It may seem like an odd piece of advice but my time travelling in China constantly had me appreciating its uniqueness for travellers, especially those who have spent a lot of time in South East Asia.
Before I explain these little surprises I first have to admit that it may have been the fact that we were travelling with someone who spoke the language that gave us such an amazing experience. Many people we met mentioned how hard the language barrier had been for them and how it had tainted their experience. However any experience is what you make of it and I think that if we had learned a little Mandarin and travelled without our friend we still would have found China fascinatingly refreshing.
So why is China so special?
Chinese tourism is aimed at Chinese tourists…
Throughout our time in China we were shocked at how few westerners we saw, even in the most touristy of destinations. The reason for this may be that, as China is so large, those living there want to explore another part of it that is far from, and different from, their own home more than they want to travel outside the country. Indeed in 2010 overseas tourists in china totalled 55.98 million while domestic tourists totalled 1.61 billion!
What this means for the traveller:
-you will often be the only westerner visiting a tourist destination which equals great opportunity to interact with locals, and that is locals from all over china!
-you don’t feel like you are being shepherded around the ‘tourist trail’ where you constantly see the same other westerners.
-as many Chinese tourists have a tendency to stop, take a picture and run on to the next big thing (they are crazy snap happy!), you will often get the place to yourself!
-the touts are often never there or, if they are, they don’t really bother you.
This leads to the next surprise…
The locals don’t care about you!
In general we found that we were left alone a lot in China and what I mean by this is that there isn’t as much of the tourist pestering that you get in other places. This means negative pestering and, more specifically, scamming. You will, on the other hand, be talked to often and asked to pose for pictures!
Towards the end of our 6 weeks in China we did begin to get a little annoyed at people taking pictures of us sneakily from afar with their obnoxiously large cameras! This is something we try not to do as travellers, take photos of people as if they are a landmark or animals in a zoo, but somehow Chinese tourists don’t understand the ethics of this!
But in the end it’s all relative and you do get to feel like a celebrity!
The next not too surprising surprise?
China is big! Like seriously. Which means you get so many opportunities to get off the beaten track and explore relatively unknown destinations!
And because of its size the diversity is just insane. You have pulsing cities, lush national parks and then deserts and camels! So if the long bus journeys don’t put you off you’d find it hard to get bored in China!
China is an unbelievably rewarding country to visit and if you are patient, open minded and relaxed about it all you are sure to fall in love with it!
More posts will be coming on what to do, where to stay and what to eat in captivating China! So follow along to not miss out on the inspiration!