So, as promised at the end of my what makes China a perfect travel destination post I’m going to give you some tips on travelling in China. Many of these tips are very obvious and are generally good tips for travelling anywhere, and some are more specific. What I hope they’ll give you is a little more understanding of what to expect when travelling in China, and indeed other destinations, and also how to deal with situations that may be less than pleasant.
To help me set the stage I am going to tell you a story about a typical, if a little exaggerated, encounter with tourist China that I had this summer…
We were in the North Eastern town of Baihe, home to the Changbai Shan Mountain National Park and the incredible Heaven Lake.
We had been excited about this trip for a while, after seeing a gorgeous teeny tiny photo of it in our trusted Lonely Planet guide book, and so were pumped up with glee as we got up early to catch our bus to the Park. Most of the morning passed by in a whirlwind of long buses and queues. Apparently as it was Saturday, and thus very busy, they had run out of tickets and had to print off more- it was 8.30 in the morning. As noted in my previous post, I must add that, apart from one other Westener, the crowds were all Chinese tour groups and families from all over China!
Once we had our tickets we ventured into the Park, excited to explore! But all we saw inside was more queues and a herd of old buses. There didn’t seem to be much signage anywhere but we began our exploring anyway, walking roadside upwards towards what we hoped would be stunning natural wonders. After walking for about half an hour we did stumble across such things in the form or a number of turquoise green pools in a forest.
It was a beautiful surprise. However, it seemed that this was as far as we could go on foot. After some awkward questioning we realised that we needed to go back the way we came, queue and get a bus into the park proper. This is China’s biggest National Park and from what we could see it was gorgeous. Gorgeous but inaccessible. Sigh. As we had come to see the lake we decided to pack away our disappointment, intrepid spirit and pride and follow the tourists. We queued for almost 2 hours.
The queuing system itself was were things really started to get crazy. We were shuttered into many different queuing compartments, feeling like cattle to the slaughterhouse with people pushing and shoving in a ‘jovial’ way. Each time we were allowed into the next compartment everyone would surge forward, running and shouting and throwing people out of the way- one girl got trampled. And all the while everyone but us had huge smiles on their faces- they were having a blast! Our faces were a mixture of bewilderment and hilarity. It wasn’t all fun and shoving, some kind lady did give us some fruit!
Then when we finally got out in the open at the end of the queue we were pushed into a mini van blasting crazy Chinese pop songs and we sped up the mountain in a fast and furious snake line of tourist filled rally vans! The journey was insane and hilarious and scary all at the same time and almost wiped out the memory of all the queuing.
What really made it all worth it, though, was what we had came to see. What we had queued for, and been squished, pushed and trodden on for, and what we had almost fallen off a cliff in a white van for. What made it all worth it was this view:
And not even having to share a very restricting, tiny stretch of mountain side with a 100 other people could have wiped the smiles off of our faces for long. And really, if we hadn’t been limited to queuing and going up at our specified time, then there would have been even more people and even more of a limited view…
I hope that has given you a little insight into some of the ways that China conducts it’s tourism and what it is like to visit incredible natural wonders under these conducts. I just want to point out here that I am not trying to say that a tourist experience in China is a negative one, becuase it definitely isn’t and I hope the pictures show you otherwise! So, without further ado here are some tips on staying sane while travelling insane China:
- Be patient and be flexible. It is oh so simple, and oh so true. Things will take a long time, and things won’t go how you expected them to, but it’s ok, because most of the time they will go well! When you are in such a mind-numbingly frustrating queue take the time to chat to your friends, to chat to some locals- to make the most being in such close confines with other human beings!
- Embrace it! Getting angry about long queues and limited access and stubborn language barriers isn’t going to change anything. This is how it is. Think about the tourism as the cultural experience that it is and not something that is getting in the way of the ‘real’ experiences.
- Laugh. Because otherwise you might cry. Ha, no, not really but laugh because it IS funny. There are people pushing each other and laughing about it so why not laugh too!
- Appreciate it. Don’t forget to appreciate what it is you are doing. You are getting to experience a new culture and inspiring natural splendour and you shouldn’t let anything get in the way of appreciating it, particularly because you probably worked hard to get there.
- Speak up. First learn a little Mandarin and then use it! Use it to ask questions so you are not in a perpetual state of confusion and use it to speak to people, to make friendships in a long queue and to learn a little more from the people around you.
It seems that yes, I have stated the obvious but often the obvious isn’t so obvious and we need a little reminder to chill the hell out!
Have you had experiences travelling in China? Do you have any more tips? How about Changbai Shan, would you take the crazy bus and the crowds to see it?