Unlike Ethiopia which my previous trip, China is a
very popular travel destination for people from all over the world. It is a
huge country and its history, nature and importance as one of the major
forces in the world today all contribute to its attraction.
For me, it was almost three years since my Ethiopia
trip and I started to feel that it was time for a new long vacation. From an
early point it was clear that the destination would be somewhere in Asia.
The reason for that was that I had only briefly touched the continent
before. Once I had been in Singapore for a week, but Singapore although nice
isn't exactly very representative for the continent. I had also been to
Dubai on a business trip, but the same thing applied there. The choice stood
between the counties of south-east Asia and China, and when I found a
description of the "Great Wall" trip arranged by a company called
Världens Resor in Stockholm I was
hooked. The trip would mean that one could see the Great Wall where it ends
in the desert in the west near Dunhuang, where it ends in the sea in the
east and a couple of more places in between. Also one would visit Xian and
the terracotta army of emperor Qin and other interesting places on the way.
This group trip was planned for September 2007, but as
the summer can so did some very bad news - the trip was cancelled due to too
few participants. This made me very annoyed as I had prepared for the trip
and that trip especially. After a week or so I started to look for other
alternatives among both Världens Resor and its competitors
Kinaresor. The latter had travels that
were a bit more expensive, better accommodation and more travelling by
plane. That can be nice, but I was more after the basic and the simple since
I feel that you experience more of the country that way. I had travelled
with Läs&Res to both Peru and Ethiopia and I had been very satisfied with
both those trips, but I couldn't find the kind of China travel that I was
after this time. So in the end I decided to go with Världens Resor and a
trip called "The backbone of the Dragon" (Drakens Ryggrad) in October to
November 2007. They guaranteed that this trip would not be cancelled.
So now I had to get over the disappointment of the
first trip being cancelled and start to prepare for the new one. This one
started in Beijing, continued to Xian and then to Chongqing where we would
start a three day trip on the Yangtze river. Then the national park
Wulingyuan, the old town of Fenghuang, walking along the terrace fields
around Longji, Yangshuo and Shanghai would follow. I would be a good
introduction to China according to Världens Resor.
I didn't know any of the other members of the group
that I was going to travel with, but I hoped for the best. Usually these
things work out well, but one can never know in advance and it added a bit
of extra excitement.
The travel started in 18th of October 2007. We were to
be a group of 11 people, but as we came from different places in Sweden we
wouldn't all meet until in Beijing. I started by getting on the train from
Helsingborg to the Copenhagen airport. I got in line to the check-in counter
and already then I happened to meet two of the other members of our group.
We continued with Finn Air via Helsinki to Beijing, where at the airport we
met more people in the group as well as our travel leader, Silvia.
Beijing is the proper name of the city and it means
"The northern capital" in mandarin. As there is a northern capital there
must be a southern capital and that is Nanjing. As we arrived I immediately
noticed the smog. It is a major problem in the city, and a week or two after
we left the city they actually had to close the airport due to too poor
visibility due to smog! That is really scary and makes you think once or
twice extra about what we do to the environment.
Part of the group on
Lots of different morning activities in
the Temple of Heaven
One of several people training
calligraphy using water on the ground in the Temple of Heaven
Me in the Chinese garden in the
We saw most of the usual places of
interest in Beijing and those are mainly once with historical interest. I
wouldn't want to miss those, but although I had a nice time in Beijing I
didn't get fond of the city. It didn't have that friendly atmosphere that I
look for in a city.
One day we made a trip to see the great
wall at Simatai. It was about a three hour trip one way, but was all worth
it. What a marvellous achievement the Great Wall is! As it winds its way
across and along the mountain ridges it gives a view that superseded the
expectations that I had on it. I wish we had the time to walk a longer
distance on the wall - and that I can make the original journey along the
full stretch of the Wall some day.
On the great wall at Simatai
We left Beijing in order to go to Xian
and see the
terracotta army there. We took the night train, in soft sleeper class.
Soft sleeper was very nice, with everything being nice, clean and
comfortable. It later turned out that the difference to hard sleeper was
When arriving in Xian, we immediately took a minibus
out to the site of the terracotta army. It was discovered in 1974 by farmers
digging a well and caused a sensation worldwide. The number of soldiers,
their sizes and the details and variation of them makes this a very
impressive sight. It has taken the city of Xian from being a city being
almost forgotten to being a place one must see when going to China.
The three sites of the army are now enclosed by
buildings that protect them. An exhibition hall displays amongst other
things lots of pictures of the buildings surrounding the army being build
but none of the original well or the excavation of the army itself. They
sometimes have strange priorities, the Chinese!
Many tourists that come to see the terracotta army
seem to rush through it. Don't! Take your time and enjoy it all. We asked
our travel leader for a bit of extra time, but even with that we had less
time than would have been optimal.
Pictures of the terracotta army that
guards emperor Qins tomb outside Xian
There are other things to see in Xian
than the terracotta army. The Muslim parts of the old city were nice, and
especially the mosque itself with its garden was a piece of calm and
contemplation. I can recommend renting a bicycle and riding it around the
city wall - it was a very nice way of getting a feel for the city. Walking
slowly in the area to the east of the southern gate was a very nice way of
killing some time. One big attraction that I didn't see was the Wild Goose
On the Xian city wall
Dumplings in many different shapes in a
specialised restaurant in Xian
From Xian we again went by night train, this time to
the largest city in the world, Chongqing. We were lucky since the hard
sleeper wagon that we were in was clean and much better than what we later
would discover was the normal state.
Chongqing is a city of 32 million people and is claims
to be the largest in the world. The city was the capital of China during the
Japanese occupation 1938-45 and was the stronghold for the nationalists
under Chiang Kai. It is build around the Yangtze and Jialing rivers and as
we ourselves experienced contains a lot of steep hills. Part of the city
contains lots of skyscrapers and feels very modern but it was easy to get
out of those parts using the Metro, which mostly runs above the city on
pillars instead of being built underground.
We visited a zoo, containing many different species.
What particularly interested me was the Pandas.
Panda in the zoo in Chongqing
The view of the city centre would have
been very beautiful if it wasn't for the usual smog - or perhaps a mixture
of smog and fog. On the way to the park where this picture was taken we
passed through lots of small roads and allies were we could see some of the
everyday life in the city.
View of Chongqing from a pagoda on a
hill. The smog lies heavily over the city
The spicy Sichuan food was and especially
the "hot pot" is something you should try if you go here. Visitors to some
parts of China sometimes report the food as bland but believe me - that is
not the case here!
Next on the agenda was a cruise on the Yangtze river
from Chongqing, through the three gorges and the newly build dam to Yichang.
It was a nice break in the middle of our journey where we could relax and at
the same time experience some true tourism. I found it very interesting, not
having participated in any luxury tourism before, to see and feel how it
River boats in the harbour in Chongqing
In the ghost city near Fengdu, the
first stop on the cruise. The city of Fengdu itself has been moved to the
opposite river bank since the original town has been flooded from the
building of the three gorges dam.
A picture from (I think) the little
Old local man during the exploration of
the "three little gorges"
From Yichang we took a train south to a national park,
Wulingyuan, which is famous for its mountains. The first day there was rain
and a lot of fog, which made it difficult to see that much. We still made a
long walk. When it is wet, you must be very careful on the stone steps!
The second day the weather was better and the views
were really great.
In Zangjiajie village we had one of the
best mails of the trip in a small family restaurant. It was also the only
time I had soup that was ok to eat (in my humble opinion of course). As you
understand, I recommend skipping soup in most places in China!
From Zhangjiajie we continued, again but train, to a
small town called Fenghuang. It was a place where the original buildings
were not destroyed during the Mao era and the old town was the only place
during the trip (except for the forbidden city and other such sights) where
one could see what a traditional Chinese town looked like. It does draw the
attention of tourists, but so far it is mostly Chinese tourist and that
means that as a foreigner one does draw a little bit of attention.
For me, this was once of the highlights of the trip
and one that I can strongly recommend.
Ally in the Fenghuang old town.
Getting hungry yet?
Despite the picture above, the small
restaurants on the old town managed to make very tasty food. Everything was
freshly cooked - as long as you heard the gas flame being on, you knew that
more dishes were being prepared.
Part of the old city wall being lit
during the evening.
Much of the night life was located in the
small streets along the river in the old town. Small pubs, cafés and night
clubs were located here. Even if I wasn't there in order to party, it was a
nice place to sit and look at people.
During a visit to an old calligraphist
in Fenghuang. The visit was very interesting.
The next stop were some small villages
where the Dong minority lives. The small wooden hotel was located in the
village of Chengyang. But first we had to get there, and that turned out to
be a bit of a challenge.
Again the main means of transportation
was train, but first we took a bus to the train station in Jishou. That was
were the interesting part started. Apparently the authorities don't sell
more than a few tickets from Jishou even if more people want to get on the
train there. Because of that a strange informal system has been developed
that for us included an agent coming with ticket for getting into the train
station (oh no, they were not for the train!) and jumping on a 3rd class
wagon without any ticket while the agent and our guide went to find some
person on the train who had our tickets. Next was sleeping (well, with
people taking and moving around that wasn't very easy) in dirty and used
bunks until we in the middle of the nigh had to get up and wait for the
train to stop at our station. Now one would think that having a Chinese
speaking guide with us that wouldn't be too difficult, but as the train came
to a stop it didn't to so next to a platform, and at least I couldn't see
any signs saying where we were! Anyway we were successful in getting
off the train in the right place and could jump into a waiting minibus that
drove us another 2 hours to Chengyang and the hotel were we cold finally get
a few hours of sleep.
Old man working in the rice field
All you really need in a vehicle!
From Chengyang we took a bus for many
hours on a very bad road (it would have been the worst road I had travelled
if it wasn't for the much worse roads in both Peru and Ethiopia) to a town
called Dahai. There we had lunch and then most of us continued to a small
village, Tiantou Zhai, were the Yao minority lives. That was were we
the next day would start a walk through the terrace fields to Pingan. But
first we had to walk up up to the village and then to the hotel. It lay in
the mountains in the terrace fields and had wonderful views.
The next day, after a very cold night, we
started the walk early. It was quite a lot of ascents and descents but still
wasn't too bad. It enjoyed the walk very much with the great scenery.
Terrace fields between Tiantou Zhai and
After a late lunch in Pingan, we met some
members of the group who didn't want to do the full walk and continued to
Longi were we stayed the night in a private house. The next day a two hour
walk let us down to the road and the bus that took us on to Yangshuo.
You can climb the
Riding the bike on small paths outside
Beside the Li River
View of Pudong from the Bund in
The Antique market
I'm very satisfied with this China trip. We got to see
lots of interesting things and people. I guess I shouldn't compare the
experiences I get from each trip with the other, but anyway here are some
- China is easier to travel in than Peru or Ethiopia,
at least if you are in a group. The language otherwise can be a problem.
- China and its long history as a great power makes
it an interesting destination. This trip though wasn't as "exotic" as
Ethiopia or Peru, but Ethiopia especially isn't for everyone as it is very
- This was my first trip with
Världens Resor. To Peru and
Ethiopia I travelled with Läs&Res
while we arranged the South Africa trip ourselves. This trip compared to
the ones arranged by Läs&Res had better accommodation and wasn't quite as
demanding. I cant say though if that is a general difference for all
trips. Another difference is that Världens Resor use Swedish travel
leaders while Läs&Res has a policy of using locals. There are pros and
cons of both - locals have a deeper knowledge and understanding of the
country they live in but on the other hand they can sometimes have some
problems communicating their knowledge to the travellers. Different social
and cultural backgrounds can also make it more difficult for a local
travel leader to understand the wishes of the travellers. I have been
happy with the guides/travel leaders on all of my trips.
So would I go to China again? Yes, definitely. I am
very curious about Tibet and Yunnan and I still would like to take a trip
similar to the one I had originally planned - along the Great Wall of China
and perhaps even further to the north-west. We'll see what the future will
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