I knew even before leaving for China that connecting to my social media accounts would be a challenge. Not only is the data network in China slow, but the social media accounts I use every day are blocked in mainland China. There are ways around that of course, and I prepared myself before hopping on board that Cathay Pacific fight to Hong Kong and then Beijing. Even though I could mostly get online, the time difference and connectivity meant that I didn’t post quite as often as I would’ve liked. I’m picky about what I post to Instagram on a good day, and when there are added complications that frequency is reduced even further. So today I thought I’d share a few photos and stories from my trip to China that I didn’t post for one reason or another as a way to share what the experience was like.
Working with Cathay Pacific Airways, the goal of this trip was to show what My China Experience (#MyChinaExperience) looks like. We’re all different in how we travel and what we like to see and do, and they wanted me to figure out what an ideal trip to China would look like. Choosing activities and cities that interested me, my trip may have been brief but I feel that it was the perfect introduction to this enormous nation that will take many more trips to see more fully.
Tiananmen Square, Beijing
A stop at Tiananmen Square is near the top of the list for most Western visitors to China, thanks to those iconic images we all remember from 1989. Truth be told, it’s an interesting place to visit in its own right and walking around this gigantic public square was a perfect first activity in Beijing. Gazing up at that giant image of Mao, that was the moment when I truly felt like I was in China. We all have preconceived notions of what traveling in any country will be like and for me, walking through the gates to the Forbidden City under the watchful gaze of the Chairman was the critical moment when I realized that I had indeed arrived.
Summer Palace, Beijing
One challenge I had in Beijing was that there was too much to see and do and not enough time to do it. So I had to pick and choose but looking back at it, the decision to visit the large Summer Palace complex was very smart. Chinese rulers lived in this tranquil retreat for centuries and today you can easily sense the former power and glory that was centered here. On a warm almost-summer weekend afternoon, its appeal wasn’t only obvious to me, but the thousands of Beijing locals all there to enjoy some time in the gardens and paddling on the lake. It was a fun afternoon with some history thrown in, but mostly the appeal of the Summer Palace is the pastoral beauty. In a city as large as Beijing, it’s a nice way to slow down and relax.
I of course had to share at least one image of pandas on Instagram and the experience of interacting with them was so meaningful, I thought I’d share this photo as well. For years, I always joked with people that my ultimate travel experience would be to hug a panda. It seemed so outrageous and so inconceivable that I thought it was a great answer. And then I actually hugged a panda. The Dujiangyan Panda Base is affiliated with the larger and more well-known Chengdu Giant Panda Research Station but just because it’s smaller and not as well known doesn’t mean that important work isn’t being done there every day. A new facility, the goal here is to fuse both tourism and conservation in a unique way that seems to be working. In large, private woody enclosures, about 30 pandas live their quiet lives, part of ongoing breeding and research critical to preserving the species. Visitors can walk around and admire them, but they can also spend the day volunteering at the base as well. Although I didn’t have the time for the full experience, guests spend a whole work day learning about the pandas, cooking and cleaning for them and going behind the scenes to see what panda keepers do on a daily basis. If you don’t have the day to spend you can do what I did – hug a panda. For a donation fee, visitors get to spend a few moments sitting next to a young panda, an experience as unique as any in the world. For someone like me who truly loves pandas, it was a wonderful moment and an experience I know I’ll always remember. The only problem is that now I’ll have to think of a new bucket list item.
Even within China, a food crazed country, Chengdu is known for its food – spicy food at that. I tried as much as I could from simple street food to its famous hot pot restaurants and all of it was Sichuan cuisine at its finest. Food is the fastest way to learn about any new city, and in Chengdu that meant making new friends and fast. A great place to start your exploration of Sichuan cuisine in Chengdu is at the admittedly touristy Jinli Street. Here there are hundreds of small vendors, selling inexpensive snacks on the go including everything from noodles and soups to spicy potatoes and pineapple sticky rice. I loved my afternoon there and my only regret was that I couldn’t eat more.
Kennedy Town, Hong Kong
I could have easily flown home from Chengdu, but I wanted to spend the night in Hong Kong because I just enjoy being there. Although I didn’t have a lot of time to explore on this trip, I wanted to do something different so I joined a walking tour of an up-and-coming neighborhood known as Kennedy Town. This long-neglected area of Hong Kong is going through a very rapid change thanks to the opening of a new subway connection. Walking around with my guide from Little Adventures in Hong Kong, I learned a lot about what life in Hong Kong was like decades ago, a lifestyle still on full display in Kennedy Town. From joining locals for milk tea and egg tarts to strolling the waterfront, it was a wonderful way to learn a little more about this dynamic city.
I have so much to share from my week in China, but I hope this brief insight into the travel experience is a good first start.