Day trip to Shenzhen from Hong Kong

Shenzhen is worth a visit if spending more than a couple of weeks in Hong Kong and the surrounding area, especially for the view from the skyscrapers to see the sharp contrast between the rice fields of northern Hong Kong and the booming glass, steel and concrete structures of Shenzhen and generally its super futurisic feel at times.  The Dafen Oil Painting village and Luohu Commercial City will all of its fake handbags etc are also worth a trip


But to be honest I wouldn’t prioritise it over any of the classic or hidden highlights of Hong Kong, or over a day-trip to Macau.  For details on these see, my tips on the entries for 2 days for the famous highlights of Hong Kong, 2 days hidden highlights of Hong Kong, and a Day trip to Macau from Hong Kong

Hiking the stunning Zhangjiajie National Park

You’ve seen Avatar right?  Zhangjiajie is the inspiration for the landscape of the distant planet in the movie, and that’s exactly what the 3000 or so karst pinnacles rising up from the subtropical forest feel like.  Its a bit of a bugger to get to because you need to find flights to the local Zhangjiajie Hehua airport, or take the 5 hour drive from Changsha.  It can also get quite crowded because . . . well . . . this is China.   But, overall it is well worth the trip, especially because by making some very basic changes you can avoid the crowds and get to hike some beautiful sections of what, arguably, should be one of the natural wonders of the world

Walking the wild Great Wall of China by Jinshanling

The Great Wall is iconic, and a must do for when near Beijing.  But the main sites of Badaling and Mutianyu can be super hectic with the sheer number of tourists and tacky infrastructure around them.  Instead, head to one of the remoter wild wall sections, such as Jinshanling (and walk from there to either Simatai or Gubeikou), where there are way way fewer people, very similar views and, critically, that feeling of wow and adventure as you’re heading off into the distance on one of the Wonders of the World . . . something it is very hard to experience in the busier sites


You might be thinking why don’t more people check out the wild walls rather than the more popular sites?  Main reason is that tourist sites in China tend to be catered for the huge domestic Chinese market, with those visiting from abroad simply following suit.  And, as anyone who has lived in China can tell you, Chinese people do not care in the slightest about having thousands of people around them . . . I mean, when you’ve grown up with a billion people around you, why would you?  What this means is that the mass crowds, crowds that a more international tourist group would see as a negative, just isn’t a factor in the decision as to where to go.   So . . . if you don’t mind being herded around like cattle in the simpler mass tourism machine and around 1 hour closer to Beijing, go for Badaling and Mutianyu.  If you don’t mind an extra hour or so, head for to the wild wall

The Trans-Siberian Railway from Omsk to Beijing

The world’s longest and most famous train journey.  Crossing all of Russia, the route takes you through a landscape that was previously so impenetrable that it used to be quicker to cross the Atlantic, America and the Pacific than it was to make the overland from Moscow to Vladivostok.  Considering there are unlikely to be any other ways you will get to see this vast expanse of territory, this feels like a must for an adventurous traveler


But two things to bear in mind – firstly, the route is not one single train / journey, rather it is a series of trains and with various stops.  Secondly, there are three final destinations – Vladivostok, Beijing or Zabaikalsk.   This provides a series of combination from where you could go, and the journey I took was from Omsk to Beijing, via Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk & Lake Baikal, Ulan Ude, Ulan Bator & its surrounding national parks.  Its a great adventure and one that can easily be combined with a trip around Central Asia


I’ve written below some Travel Tips for this journey, but my main two tips are: #1. Prioritise Lake Baikal – it is the highlight stop of the journey, and far more fun than the grey city stops of the likes of Omsk and Krasnoyarsk; #2. Finish in Beijing – the Trans-Siberian is know for Moscow-Vladivostok, but it is a no-brainer to travel to Beijing instead.  Vladivostok vs Mongolia and Beijing?  No comparison

A day in Urumqi

Very little to do in Urumqi and it is just like any large Chinese city, rather than the more exotic culture and landscape that you’re most likely looking for in this part of the world.  Typically you’ll only be travelling through Urumqi to access the other parts of Western China and, if so, no need to spend any extra time there.  If do have an extra day or so, the Xinjiang museum is worth checking out and maybe a wander through one of the central parks, but Urumqi is far down the list of places to visit in this magnificent country

Drifting down to Li River and cycling in Yangshou

The area around the Li River by Yanhshou has some of the most beautiful picture-perfect scenery in the world, let alone China.  But, as with all things in China, it is usually extremely busy.  It’s hard to avoid the crowds and boats on the river itself, but the two ways I’d suggest to feel a bit more a serene experience away from the thousands of fellow tourists are:


  1. Jump on a bike (can rent in various places, but Bike Asia was good) and head off to cycle around the surrounding areas of Yangshou and through some of the dreamy valleys
  2. Stay in a place either on the outskirts or outside of Yangshou (the town is very commercialised and busy in placed)


Don’t let the crowded town put you off though.  The combination of cycling the valleys and drifting down the river is one of the premier experiences in China


Extra tip – see if you can start start your trip in Guilin as it is one of the prettier Chinese cities.  There is also the day trip from here to the beguiling Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces (travel entry here –The Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces)

Beijing highlights for 2 days – 10 tips

Beijing is the political, cultural and historic centre of China and, with its world famous attractions of Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden Palace, the Summer Palace, and nearby Great Wall, it is a must for any visit to China


I lived for 2 years in Beijing, so wanted to use this not to write some kind of all-encompassing travel guide, but just share with you 10 tips on what I would suggest to get the most out of a 2-3 day trip


  • Tip #1 – make sure to walk through the Hutongs.  You’ll naturally cover the main attractions of the Great Wall and Forbidden Palace as part of your visit, but make sure that you give yourself at least a couple of hours to walk, and get lost, through the historic Hutongs just to the north of the Forbidden City.  Hutongs are traditional narrow streets that formed by the connection between the traditional courtyards that 4 generations of northern Chinese families used to live in, and provide a sharp contrast to the modern day Beijing of dramatic economic growth and glistening skyscrapers


  • Tip #2 – visit the “wild wall” section of the Great Wall.  The Great Wall is iconic, and a must when visiting Beijing.  But the main sites of Badaling and Mutianyu can be super hectic with the sheer number of tourists and tacky infrastructure around them.  Instead, as long as you’re in a basic level of fitness, head to one of the remoter wild wall sections, such as Jinshanling.  There are way way fewer people, very similar views and, critically, that feeling of wow and adventure as you’re heading off into the distance on one of the Wonders of the World . . . something it is very hard to experience in the busier sites.  I’ve written a more detailed review of this experience here – Walking the wild Great Wall of China by Jinshanling – so check out for more detailed tips


  • Tip #3 – priorities if short on time.  I think 3 days is about right for Beijing, but appreciate that some may have less time.  I’d prioritise as follows: #1 The Forbidden City and area around it, including the Hutongs and grabbing some Peking Duck, and Tiananmen Square (you need to walk through the square to access the Forbidden City). #2 The Great Wall.  #3 The Summer Palace.  #4 The Temple of Heaven Park.  #5  Other attractions such as Behei Park, the Lama Temple and the Drum & Bell Towers.  You can easily fit #1 – #4 in 2 days whereby you aim for #1 and #4 on Day 1 and #2 and #3 on Day 2, but just bring the energy with you!


  • Tip #4 – Food.  Peking Roast Duck is of course the signature dish and the Beijing Dadong Roast Duck Restaurant just to the east of the Forbidden City is the classic, if overpriced, place to have it (note its called Peking rather than Beijing just because Peking was the old “mispronounced-by-foreigners” name given the Beijing). But be sure to also try the Beijing dumplings which are actually more widely eaten in Beijing and have a variety for you to chose from


  • Tip #5 – Beijing is massive and so are the famous sites.  The city itself sits within 6 ring roads, the later of which is around 188km / 117 miles long, and with a population of around 22 million.  So getting around can take a while – especially trips to outlying sites like the Summer Palace (40mins by taxi) and the Great Wall (1.5 hours – 2.5 hours depending on which section you chose).  The famous sites are also massive – the Forbidden City & Tiananmen Square are more than a square km (half a square mile); and the Summer Palace is 3 square kms (1 square mile).  So be prepared for quite a lot of walking, which in the stifling Beijing summer heat (temperatures can break 40 Celsius / 104 Fahrenheit) can be energy sapping


  • Tip #6 – try to break the language barrier.  Other than your hotel and tourist spots, don’t expect much English to be spoken.  After all China is so vast, and at times insular, that it doesn’t really make sense for the vast majority to know anything other than Mandarin (and the local dialects).  Be aware of it, but also see if you can bridge the barrier by using google’s simultaneous translator function (which is now allowed in China).  You’ll be amazed just how open and how much you can learn from a taxi driver on one of those long rides to the Summer Palace or Great Wall.  Might even be the best memory from your visit


  • Tip #7 – Travel in Beijing.  Naturally with 22m people, Beijing is crowded and has a few difficulties to be aware of when travelling as a foreigner.  The first one is a bit obvious, but try to avoid the rush hour – you can get bordering on gridlock sometimes when trying to travel across the city by car, and the subway will bring a new meaning to you for crammed in.  The second is about taxis  – there are 71,000 taxis in Beijing (5x New York City), so there are usually plenty available.  The problem is that Beijing isn’t the super-friendly-to-foreigners- city it used to be and you may likely get drivers refusing to take you just because of the extra hassle of trying to understand a foreigner.  There isn’t that much you can do, although having the address written in Chinese can help.  Uber is not allowed in China, but I do recommend downloading the Chinese version of Didi which is basically the same and has the English language option


  • Tip #8 – be ready for some pollution.  Beijing’s pollution has improved significantly over the past 10 years (I still remember it when it was at its worst – sports had to be cancelled and you’d find black residue in your nose), but it will still probably be roughly ten times worse than you are used to.  Sometimes you’re lucky and its a bright clear day (in fact sometimes you’re really lucky and they fire up the “artificial rain enhancement rockets”), others it can get a bit smoggy.  2 days won’t harm you


  • Tip #9 – don’t expect it to be cheap.  Whilst China is still some way behind the West in average incomes, and for sure there are various things you can do in Beijing that are very cheap, some things (especially hotels, restaurants and bars) can still be western prices or more.  Bear in mind that China is a land of extremes and Beijing has more billionaires than any city in the world


  • Tip #10 – other attractions if you have time.  The Lama Temple is very pretty and worth visiting if you haven’t been to a large Buddhist Temple before.   The Drum and Bell Towers are great for views, and make sense to check out when walking around the nearby Hutongs.  If you are spending the whole day at the Summer Palace, it’s worth a trip to the nearby Fragrant Hills Park, especially in Autumn.  And of course, Beijing has some cracking bars – start off in Sanlitun and see where the lash takes you

The Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

Just to the north of Guilin are the rice terraces so wonderfully named the Dragon’s Backbone.  The highlight is the view over them from the Nine Dragons and Five Tigers viewing point, but the surrounding area itself with its stilt house villages and sharp river valleys are also beautiful


This is very short entry as we ended up simply taking a day tour from Guilin rather than adventuring ourselves, but I would highlight this a must-do if travelling through this part of China and should be linked up with a boat ride down the Li River through the spectacular scenery south of Guilin – for more tips on this experience see the entry for Drifting down to Li River and cycling in Yangshou


My extra tip, and something I wish we’d done, is the 4 hour trek from the village of Dazhai to Pingan.  The area around here really is beautiful so would make a great hike.  Plus you’d quickly get away from the crowds which, this being China, are fairly consistent

A day in Tianjin

I stayed for 6 months in Tianjin and, being honest, I wouldn’t recommend even a day trip.  There is an old town which is not particularly well done, a river walk which is ok, a viewing platform on the radio tower which has good views, and some districts which demonstrate its cosmopolitan past.  But overall it is just one of the giant Chinese cities, often polluted and without any clear reason to visit.  Should you be considering a day trip from Beijing, I would say prioritise your time for Beijing itself or the surrounding Hebei province

Chengdu – pandas, hotpot and the world’s largest Buddha statue of Le Shan

Chengdu is far from the highlight of Sichaun province, but it will naturally be one of the transit spots you pass through on your way to some of the wonderful natural landscapes surrounding it.  Make sure though to give yourself at least a day in Chengdu to see the pandas (giant and red versions) at the Giant panda Breeding Research Base; for a half day trip to the UNESCO world heritage listed Giant Buddha in Le Shan (1200 years old carved into the confluence of 3 rivers) and to generally spend either an afternoon in one of the traditional tea houses or an evening eating the super spicy Sichaun hotpot


It’s punchy, but doable to do all this in a day.  Makes most sense to get to the Panda Base when it opens at 8am for the morning feed (they are often asleep in the afternoon) and then try to get a tour to the Buddha leaving from Chendgu at around 11am (its 2hours to the site, half an hour or so getting a boat up to it, and potentially quite a bit more time if you want to walk around it – the queues at weekends and holidays will be very slow moving)


Last tip, do make sure to try the Sichaun hotpot, the province’s world-renowned dish.  But be warned that it packs a put-the-toilet-roll-in-the-fridge-the-night-before punch.  We tried Long Sen Yuan Hotpot which was great and a good location.  You’ll have had spicy food before, but its something about the combo of the spice (which is strong), plus the temperature of the broth, plus the numbing effect of the pepper corns that really does make this quite the experience – “enjoy”!