Most people who travel to China do so with a single or double entry tourist visa, which gives you 30 days of travel time on each entry. So usually you will end up spending 30 days or so in China. Geography lesson: China is huge and if you think you can see it all in 30 days you will quickly realise this is not the case. Take Europe as a comparison and you will see exactly what we mean. China’s landmass is close to that of continental Europe and it wouldn’t be too realistic to see all of Europe in 30 days. So what can you see in 30 days?
We first travelled in China 7 years ago. As for many others, we started our China planning with the question what do we want to see and do. For us, the focus of our trip was to get close to the locals, the varieties of food and the culture of different regions. Similarly we had to make hard choices to drop regions from our plan just because they were too far from our intended route (North to South). Tibet and Western China would have to wait for another trip.
We arrived in Beijing initially by train (funny enough from Hong Kong which was a 24 hour train ride away and close to the end point of our trip). Travelling by train in China is super convenient and good for budget travellers. The trains often run through the night so you can save on accommodation and time. Also when light, the scenery is often fantastic as you ride through the country side.
You can easily spend 3-5 days in Beijing sucking up the history and culture of the capitol. Don’t miss the Great Wall, the Forbidden City or the Summer Palace and the hutongs, but similarly don’t forget to check out the modern side of the city in places like 798 Art Zone.
From Beijing we headed South-West to Xi’an – the historic city that holds the tombs of former emperors as well as the Terracotta Army. We only spent a couple of days here exploring the city and the Terracotta warriors and continued our journey south towards the Sichuan province which is known for breathtaking scenery, panda bears and probably the spiciest food in whole of China.
Sichuan took up a good week of our time in China. Hikes up various mountains (e.g. Emei Shan), going to see pandas and taking it easy in smaller towns on the foothills of the mountains. After Beijing we could really enjoy the fresh and crisp mountain air. The scenery here is out of this world. Simply amazing. We also passed our half way point of our journey here on arrival to Sichuan so we only had another 2 weeks or so left in China. We realised so much will be left to see for later trips.
From here we headed to the South-Western province on Yunnan. The province of snow-capped mountains, deep gorges, rice terraces and lakes. The capitol Kunming was just a pitstop as we headed deep into the country side to the village of Lijiang. The town in North-Western Yunnan is home to one of many Chinese ethnic minorities and a Unesco heritage site. We decided to make it a base for our adventures in Yunnan, which would include cycling to tiny villages to learn kung-fu, meeting Chinese medicine doctors and just admire the scenery on our hike at Tiger Leaping Gorge. You could spend a full 30 days just exploring Yunnan alone and we spent some of the best moment of our China trip here.
From Lijiang onwards it was a bit of a “fast forward” as we only had a few days left on our visas and we needed to get to Guangzhou for our flight to the Philippines, so we took a night bus to Kunming, spent a day there again and climbed on board a night train to Guangzhou (Canton) in Guangdong province. (This) huge city was actually one of the things we tried to avoid on our journey as we wanted to experience more of the local side of China, but it also had some charm and a very different history to it. Being one of the old trading hubs, the city offered a glimpse into a very different China than the one we had seen for the past month so far.
So what did we learn from the trip:
- You really can’t see and experience China. Not in 30 days and not even in 60 days. You will have to make choices and compromise.
- Each province and region are like countries in Europe. They have similarities in cultural history but as local cultures, they are very far from each other. There are also over 50 minorities and ethnic cultures in China, so calling Chinese just Chinese is a bit misleading.
- There is no such thing as Chinese food. There are similarities again but regional cuisine is as far apart from each other as Swedish meatballs and Pizza
How far did we travel: 7.546 km or 4.689 miles in 30 days