Backpacking China is probably not at the top of your bucketlist for 2016, but it should be. Unfortunately, this fascinating country seems to be getting a bad wrap these days. Especially in my neck of the woods. Flip on the news and all you hear about is how Mainland Chinese buyers are driving up the cost of our housing. And down south, Donald Trump is either busy vilifying China (this video is hilarious) or rattling on about how much he loves it. All that aside, I’m growing a little tired of hearing people dismiss such an important player in human history. Relax! It’s not like you have to pledge your allegiance to Mao, so get over it a see why you’ll fall in love with this culturally complex and geographically awe-inspiring corner of the planet! Here are 15 reasons backpacking China is totally worth it – And enjoy my photos!
1) The Architecture Will Blow Your
You all saw the 2008 Beijing Olympics right? From the “Cube” to the Bird’s Nest, so much innovation. Cities like Beijing and Shanghai have been employing star-chitects for eons, and it was fabulous to see some of these space age constructions up close!
2. They Have Terra Cotta Warriors
As an anthropology buff, it was hard to choose what archaeological sites to visit and which ones to leave out, but I don’t think you can say you’ve done China if you haven’t seen one of the most intricate displays of funeral art in the world!
3. Getting Around is Super Easy!
No, the record didn’t just skip, it’s true! China has one of the most efficient transportation systems I’ve ever encountered. With something like 25 million people moving about the country daily, you can see why that’d be necessary. Trains, planes and (only if you absolutely must) automobiles make this a super accessible country.
4. They Have Pandas…Need I Say More?
You could try seeing Pandas in the wild, but honestly, it’s just as fun to visit them at the Giant Panda sanctuary in Chengdu. There you can also see cubs in the nursery, and see Red Pandas up close. And no, there is nothing more adorable than a pack of pandas munching on bamboo at feeding time.
5. Their Walls are Great
No, you cannot see the Great Wall of China from space, but who cares, it’s 21,196km long, can you imagine how much lego that would take to replicate it?! The Ming Dynasty’s lasting gift to the world, is our gain, and you have to see it to understand how incredible a feat it was. This was easily one of the best parts of my trip.
6. There’s Always Something Cooking
There is a saying in China, “if it’s back is to the sun, we’ll eat it.” It’s true the Chinese eat some interesting things, but they also know how to cook some of the most delicious meals, from the simplest ingredients. If you’re brave enough, China is a foodie haven!
7. There are plenty of places to get Zen
Chinese gardens were once regarded as spaces where only nobles and royalty were permitted to enjoy. They often featured temples, jade statues and were an ode to leaders. Now, they are enjoyed and cherished by all like this stunning park, Black Dragon Pool.
8. The people are so Friendly
Okay, I jest, this wasn’t always my experience in China, but it certainly was once I stepped outside the city. City life in China is a grind. It’s crowded, dirty, and competitive – There is little room for pleasantries. But once I spent some time in the rural parts of the country, I fell in love with the people.
9. You Can Watch Tai Chi Flash Mobs
If you’re backing China, you’re going to run into gangs of Tai Chi practitioners. One of my favourite things to do in the afternoons, was to grab a box of noodles, take a seat on the grass and let myself be hypnotized by their graceful movement. It’s really quite beautiful.
10. Old Traditions Get a Modern Twist
One of the most interesting experiences I had while backpacking china was to go cormorant fishing with a group of indigenous Naxi people. They took paddled us out to the middle of the lake in their steel boats, and we watched as cormorants dutifully caught fish for their masters. So fascinating!
11. It’s a Photographers Dream
If you haven’t guessed by now, China is a feast for both the stomach…and eyes! Every place has a story, and every person a journey. If you’re a stranger to your camera, I would invest in some photo classes, because the subject matter here is incredible!
12. The Contrast Between Modern & Ancient
One of the first things you’ll notice backpacking China is the stark contrast between what was, what is and where they want to be. From the uber modern chic pedestrian alleys of Shanghai, to the 3rd century mud bricks of the Great Wall.
13. Family is Everything
Family is the cornerstone of Chinese society. It’s cyclical, with an expectation that little children will later take care of their parents, and they, their grandparents.
14. There is Always Work to Be Done
I thought my work ethic was aces until I started backpacking in China. If you ever have the honour of being invited into someone’s home, take note of how they never sit down! Perhaps it’s why they all live so long!
15. The people are Walking Historians
If you take 20 minutes out of each day to speak to one person while backpacking in China, you will have collected more historical, political and anthropological information than you could glean from reading two text books. The people here are sensitive to their history, very much in touch with their culture, and if you approach them with an open heart, they’ll be sharing their story with you over hot tea and dumpling soup in no time.