the red dragon

Last November, I made a trip to mainland China and traveled to a couple of really amazing places. Beautiful destinations, must-eat food, and memorable experiences. I’ve always liked this one popular travel quote, which I find to be true.

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.

I love being able to explore some place new. I think that’s really how you learn and grow as a person. Reading about a place and its people is one thing (and certainly beats not reading and forming judgmental perspectives based on what other people think), but there’s just something else about physically visiting a new place and immersing yourself in the history and culture. When you do so, you’re forming memories that are purely yours.

If you’re planning a trip to China, the worst time to go is in the summer. Of course, I’m not much of a summer weather gal so my opinion is skewed. Between the 100° F/37° C temperatures and the throngs of people on the streets, it feels like you’re in a furnace. If you can, the best times to visit China are in the spring and early autumn. We visited in late November, so there were some chillier days. Perfect sweater weather!

Check out the places I visited below! If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I can provide more information and/or tips.

Xi’an (西安)

  • Terracotta Warriors (兵马俑) – Pit #1 is the most well-known and well-photographed. There are over 6,000 figures. Pit #2 has cavalry and infantry units and war chariots. Pit #3 has high-ranking officials.
  • Muslim Quarter (回民街) – Go for hand-pulled noodles (with hot chili oil), grilled lamb or beef skewers, meat sandwiches or rou jia mo (肉夹馍), or bread and mutton soup or pao mo (泡馍).
One Army Strong
No shortage of good food on Muslim Street (回民街)

Mount Hua or Hua Shan (华山)

  • One of the Five Great Mountains of China, Mount Hua is known for its sweeping views, narrow and steep paths and cliffs, and Taoist temples.
  • Five peaks: North, East, South, West, and Middle.
  • Most people take an efficient walking-ascending and cable car-descending route. However if you have very limited time, I’d recommend taking a cable car up to West Peak, hit South and East Peak from West Peak (easier than trying to get there from North Peak), and then descend via cable car from North Peak.
  • Be careful of scams reaching the entrance, especially if you’re coming from the train station. Despite looking and speaking Chinese, our taxi driver tried to con us to buying tickets from his “friend.”
West Peak aka Lotus Flower Peak
View of East Peak aka Facing Sun Peak
The infamous Plank Path Walk

Huanglong (黄龙)

  • Located in the northwest part of Sichuan, Huanglong is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its colorful pools that are formed by calcite deposits, snow-capped mountain peaks, waterfalls, and hot springs.
  • Its most unique geological formation is its travertine landscape. Travertine is a form of limestone, and Sichuan’s volcanic mountains make it a perfect place for creating travertine. This is the same material that makes up Yellowstone National Park.
  • We took the cable car up to Huanglong and walked down. However, because of the sudden elevation change, I experienced some altitude sickness (which was not helped later on by the winding roads from Huanglong to Jiuzhaigou). There are 3 ways you can visit Huanglong. We chose the first one.
    • Walk up to the Multi-Colored Pool (五彩池) and back down.
    • Take the cable car up and walk down.
    • Walk up to Multi-Colored Pool (五彩池) and walk to the cable car to descend.
Flamboyant Pool (爭豔池)
Multi-Colored Pool (五彩池), the largest cluster of colorful pools

Jiuzhaigou (九寨沟)

  • A National Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site, and World Biosphere Reserve located in the Min Mountain range in Northern Sichuan, Jiuzhaigou is popular for its many blue, green, and turquoise-colored lakes, waterfalls, and snow-capped peaks.
  • It takes its name from the 9 Tibetan villages in the valley. Today, 7 of the 9 still populate this area.
  • Definitely the highlight of my trip! I love landscapes with water, alpine mountains, and forests. The aesthetic majesty of this remarkable natural reserve is worth the trip. It does tend to get crowded, especially in October. By going in late November, we were able to have some nice quiet moments to take in all the scenery.
  • Word of advice: leave your manners at home. I know your mother may not approve, but this is the only way to get on the bus here. People will shove and shove. Just stand your ground and push back. This can be applied to a lot of places in China, unfortunately. It’s not exactly a country that follows the idea of queues.
Arrow Bamboo Lake (箭竹海)
Pearl Shoal Waterfalls (珍珠滩瀑布)
Reed Lake (芦苇海)
Peacock Riverbed (孔雀河道)
Nuorilang Falls (诺日朗瀑布)

Chengdu (成都)

  • Obviously, the location of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding!
  • Wide and Narrow Alley or Kuanzhai Alley (宽窄巷子) dates back to the Qing Dynasty and preserves the historical and cultural aspects of the city’s past.
  • When in Chengdu, try Chengdu Xiaochi (小吃), hot pot, and spicy cuisine. Usually, 小吃 refers to food you can get in night markets or from street vendors. If you order a lot at a restaurant, it’s similar to tapas.
    • Spicy cuisine to try: dan dan noodles (担担面), mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐), sliced beef in chili sauce (夫妻肺片).
Giant pandas at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
Baby pandas
Wide and Narrow Alley (宽窄巷子)
Couple Sliced Beef Restaurant (夫妻肺片), est. 1933
Chengdu Xiaochi (小吃)

We also visited the cities of Xiamen, Nanjing, Changzhou, and Shanghai to visit family. If there is interest, I can post a separate entry on those cities with photos.

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