China: 2 month itinerary in the worlds fastest changing country
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World change is afoot but nowhere is accelerating as quickly as China. For two months we explored as much of China’s history, scenery and provincial iterations of noodle soup as possible. This guide will take you through our journeys of mountainous highs to our monkey ambushing lows. We hope to give you some ideas on how to plan a long trip across this diverse, and quite frankly, intimidatingly huge country. It’s not an obvious backpacking destination but with cheap food, unbelievable hospitality and ever changing scenery it’s maintained its place as one of our favourite countries in the world. 

 

This is an itinerary for 2 months from the North East to the South West but you can always use the guide to select an area to explore for a 2/4 week trip or read our previous guide for our 2 week trip from Hong Kong to Yunnan from 2011. If you have any questions then our contact details are at the bottom of the page.

 

China At A Glance

  • Our must visit highlights, for nature lovers, were the Jiankou section of the Great Wall, Huangshan mountain and many of Yunnan’s destinations such as Yubeng, Tiger Leaping Gorge and Baisha.

  • Best time to visit is October/ November. Although this is the busiest time to travel.

  • Do not visit in the first two weeks of October or Chinese New Year as it will be a national holiday for 1 billion people!

  • Visas are normally 30/60 days and need to be applied for before travel. We had to get a one day application in Berlin that cost £136pp for a 60 day visa. You must enter the country within 90 days of approval, which is why we needed to get ours mid August so it would last until the 13th of October.

  • Tourist sights are busy, be prepared for security checks and queues for most attractions.

  • English is spoken in some cities but less so in rural areas. Google translate, charades, intuition and a big smile is all you need.

  • Booking.com and Hostelworld had accommodation in almost every destination. Although you can bargain with hotels, guesthouses and hostels in more remote places especially if it’s quiet.

  • We used Express VPN for £10 per month to access western websites which worked ok most of the time. Turbo VPN for IOS is free and fast but doesn't let you select a country to login to unless you pay for it.

  • Our favourite city was Beijing, visiting a place of such cultural significance with ancient history yet changing quickly was very memorable.

  • Our least favourite place was the Huashan mountain close to Xi’an. It was so busy we had to queue to walk up the mountain.

  • Yunnan was our favourite province as it has so many beautiful destinations, minority culture, friendliest people and the least tourists, although the numbers are growing.

  • Although incredible in lots of ways, China is not without its frustrations so remember to have quiet days to offset the intensity.

Money Saving Tips

  • We budgeted for £60 a day, but in reality spent about half of that by staying in cheaper hostels, guesthouses and ate in rice/noodle kitchens where the locals dine, normally 15 yuan (£1.70) for amazing noodle soup and around 5 yuan (60p) for a bottled beer.

  • Travel is relatively inexpensive, especially if you book in advance, most travellers use the CTrips App to book train tickets. They will take a commission which can be avoided by booking at train stations, prepare Chinese symbols for your destinations to make booking easier.

  • Booking travel late can be expensive and can eat into your budget, so pre-buy at least 3 days in advance for bigger savings/ budgeting.

  • Save money on accommodation by using the sleeper trains for travel and a nights sleep, they’re pretty fun too. Hard beds are fine (they aren't actually hard!).

  • Bullet trains are very expensive and best avoided for a backpackers budget, although we really enjoyed the one we took to Changsha.

  • National Parks are expensive at roughly 250 yuan (£27) pp. Although they often allow for multiple entries which makes it more affordable when split over 3/4 days.

  • On local buses foreigners are charged the same price as residents making it the cheapest way to travel across short/ medium distances, otherwise expect a tourist surcharge.

  • Rarely accept the first price when buying stuff in small shops outside of cities, and at markets. It’s normally always inflated and haggling is common in China. Offer a third of the starting price and go up from there. Most of our haggles got down to half of the original price. The cheapest we got an apple for was 1.5 yuan (17p).

  • K trains are the best value for money and the most popular as you can choose from soft/ hard sleepers which only differ in the size of the cabin; 4 in soft and 6 in hard. Soft seats are only for day trippers or for those who can sleep anywhere!

Visa Tips

To prepare the visa application for China you'll need to include a full itinerary, travel confirmation in and out of the country and travel insurance. Here's how we prepared for our visa:

  • We booked two months of accommodation through booking.com with hostels that allowed a free cancellation. We printed the booking summaries and used them for the visa application.

  • We entered the country via the Trans Siberian train and included our booking confirmation.

  • For the outward journey we emailed a coach company about booking travel from Kunming to Laos, we printed that reply and put it in with the visa pack.

  • Once the visa had been approved we cancelled all bookings bar the first one in Beijing, booking the rest of accommodation the night before we were on the road, and always found somewhere.

  • For our actual outward journey we booked a last minute flight rather than a coach, no one seemed to mind. They just want to see that you have planned your trip and you're not going to start a new illegal life in the mountains!

  • Remember that you'll need to enter China within 90 days of the approval being given.

 

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Building Power

China’s one party politics has meant nothing can prevent the enormous industrial speed of the governments expansion of road, rail and buildings. Everywhere, and we mean everywhere, is a work in progress; motorways in remote locations, new train lines every year and tower blocks popping up like Lego. What does this mean for a backpacker? Well, the tourist industry has been developed in a similar fashion to it's cities with most attractions designed to house thousands of people. Western tourists are an afterthought in China, with signage, shops, kiosks all considered with domestic Chinese tourism at the forefront of their minds. We have written a piece that looks at how China has changed since our last visit in 2011 here: 

In 6 Years How Has China Changed?

 

Disneyland?

The word Disneyland gets thrown around a lot when discussing China’s attractions and it’s a fair description. It doesn’t mean these places aren’t amazing, just very busy and full to the brim with restaurants, tat shops and huge red flag tours. To get to the real China you’ll need to be prepared to get off the main tourist track and seek out the smaller places in between the main arteries of the country, this is far easier when you have time on you side. We asked for a two month visa, which was accepted, it’s the perfect amount of time to see a good deal of China. 

 

2 Month Itinerary For China

 

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Beijing

5 Days In Beijing / 13th October 2017

Hebei Province

So let us start with our entry into the country from the Trans Mongolian train into China’s north east on Marks birthday. We arrived a few days after the national holiday and the weather was great, sunny but never sweaty. There’s so much to do in Beijing; the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, Mao's Mausoleum, Beijing Museum, cycling the Hutong, the street food, shopping, drinking, art spaces... We have listed our top picks in this blog post:

 
 

We stayed on Nanluogu Xiang alley at the highly rated Beijing Backpackers Hostel, a nice hostel but didn’t have much social space and therefore it lacked atmosphere. Our most enjoyable days were the ones where we set off on bikes and explored different parts of the city. As cycling was the main method of transport just 5 years ago, the cycle lanes are massive and on every road. There are some amazing foods to try in Beijing, the classic example is Beijing Noodles, Peking Duck (Peking means Beijing) and the steamed dumplings. If you like strange things on sticks you can find every imaginable creature speared and bbq’ed here. We couldn’t stomach much of it in our first few days but had tried most of these strange snacks by the time we left China. The people of Beijing are really friendly and always want to help a lost tourist! Beijing was our favourite city in China so you must visit it if you plan a trip here.


The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

3 Days On The The Great Wall / 18th October 2017

Hebei Province

This was the biggest highlight of the whole China trip, possibly of any trip. We brought our camping equipment with us through Europe, Russia and Mongolia knowing that we’d be sending it home soon, camping in Asia’s heat doesn’t work quite so well. Before we did we wanted one last voyage into nature and researched into camping spots near the Great Wall. Sidelining the crazy busy Badaling and Mutanyu sections we opted for the raw Jiankou section, camping just outside the village of Xizhazi. Strictly speaking all of this is illegal because the section hasn't been renovated, but no one is checking the wall or if you’re camping near it. We explored our camping trip to the wall in ‘great’ detail here:

 
 

Words aren’t really good enough to describe our three days on the wall. The scenery is one of a kind, the trekking is challenging and the best part is that it’s remote enough that few tourists make it here. Carrying your camping equipment around the world isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but if you have then make sure you camp near the wall for unbelievable access to one of our worlds seven wonders.  If you don't have a tent then it's also possible to sleep in one of the many watchtowers, but that's if you are happy sleeping on a stone floor.

We returned to Beijing where we boarded a sleeper train for Xi’an that cost 440 yuan (£50) pp and took 12 hours.


Temple in Xi'an

Xi'an

4 Days In Xi’an / 21st October 2017

Shaanxi Province

Our favourite city to pronounce, “shii ann” is a popular destination for those that have flown into Beijing as it’s the access point to one of China’s most famous ceramic destinations, which is of course the Terracotta warriors. The city also has some massive draws in the Muslim quarter, cycling the ancient city walls, two temples and one of the oldest mosques in China. For those that want to travel the ancient trading route of the Silk Road, it also starts in Xi’an. We have written a piece that looks at these attractions in detail here:

 
 

Walking through the Muslim quarter is an unforgettable and stomach expanding experience. Many of the foods we tried there we only tasted in Xi’an including the thick handmade noodles with Sichuan pepper and the fragrant custard that was like a milk pudding mixed with egg, we ate there twice! You only need a few days in Xi’an and much of it is box ticking classic attractions like the Terracotta Warriors. We would recommend avoiding the Haushan mountain as it was the least scenic and most populated National Park of our trip. What we would recommend is the excellent Tang hostel; great service, good rooms, roof top hangout and a well used social space. On our last day we set off to Shanghai via sleeper train which cost 350 yuan (£40)pp and took 15 hours.

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Neon Lights in Shanghai

Shanghai

5 Days In Shanghai / 25th October 2017

Shanghai Province

The financial capital of China is an interesting city but also the most westernised. We didn’t fully connect with Shanghai and this is probably because it felt very similar to our home of London, but never more enjoyable than it. But don’t let our opinions put you off as most people love it. Accommodation was quite expensive so we opted for dorms, it wasn’t sold as a party hostel but most people rolled in at 5am, which sums up Shanghai well as a place for night owls. We had more of a cultural experience with the museums, the Bund, Tianzifang Lanes and the M50 Art Area being the highlights. Click the link to see our top picks in detail:

 
 

Our favourite food from Shanghai were the cities fried dumplings which were small, crispy and delicious, and Jianbing which is a street-food breakfast crepe.  The city is also well known for its excellent seafood and sweet sauces, sugar is added to everything here. Like Beijing, it has interesting Hutong (alleyways) to explore, temples, parks, shopping, cocktails, art spaces basically everything you’d expect from a modern cosmopolitan city. After 5 days we set off to Tunxi (which has been renamed Huangshan due to its proximity to the mountains).


1 Transit Day In Hungshan City (Tunxi) / 30th October 2017

6 hour bus from Shanghai to Huangshan City, which was a speedy one compared to some of the epic 18 hour trains. We stayed in the Kunlun International Youth Hostel just around the corner from the bus station.


Huangshan Mountains

Huangshan Mountains

4 Days On Huangshan AKA Yellow Mountains / 31st October 2017

Anhui Province

Huangshan is the name of the mountains, which is one of China’s 5 sacred mountain ranges  and is also called the yellow mountains due to their colour. We entered into Huangshan City (formerly Tunxi) and arranged a seat on a bus to the mountains. We still had our camping equipment and heard about the cheap rate to pitch a tent outside a hotel in the national park. The cheap accommodation offset the high cost of entry of 260 yuan (£30) and we stayed for 4 days bringing the cost down to 60 yuan (£7.50) per day pp, you can read all about our stay here:

 
 

Huangshan is a beautiful national park but also another product of China’s tourist machine. You’ll never find a view that isn’t swarming with people unless you go for the longer more challenging treks, which the Chinese don’t attempt. The weather can also be an issue, on average the park only receives 100 good days of weather and only 50 days of good sunrises and sunsets. We were lucky to experience 4 days of great weather, rises and sunsets. It might have been a sad trip had it been busy, expensive and with poor weather. Having exhausted all the routes on day 4 we made our way back to Huangshan City / Tunxi and then took a bus out to the ancient Crouching Tiger village of Hongcun.


1 Transit Day In Hungshan City (Tunxi) / 4th November 2017

We spent one night at the Kunlun International Youth Hostel before booking a bus out to Hongcun, which took about 3 hours.


Hongcun - An Ancient Village That Inspires Art

Hongcun

3 Days In Hongcun / 5th November 2017

Anhui Province

After the strenuous output of camping and walking across mountains for days we needed to chill out. So where better than the place where they filmed parts of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon? An ancient village that houses serene ponds, a few restaurants and old and newly restored temples, many Chinese temples were destroyed in the cultural revolution of the 1960s. It was a relaxing place to rejuvenate and enjoy some ink painting, you can read about our arty day in Hongcun here:

 
 

There isn’t a great deal to do in Hongcun except soak up the relaxed vibes, eat and drink. Hongcun was busy by day but pretty empty by night so walking around the moody backstreets imagining ninjas flying and fighting was most enjoyable. We’d been on the go for weeks, travelling 7 days a week, so when we finally started to relax the inevitable happened and an illness struck. We had already decided on moving to Changsha but with the ultimate destination being Zhangjiajie National Park.  We booked a bullet train from Huangshan North High Speed station to Changsha, which travelling at 300km per hour, is the way to cross China if you can afford it. The bullet train cost 371 Yuan (£42) pp and got us there in only 4 hours.


Duck Feet In Changsha

Changsha

1 Day In Changsha / 7th November 2017

Hunan Province

Arriving here was quite strange because Changsha isn’t on the tourist trail for most travellers, so why visit? Well we were visiting our friend Maybe we’d met on Huangshan mountain and she offered to show us around Changsha. We were really excited to live like a local for an evening so we accepted and added it to our itinerary. “Changsha”, we always try to say this like Lord Baeliss from Game Of Thrones, is bigger than London in population, is one of China’s many giant satellite cities and also the birth place of the legendary CCP chairman Mao. We were only in Changsha for one night so Maybe took us to one of the tastiest restaurants in town and ordered some of the strangest and yet still delicious foods we have ever tried. You can read about our meal out in Changsha by clicking the link below:

 
 

Zhangjiajie

Zhangjiajie

5 Days In Zhangjiajie / 8th November 2017

Hunan Province

The legendary ‘Avatar’ mountains, who knows what they were called before that movie! This was the national park we were most looking forward to due to the gravity defying rock formations with trees and plants growing from the rock. The park itself was the least busy of any we’ve visited and finding a guesthouse inside the park was affordable so why didn’t we enjoy ourselves here? Well apart from the very first evening which had beautiful weather our stay here was a bit of catastrophe, you can read about our story here:

 
 

Zhangjiajie is a stunning National Park and is far bigger than any others that we have visited but we were unlucky and had the worst weather possible. We endured 4 days of mist and rain and barely saw any of the iconic mountains. What’s worse is the illness from Hongcun still hadn’t shifted making most of our stay an uninspiring, bed ridden, experience. I’m sure on a good weather day Zhangjiajie is incredible, but for us it wasn’t to be. Reeling from frustrations with China we decided to return to our favourite province from our 2011 trip by booking a sleeper train to Kunming of Yunnan Province, which cost 340 yuan (£38) pp and took 19 hours.


1 Transit Day On A Sleeper Train To Yunnan Province 

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Kunming

Kunming

2 days in Kunming / 13th November 2017

Yunnan Province

We had been to Kunming before in our first ever backpacking trip so it will always have a special place in our travelling hearts. It’s known as the city of 'Eternal Spring', the weather has always been perfect when we’ve visited, which was great as the rest of China was starting to get cold. A few days in Kunming will let you explore the shopping areas, animal markets, Green Lake and the eateries and bars of Wenhau Alley. There is also Xishan Forest Park and Dianchi Lake to explore if you’re there for more than 2 days. One of the discoveries this time around was visiting the Nordica gallery where we met the Swedish artist and lovely gentleman Janeric Johansson, we ended up having lunch with him!  We paid, lol. You’ll only need a few days here and you’ll probably need to return to travel out of Yunnan later in your trip. We booked a sleeper train to Lijiang that would bring us in for a 7am start the next day, which cost 165 yuan (£18) pp and took 12 hours.


Lijiang

Lijiang

2 Days In Lijiang / 15th November 2017

Yunnan Province

It’s safe to say we hated Lijiang on our first visit as everywhere was incredibly busy and all the shops played the same repetitive wishy washy ‘Lijiang’ promotional song.  Thankfully the crowds had mellowed this time, in fact our first morning of walking the ancient streets we barely saw anybody. We were also gifted with fantastic sunny weather which really brings Lijiang to life, it’s a really beautiful place but also quite expensive. One cafe sold a cappuccino for 100 yuan (£11) so be watchful that you’re not getting ripped off, most prices are inflated. 

 

There are quite a few things to do in Lijiang with the obvious option being shopping. You should also visit the Black Dragon Pool Lake for its serene temples set against the backdrop of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, you’ll need to buy a pass to enter but that allows you back in to watch a sunrise another day. We would recommend renting bikes to visit some of the smaller villages nearby like Shuhe and Baisha, and we’ll chat about Baisha later. One of the main reasons people come to Lijiang is that it’s the easiest access point to the legendary trek, the Tiger Leaping Gorge. After 2 days in Lijiang we asked our guesthouse to arrange a driver to pick us up at 7.30am, a full bus load of trekkers set off towards the Jade Dragon Snow Mountains.


Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge

2 Days In Tiger Leaping Gorge / 17th November 2017

Yunnan Province

We left our big bags at our hostel in Lijiang and packed snacks, water and clothes for all weather trekking; we were ready for this one. Thankfully Tiger Leaping Gorge is quite a pleasant trek for anyone who has walked up a few mountains, because aside from the first 2 hours and the famed 28 bends, it’s actually quite flat. We met a nice group of people on the bus and spent the next few days with them. Walking half the route on day one staying at the Half Way Guesthouse where Micheal Palin stayed whilst making his ‘Himalayas’ episode. We awoke early, demolished some pancakes and then finished the gorge run on the rest of day 2. At the end of the trek you can book a seat in a mini van from Tina’s Guesthouse to either Shangri-La or back to Lijiang. TLG was amazing and a must do for any nature, mountain and epic vista lover. We have written a detail piece on our adventures on Tiger Leaping Gorge in this post:

 
 

We hadn’t made any concrete plans to go further north to Shangri-La at this point and we’d left our bags back in Lijiang. So we were forced to travel back to Lijiang to get our bags. Ideally we would have brought our bags to TLG where the drivers drop them at Tina’s. Meaning you can pick them up on day 2 of your trek and continue walking or travel on by minibus. Or first wedding anniversary was coming up and we wanted to go somewhere special. We didn’t know where that was but luckily we would stumble, or rather cycle, into it.


1 Night In Lijiang / 19th November 2017

After returning from TLG we went out for 'dinner' with the walking crew. Really it was us in a food market trying strange foods and nothing related to actual dining. We ate fried scorpions, grubs and crickets, which were actually pretty good but a little oily.


Baisha

Baisha

6 Days In Baisha / 20th November 2017

Yunnan Province

Waking up in Lijiang aching after TLG, we didn’t know where to go next so we rented bikes with our friend Dan and set off from Lijiang towards Baisha and Shuhe, which was about an hours cycle. When we reached Baisha we fell in love with the place. Other travellers have said that every so often you’ll find the perfect place and you’ll stay longer than you should, well Baisha was that for us. We immediately found a guesthouse and booked a nights stay and asked Dan to tell the bike rental company we’d pay an extra day and bring the bikes back tomorrow, thanks for that mate! The next day came and we didn’t want to leave so we cycled back to Lijiang to pick up our big bags, drop off the bikes and then took the no.6 bus back to Baisha, which would become our home for the next 5 days. Every day we’d ask our host if we could stay one more day. We also had a funny encounter with a entrepreneurial old lady called Grandma Lui, you can read about our story here:

 
 

So why did we love Baisha so much? Firstly, it was so quiet with only a handful of tourists walking the streets but they were always outnumbered by the local folks going about their daily business. Baisha is beautiful, the streets are wide, mountains can be viewed to the north and there is ancient peace that takes you back in time. We literally spent the week relaxing, walking around, visiting the small shops and eating. It allowed us time to work on the website and replenish ourselves, whilst reflecting on our first year of marriage, the best year ever! It also gave us the opportunity to get creative and similar to our time in Hongcun, we spent an afternoon painting the mountains in the hot sun, you can see our work in the arty post below:

 
 

Our guesthouse was run by a kind lady who would make us Chinese breakfast everyday, supply amazing lattes and washed all our clothes for free. She was well travelled too, so we swapped photos and stories (with Google translate) of the places we’d been to, she had made our stay so magical we did a drawing of the Baisha rooftops and gave it to her as a thankyou present. If you’re ever in Baisha stay at the Homeward guesthouse around the corner from the YHA hostel, you won’t find it on booking.com etc. Ali was in heaven as Baisha has long been a melting pot of embroidery experts and sellers, in olden times merchants would travel from Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and across China to purchase Baisha’s hand woven pieces, a craft that continues to this day. Here is an article Ali wrote on the textiles and embroidery in Baisha:

 
 

1 Transit Day/ Night To Shangri-La

We reluctantly left Baisha after a week and had decided to head north to the Tibetan border, our aim was to get to a place called Yubeng. First we’d need to travel back to Lijiang, for the third time and book a seat on a bus to Shangri-La, which is where the only road to Yubeng, via Deqin, starts from.  This was a long day of travelling which started at 7am entering the freezing cold Shangri-La at around 7pm, commuting on windy roads that hug around the mountains as we rose more and more above sea level. Our driver was a young one, which in China means he’ll speed the whole way and overtake on blind bends.  We just closed our eyes, crossed our fingers and listened to Moby’s ‘Play’. We haggled with a hotel in Shangri-La and got a cheap, and nasty, room for 60 Yuan (£7) next to the bus station. We also booked our tickets at 120 yuan (£13.50) pp for the 9.30am coach to Deqin, which leaves every hour until lunchtime.  If you are trekking the Tiger Leaping Gorge then we would recommend heading to Shangri-La straight from there, because that's over half the journey done from Lijiang.


Deqin & Feilai Si

Deqin & Feilai Si

1 Day Deqin and Feilai Si / 27th November 2017

Yunnan Province

Shangri-La during this time of year is freezing and in the mornings especially so, minus degrees in late November/ early December. The coach journey was a cold one as our feet and hands were freezing until about 11am. After a 5 hour drive we arrived in Deqin and we were finally fully thawed. No one stays in Deqin itself, most travellers take an extra taxi to Feilai Si which is a 10 minute drive up the road, our coach driver offered to take us for 10 yuan (£1.10) pp. It’s worth noting that China’s drivers conduct all manner of private jobs on your time, picks up and drops, filling up empty seats for free with pick ups on the way or will just stop for a chat with another driver! You can read about some of our funny experiences on Chinese coaches in this post:

 
 

When we arrived in Feilai Si we were greeted, like many places in China, with extensive building works, with roads up-turned, areas gated off and rubble everywhere, it looked terrible. Why had we come to this freezing cold shit hole, we first thought, but then we made our way to the viewing platform facing the Meili Mountains, wow these peaks are stunning. Arguably the most beautiful we’ve ever seen. Feilai Si will always be a beautiful memory of mountains not of the place itself. Most only need one night here because travellers don’t come all this way just for Feilai Si; they are here to walk the 16km trek up into Yubeng at the base of the Meili mountain range. We found ourselves a cheap hostel at 90 yuan (£10) who booked us a carpool for the next morning at 8.30am, this gave us time to watch the sunrise back on the viewing platform, which is where you’ll find every traveller in Feilai Si. Again a stunning view.

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Yubeng

Yubeng

4 Days In Yubeng / 28th November 2017

Yunnan Province

This place is one of our favourite treks in the world as the tiny split village of Yubeng takes 16km of gradual uphill walking to reach. Once you’re there it’s as secluded as anywhere we’ve been but easily as beautiful as the infamous hikes such as the Torres Del Paine in Chile. We were lucky that the early December weather only made Yubeng more beautiful, as snow covered the landscapes, it felt like a truly mystical place. We have written a detailed piece on our experience and how to get there here:

 
 

We spent 3 days in Lower Yubeng doing the two main treks to the waterfall and the frozen lake, whilst being snowed in on the first day in the coldest place we had stayed the whole trip. Luckily, we had heated beds and the restaurant had a fire. Not to mention the amazing yak's butter tea which is widely drank in Tibet. If you love the outdoors you must come to Yubeng once in your life, an unforgettable experience. Please take us back!


1 Transit Day Yubeng to Shangri-La, Via Deqin / 1st December 2017

We left early on our last day in Yubeng, walking along the mountain pass and arriving at the carpool drop off/ pick up spot in Ninong at 12pm. Luckily we were able to split a large cab with a Tibetan walker and got back to Deqin for 1pm for some lunch. We booked onto the last bus back to Shangri-La, which left at 2.40pm and were back in Shangri-La by 6pm as the sun disappeared and the cold returned. The whole area is at least 3km above sea level, with the frozen lake near Yubeng Village sitting at 3.9km! So watch out for that altitude sickness. We walked for 30 minutes southward into the old town of Shangri-La and found a little guesthouse to to stay in at 60 yuan (£7) a night with a really yummy breakfast included.


Shangri-La

Shangri-La

2 Days Shangri-La / 2nd December 2017

Yunnan Province

As was becoming the norm after intense trekking we decided to spend a few days in Shangri-La chilling, eating and wondering the interesting streets of this mystically named place. We wrote a piece about searching Shangri-La after reading the amazing travel fiction Lost Horizon by James Hilton, you can read our homage to that piece here: (check out the novel too)

 
 

There isn’t much to discuss regarding Shangri-La as we visited in the low cold season and most places were empty, we found some nice coffee shops and visited the Tibetan Thanka gallery, which was the cultural highlight. Shangri-La has a sad history, brought on by a huge fire in 2014 that ravaged the old town. Sadly, it’s only now returning to normal but much of it is brand new, most of the ancient buildings were destroyed along with irreplaceable Thankas, Buddhist paintings. A strange atmospheric highlight was watching the Chinese community dance in circle to music blasting out of the fire engines PA, surreal but mesmerising. After a week of freezing cold weather and our breath being continually visible, we longed for some sun and so we booked a coach to our final destination in China, the hippy haven of Dali, sandwiched between lake Erhai and the Cangshan mountains.


Dali

Dali

6 Days In Dali / 3rd December 2017

Yunnan Province

Dali had been our favourite place in China in 2011 so we were nervous as to how much it would have changed, and grown large it had. Luckily the relaxed atmosphere we loved was still in the air only we just had to share it with many more people. Dali is now infamous with the young hip Chinese, who visit to sample the great food, interesting spaces and artisanal shops. You’d think you were in Shoreditch, London, not high up in the mountains. So hippy and flower power it isn't but it still has some appeal and we enjoyed it enough to stay for 6 relaxing days, you can read our guide here:

 
 

There’s quite a few bits to do here from walking the shopping streets, the wood workshops of Wenxian Road, trekking the Cangshan Mountains paths around Zhonghe temple, the 3 x pagodas, cycling around Erhai Lake up to Xizhou to try the bbq’ed jam breads called baba, honestly the best thing we tried in 2 months of amazing food! There’s plenty of stalls roasting it in Xizhou, you can’t miss it! We ate out at an awesome bbq restaurant where you can cook your own ingredients, this was a treat to mark the end of our trip. Dali money saving tip, don’t buy beers from bars in Dali as they are pricey starting at around 20 yuan (£2.30). Our tactic across all of China was to buy cheap bottled beers at 6 yuan (70p) from the rice kitchens and sit in there soaking up hubbub of Chinese life. 

 

Ali munching on noodles in a traditional noodle kitchen

Ali munching on noodles in a traditional noodle kitchen

If there’s one thing that will stay with us is that eating in these cheap social kitchens are the life and soul of Chinese culture and every single one, across the whole country, welcomed us in like locals. The people of China are truly amazing and we felt blessed to have been so welcome in every province we visited. 

 

Note to self: we almost mis-calculated our 60 day visa and had to book an emergency last minute flight to Vientiane in Laos to avoid outstaying our welcome. It seems we enjoyed China a bit too much, make sure you work out the correct leaving date!

 

Want to see what our trip looked like?

Check out our China galleries here:

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