The Food is nothing like English Chinese.
The food in China was incredible. There were so many different foods to try, my favourites being the Chinese hot pot; the Beijing duck; Xi’an dumplings; and of course the crispy scorpions on a stick!
The Chinese Hot Pot (also known as Steamboat or Fondue) is served in a metal pot which is placed in the centre of a table. The pot is filled with simmering stock and all the ingredients are dotted across the table to be cooked in the broth as you go along. Everyone eats together and chooses meat, seafood, vegetables, tofu, noodles, or whatever it is they fancy to drop in the broth for cooking. This instant cooking means everything is fresh and delicious and is one of my favourite meals.
You can get by with minimal knowledge of the Chinese language.
I was lucky enough to have a good friend in China with a Chinese wife but I found that with just a few essential words, a lot of pointing and smiling politely we could get along just fine. What were these essential words? Hello, Thank You, Beer and This.Hello: speaks for itself, it’s polite, friendly and shows you have at least attempted to engage with the complex language.
Thank You: with most people not speaking English and Chinese more than a little difficult to pick up, being able to thank anyone for their help is handy.
Beer: Sometimes you just ‘need’ a beer. If it’s out of sight and you can’t point, at least knowing this essential word and how to thank someone afterwards means you can relax and enjoy a cold beer after a busy day.
This: this may seems like a strange inclusion but being able to point, gesture or draw something and say “this” can simply make all the difference in being understood.
Xi’an has much more to offer than the Terracotta Army.
After being in Beijing and Shanghai, Xi’an seems small and quiet but it has lots to offer other than the world famous Terracotta Army. The walls surrounding it give you a great view of the city and the traditional style Bell Tower is quite charming.My favourite part of my time in Xi’an was spent the main food street area known as Huimin Street or the Muslim Quarter. The street was full of street vendors offering different delicacies and restaurants offering some of the most wonderful dumplings I have ever tried. I remember the great difficult my friend and I had trying to pick up a delicate dumpling filed with soup with chop sticks. Eventually after several disasters and spillages we gave in and used a spoon. We did however become rather adapt with a pair of chop stick by the end of our trip!
But you should not miss the Terracotta Army.
The Emperor ordered an entire army to be built, with thousands of individually made warriors which were all handed painted, then buried them. It’s incredible to see and more incredible to think how all those years ago it was even possible. Not something to miss if you get the chance.
You can ride a toboggan down the Great Wall of China.
If you head to the Mutianyu part of the Great Wall you can toboggan down. How many people can say they have done that!? The toboggan is slightly terrifying but a lot of fun. Essentially it feels like a tin tray on a steep metal track, where you can quickly gather speed while the Chinese shout for you to slow down using the hand brake between your legs!
Get there early to avoid the crowds and queues. We arrived first thing and were able to get some great pictures of the Wall with no people spoiling the spectacular scenery.
Take plenty of water. After a cable car up to the wall, the trek along can be strenuous, especially with several steep sections of stairs; well worth the exhaustion but lots of water is a must.
The Chinese love taking photos with Westerners.
I had noticed, as a tall, blonde, westerner that I seemed to be getting some unwanted attention with locals trying to take photos of me (not so subtly) on tubes and trains. It seemed my pale skin and blonde hair was an intriguing sight. On one occasion, at the Forbidden Palace in Beijing, I was actually dragged by the hand into a photo full of strangers so they could have a photo with their “western friend”. They were friendly enough despite me not understanding what was going on but it is a little disconcerting at first being photographed with strangers!
Squatting gets much harder when you’ve had a few drinks.
When you arrive in China it is not unusual to find squat toilets. After a while you get use to them and get on with it. But after a few drinks it’s remarkable how hard it can become to squat steadily!!!
Sleeper Trains are great until the toilets break!
China is a huge country with so much to offer and getting around it is easy, especially covering large distances on sleeper trains. Buy your tickets in advance and opt for the soft sleeper if your budget permits and you can set off from one city and wake up in another with minimal stress. This was a really comfortable way to travel and much better than trying to sleep on various buses and coaches. My only complaint was a few miles from our final destination, Shanghai, the toilets were all out of use; I have NEVER needed a wee so much in my life!
Bartering gets annoying after a while.
When we first arrived in China is was fun to barter on the price of souvenirs etc and feel like you were getting a real bargain. After a while though the novelty wears off and you realise that by adding several zeros on to the normal price the sellers are not giving you a bargain and are just forcing you to spend your time bartering down to the local price. Definitely fun to give bartering a go though and if the price is too high, walk away! They soon come back with a better offer.
I want to go back!
Check out my entry into Lonely Planets “Unforgettable Journeys across China” competition here.