China is a surreal place, and as I have explained in 5 Reasons why China is fucking mental (for a westerner), it packs a punch in the culture shock department. However, I was there for a month and in that time, I found many reasons to fall in love with China!
1. The Great Wall and other equally fantastic tourist attractions!
Somewhat obviously, one of the things I really loved about China were the incredibly famous landmarks we were able to see. The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, The Summer Palace (Beijing was a banging portion of our trip) as well the many skyscrapers, TV towers, temples… the list goes on and on. Every day was just as enthralling as the last and I felt like I was in a dream world. How on earth could I be doing all these cool things day after day? That, my friends, is China.
2. Everyone is extremely friendly and happy to help!
Despite finding foreigners fascinating to the point of open-mouthed staring, the Chinese are also incredibly friendly. The language barrier is REAL but if you approach someone for help they will go out of their way to assist you with a smile. Even though you can barely communicate and are going in blind, armed with nothing but a shitty translator and some sub-par charades, 9 times out of 10, you’ll get there in the end.
One particular instance sticks in my mind: we were looking for the bus to the Great Wall. We had decided to go off the beaten path so, were struggling to find our way around. We asked a Metro official for help and not only did he make a number of phone calls to get the info we needed, he also locked up his little office and physically walked us in the right direction!
With Google Maps being banned as well as Mandarin symbols being almost impossible to pick up as a beginner, it can be challenging to find your way around. So it’s nice that you can always ask a friendly official or passer-by.
3. Public Transport is a Winner!
The public transport system in China is super efficient! The trains were always on time, had spacious, comfortable seats and were really speedy.
Of course, the speediness only applies to the bullet trains, which reach speeds of 300km per hour which is INSANE. If you’re getting a slow overnight train though, don’t expect much. In fact, I probably wouldn’t recommend one of those at ALL, but that’s a totally different story (trauma of mine…).
The metro was a dream too! The trains were regular, very cheap (on average 5rmb – £0.60 – per single journey) and very easy to navigate. Station announcements are made in English as well as Mandarin almost everywhere and the stops are written down in Pinyin. Plus, ticket machines generally have an English option too so it’s very simple to buy tickets.
A brilliant transport system made all the difference to our trip! It allowed us to see and experience so much stuff in a short amount of time but kept our costs low. Plus, we weren’t super stressed out and worried we’d gone in the wrong direction or something every time we got on a train.
4. The Food!
One of my main sources of joy on a trip is trying out the local food and China DID NOT disappoint. Not only was the food unbelievably delicious everywhere we went, it was also hella cheap. Like, a couple of quid for a meal kind of cheap.
Obviously, that was the lower end of the scale and you won’t see prices like that in every restaurant you go to. However, in general, eating out costs less than western countries by quite a long way.
There are also fresh fruit and veg shops in abundance which is great for those wanting to cook in their room or simply want to pick up some more healthy snacks.
Be aware though, many hostels we went to had woefully inadequate (and actually fairly unclean) kitchens that meant we couldn’t really cook at home until we got to an Airbnb.
It was never a huge problem however, as food is always available. Delectable morsels can be found on the many street food stalls all over China and it’s pretty common that people don’t make food at home in favour of grabbing something quick at the market. Which leads me on to my next point…
6. The Markets
Markets are incredibly plentiful in China. There are food markets, flower markets, electronics markets and everything in between markets.
Even if you’re not looking to buy anything, they are fascinating places to just experience. Bustling hubs that are an assault to the senses. They are full of everything you can think of from the curious to the delightful and occasionally, some pretty bizarre food items. (Think fried scorpions on sticks). Of course, every market has its fair share of knock off rubbish and pointless tat but among that are some genuine gems and bargains.
My personal favourite part of the markets are the amusing mistranslations you can find on many items, particularly clothes or bumper sticker-esque pieces.
Of course you will be expected to haggle at most of these markets which I am not very good at, but here’s an article to help you.
I’ve also written an article on 5 Reasons why China is fucking mental (For a Westerner) and I’ll be updating my travel diary with the cities I visited during my month in the country which you can see here over the coming weeks.
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