all travelers. We’re looking forward to “island hopping” but did enjoy relaxing on trains throughout China as well as catching up on our reading.

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LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.

About the Author
LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.
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