Home. Unexpectedly. My China Travel Tips

Trip Start Jul 11, 2004
Trip End Oct 10, 2004

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Where I stayed
Astor House Hotel

Flag of Ireland  ,
Saturday, October 9, 2004

Those who visit foreign nations, but associate only with their own country-men, change their climate, but not their customs. They see new meridians, but the same men; and with heads as empty as their pockets, return home with travelled bodies, but untravelled minds

- Caleb Colton

And so, unexpectedly, it was back to Dublin, via London.

"What?", I hear you cry in dismay.

"What happened to your plans for Mongolia, Russia & Eastern Europe?"

Well, the best laid plans change and mine are no exception. Yes, I was planning on heading from Beijing to Mongolia but unfortunately, shortly after arriving back in Beijing, I received some bad news from home that altered my route. Altered it drastically. So much so that I found myself flying home some 9 weeks ahead of schedule. Ironically I had just returned from the Mongolian embassy after collecting my visa when I got the news. But not to worry: things happen for a reason, good or bad. Mongolia and Russia will wait for another day. They join the ever growing list (** See Update Below **).

Hope you enjoyed the trip nonetheless? I sure did.

Before I sign off for good I want to give you a few small titbits of advice that may help you if you are planning a similar trip. I'm not going to tell you where to go and where not to go because solo travel is such a personal thing and a sight you might find fascinating may bore the hell out of someone else. How I described the sights and experiences I encountered in this Travelogue will sell you, or not, on a particular sight you may be considering visiting. Wherever you go in China I recommend you do the following -

Bring a Good Guidebook & Phrasebook.
These will be the 2nd most important items you'll travel with, after your passport. I travelled with The Rough Guide to China. It was my first time travelling without Lonely Planet and I'll be going with Rough Guides, whenever possible, from here on out. I found the book very good, informative (tons to read.... a plus for me) and most importantly, it was, for the most part, accurate.

To complement it I brought the Lonely Planet Mandarin Phrasebook. You might get lucky, but as a general rule outside of Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and other touristy locations (Yangshou, for example), nobody speaks English, making a phrasebook an essential travel accessory in China. Pronunciation is everything in Chinese so if, like me, you're a linguistic disaster then it will be very helpful if you can have someone who speaks Chinese pronounce the essential phrases for you so you can write down how you hear them, as apposed to how they read (which can seem very different). If you don't have someone to do this for you then fear not; you'll have no problems finding students in Beijing who will be keen to practise their English and thus will be more than happy to help you with this. Actually, they'll find you, especially round the Tiananmen Square area..... just make sure they are not art students trying to sell you stuff.

Look after yourself
Try and have as balanced a diet as possible, bring multivitamins, drink tons of water and get adequate sleep. I guess that's advice for travelling anywhere but in China it can be especially easy to not eat well, not keep sufficiently hydrated and get insufficient sleep, all of which combines to make you more susceptible to getting sick, something you want to avoid in at all costs. My brief sickness in Chengdu was the low point of my trip, beating my forgetfulness in Ping An in to a distant second place. Now it might have been a different story had I not managed to get my money belt back but thankfully that didn't happen.

Travel Hard Sleeper Class.... at a Minimum
Hard Sleeper is more than sufficient for overnight trips and offers the best combination of comfort and value for money. If you can afford Soft Sleeper then great, go for it. Just avoid Hard Seat, especially for overnight trips.

Don't Skimp for Big Experiences
Spend a bit extra to get the most out of the experiences of the trip that you're really looking forward to, especially if you're travelling alone. Example - The Yangtze River cruise. While I enjoyed my 3 night trip down the river I couldn't help but feel I would have enjoyed it that bit more if I had of had a bit more comfort on the ferry. I would have gladly spent a bit more but didn't really have a choice given the only option I could find for a Yangtze ferry trip when searching out ferry tickets in Chongqing was the public ferry I eventually found myself on.

Be as Independent as Possible
As I mentioned in my Chengdu entry try to DIY the trip as much as possible, meaning buy your own transport tickets (more than anywhere a phrasebook comes into its own here), make your way independently to the sights etc. It makes the experience, I found, that much more satisfying. Plus, it saves you a few RMB in the process.

Be Immune to the Incessant Stares
It will help if being constantly stared at doesn't bother you. You might think it won't but wait until you're faced with it to see for sure. It won't be something you'll notice in the touristy locations of Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong & Macau and Yangshou, but off the beaten path you'll get a lot of attention (I first noticed and commented on the Chinese penchant for staring in my Guiyang entry). It'll be nothing worse than stares, even if you're a lone female traveller (China is a very, very safe place for travellers of both sexes, even lone travellers of both sexes) but it can get taxing. Having advanced warning might help so keep it in mind.

Astor House Hotel, Shanghai
While I don't like recommending accommodation I have to make an exception for the Astor House Hotel in Shanghai. Stay here and you'll be waxing lyrical about it too. Trust me.

So that's about it folks. As I said already, I Hoped you enjoyed the trip? Feel free to get in contact with me if you have any questions or comments. I'd love to hear from you.

Dave - Wicklow, Ireland. October 9th 2004

************************************** Update - March 2006 *******************************************

I made it! Yep, I was fortunate enough to be able to make it to Mongolia and Russia as part of another trip, a trip that also saw me getting back, on two different occasions, to various parts of China, including a winter return to Beijing and returns to Hong Kong & Macau and Guangzhou. Check it out, and enjoy.

************************************** Update - March 2006 *******************************************
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