The mere utterance of the word china used to print vivid pictures of ladies in cheongsam (me wearing above ) and the red Chinese lanterns would run into my mind. When I was in school, I used to tell my mother that I won’t get married and I will buy a very big bag (as I had no idea about the travel backpackers) and will travel the World, as I always wanted to explore different cultures, taste different cuisines like a local and wanted to understand what it means to be a person from a different country.
So when I moved to the Philippines with my husband, it was a whole new opportunity for me explore other Asian Countries and Ria - my friend proposed for girls only trip for both of us – CHINA was on the top of our list. So we spent some days picking the places we did not want to miss. Ria had an old wish of seeing the Pandas so Chengdu was a must-see place. Having heard so many stories about Forbidden city and the Great wall of China Beijing was not to be missed.
China is a land of Ancient History, urban wonders, beautiful landscapes and different cultural experiences. As china is the second largest state of the world by the land area, it gets difficult for a tourist to decide what to see and what not. As we had 15 days in our hands so we tried to plan it as much as we can explore and The Lonely Planet China came to our rescue. This wonderful book gave us an end to end idea of where to go, how to go, what to eat, what to avoid and the overall budget idea of our total expenses.
Though it started as a fun thing, it was one of an impactful decision of my life. Having recently been to Indonesia I knew how communication was big issue in travelling , and we planned to travel few places into the interior of china we were not sure how many days we will spend just by getting lost . Secondly I had turned vegetarian, everyone I discussed my China trip would warn me that it will be difficult for me to survive as a vegetarian. Third - We made a deal that we would plan the trip ourselves in shoestring budget as a backpacker.
So after an energetic start of the journey with a nice cup of coffee in the airport we reached Beijing in the night, thankfully we had a friend Ayesha who picked us up and we crashed comfortably into their guest room.The following three days was all about walking around the UNESCO heritage sites like Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace, Jingshan Park, Dong Hua men Night market and the unforgettable "The Great Wall of China". It's amazing how in those days they dreamt of making such a massive structure.
Our next stop was Xian - excited to see the Terra-cotta warriors we boarded the bullet train for a 5 hours journey. After an extensive photo session with the warriors, we visited the Grand Mosque and the Bell Tower.
It was really getting hectic for us and we took a non-sleeper train ride of 15 hours to Chengdu. The trains being a non sleeper, I could barely open my eyes and slept as soon as we reached the hostel . The next day we went to West Sichuan Dwelling Culture Street .The nightlife in Chengdu though growing recently with most of the bars open in the night still we nearly got lost in the night post having our dinner.
The next day was bright and exciting, we were going to visit the laziest of all mammals the darling Panda. The Giant Panda and Red Panda were really adorable and were able to click some photographs with them.
One of the must see destination for us was the tallest Buddha statue in the world known as Dafo ,the seated Maitreya Buddha stands 71 meters and is the third largest statute in the world .
Our Trip continued to Chongqing which we used as a base to catch a flight to Tunxi to see the majestic Huangshan Mountains. The Ride from Tunxi town to Huangshan city was a short one. Our Hotel was up on half way through the mountain and we had to take a cable car to reach it. Next day when we reached the top to see the breathtaking view, a feeling of contentment ran through us.
Shanghai was our last stop of the trip and had two days to do shopping for gifts back home. The last day in china was as exciting as the rest of the trip, when we took a lazy walk across the living museum of China "The Bund " where we adored the 52 brilliantly built buildings of different styles.
Though we were able to cover a very small part of china in our travel, still there was a huge set of contentment when we boarded back our flight. Two Indian girls who came out of their comfort zone and broke the traditional meaning of holidays post marriage, promising many girls only trip in future to come. And all the bullshit about nothing vegetarian in china to eat was a huge lie. I had sumptuous meals of my favorite foods.
Who should Visit China
China is for the people who likes history, rich culture, Artistic old palaces, monuments, spectacular sceneries and the people who love to walk. As the places which are worth a visit like Great Wall of China, Mount Huangshan, Forbidden Palace, Summer Palace, Terracotta Warriors, Leshan Gaint Buddha is so huge that you will end up walking 5 – 10 km a day.
Chinese are family oriented, food loving, and extremely hard working people. I found them very helpful in the entire trip. There were times even if somebody was not able to help us because of the language barrier, they would phone call somebody who knew English and has him/her help us or just accompany us to the destination. China is a safe place to travel for solo as well as female travelers. Chinese are early risers as you will find them in the park exercising and dancing. Most of the supermarkets and malls will be open by 9:00 AM till 6:00 PM in the evening.
China has a vast variety of cuisine both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. There are thousand of the dishes to be chosen from. As it is said, “ The Chinese eat everything with four legs, except for tables, and everything that flies, except for airplanes". China can be divided into several regions with a distinctive style of cuisine. The Sichuan’s cuisine is the spiciest one as they use a lot of red chilies into their cooking (Ideal type of food for the Indians).
Few of which we tried were:-
Non – Vegetarian:-
1. Peking Duck
2. Kung pao chicken
3. Braised Pork
4. Spicy Squids
5. Boiled Chicken Chops (Drunken Chicken)
6. Hot – Pot (with your choice of meat)
1. Spicy Tofu
2. Fried Bok – Choy
3. Chili Stir fried potatoes.
4. Stir fried green beans with Garlic
5. Sautéed Broccoli and garlic
6. Hot – Pot (with your choice of vegetables)
7. Grilled Lotus Root with vinegar and soy sauce.
8. Rice cakes
(Vegetarians/ vegans don’t have to worry. You can always find some vegetarian’s dishes in any restaurant you visit & the street food also have impressive variety of grilled vegetables)
Best time to visit China
October is the best time to visit China which is early autumn because most of the places in China have warm/mild temperatures. As china is a big country, so it solely depends on where you plan to travel.July – August is the busiest travel time to china, as students have their vacations (as we traveled at the same time), So wherever you will go the place will be overcrowded.
If you want to know the cultural diversity of a country, you should visit it at the time of their festivals. Festivals will make you one with the native of the country as you can participate and be entertained. Chinese have their own set of delightful festivals which they celebrate all the year round. The festivals mentioned below draw a lot of crowd from all over the world. Apart from these, different provinces of china have their unique festivals.
1. Chinese New Year (January / February)
2. Lantern Festival (February / March )
3. Dragon Boat Festival (May / June)
4. Qingdao beer festival ( July / August )
5. Harbin Ice & Snow Festival ( January )
It’s very easy to get around in china especially in the metro cities. China has an extremely good transportation system from buses, metros, taxis, and economical - motor - Pedi cabs. Apart from the motor – Pedi cabs, and taxi’s all the other vehicles have a CCTV camera.Bullet trains and long-distance trains are also very frequent and convenient. I advise you to book the railway ticket and bullet train tickets in advance to avoid the long queues in the railway station.
There are also some luxury cruises like Abercrombie and Kent for Shanghai ,Beijing and Tibet .
How to get a visa for china
Obtaining a tourist visa for china is not that difficult. But you should apply it at least 1 month before your travel to China. It takes around 3-4 business days to complete the whole procedure. A tourist visa is applicable for 30 days and is extendable for a month. The prequisites can be found in the below website .
Note :- For traveling to Tibet, you need to acquire the Chinese tourist Visa, with a permit from a licensed tour / travel agency of Tibet. You can contact them online. For further details you can find them here.
Airplane is the easiest way to get in and around china. There are so many low cost airlines available which won’t be too heavy on your pocket like China airlines and Jetcost . As these low cost airlines have direct flights for all the major cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
Few things to consider
Please take prints outs of translations of major things like the address of your hotel, food preferences, common places like the airport , restroom and restaurants.
Social networking sites don't work there, and if you want to use google try installing VPN in your phone before you reach China.
All Major cities like Beijing, shanghai , Pudong Xinqu, and Guangdong, have Indian Restaurants .Even Vegetarians who can adjust to a change of taste have a wide variety of dishes to choose from apart from rich tropical fruits. I did take few spices like Chat Masala, Black Pepper, and Garam masala to add some Indian taste to my Chinese menu.
Few notable restaurants in China are - Bollywood Indian restaurant, Mirch Masala Indian restaurant, The Tandoor.