Written by Fiona Clarke, PR Senior Account Executive
There are many countries on my ‘to visit wish list’, but China wasn’t one. Years of negative headlines and the communist regime had left their mark on my opinion which, I put my hands up to, meant I was blindsided and didn’t have high expectations for holidaying in the country.
However, I do love to experience new places and cultures and am happy to be proved wrong, so when my brother asked if I wanted to accompany him on another trip there in May I said yes.
Much of our journey was based in the rural province of Yunnan in the south west of China. The region is mountainous with plenty of rivers, including the mighty Yangtze, and has a mild climate. It is also home to plenty of beautiful villages and stunning landscapes, making it a popular tourist destination.
We all acknowledge the Chinese tourist is exploring the world at a rapid pace, but within their home country this is on a whole other level. Everywhere we went there were Chinese tourists on mass scale exploring their vast homeland. We really did feel like we were the only Western tourists – a sensation which I’ve not felt anywhere else.
We started our trip in the province’s capital of Kunming, before venturing to Dali, Shaxi and Lijiang, with a quick side trip to hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge. The jewel in Yunnan’s crown though has to be Shaxi. Knowing that China’s small towns are like our large cities, I was very apprehensive about going to this so called ‘town’, but thankfully the guidebooks were correct and we were greeted by the quaintest Chinese market village there may possibly be.
Shaxi is situated on an ancient tea route which took the horse caravans down into Burma and Tibet and is now being preserved thanks to the Swiss. From its market square splayed tiny pathways, twisting past little homes and beautiful boutique hotels, hidden behind chunky but ornate wooden doors. The Friday market was a cultural treat with dentistry work taking place on the street, pigs heads sat on chopping boards and old ladies pottering around buying their rice and vegetables for the week.
Having gone to China with a view of a suppressed society I was very much proven wrong on our visit to Lijiang. In the early evening we wandered the streets to find row upon row of garish nightclubs, all heaving with Chinese partygoers, dancing on tables and taking part in karaoke….and it was only 8pm. They really do know how to let their hair down, something that isn’t portrayed in Western media!
After mooching our way through Yunnan we headed to our final stop, Shanghai. Wow, what a city! Architecture is a massive part of why I love to travel and here I was left gawping in awe. From stunning art deco skyscrapers to the charming red bricked shikumen lane houses, outrageous modern designed towers to the dizzying Shanghai Tower – the world’s second tallest building. It truly is astonishing what shapes can be made with some concrete, glass and bamboo scaffolding.
Despite the changing faces and landscapes throughout our trip, the one thing that remained constant was the hospitality of its people. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as welcome and safe as I did there.
By the end of our trip I was definitely starting to see why my brother had fallen in love with this country on many visits before.