Okay, so I couldn’t speak the language. Been there before. What I wasn’t well-versed in was solo travel. I’ve done a few trips alone in my 27 years of existence, but they were more of an over the river and through the woods jaunt than a long distance miler. I’d call Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou a marathon, seeing as how they’re on the other side of the world, and I was the only person I knew with a bib number. Good thing I’d been training for the past year. Endurance is necessary to run the world.
The 14 hour flight from Boston to Hong Kong was extremely cozy, so much so that I could’ve gone for round two. I had a plethora of activities to choose from such as TV show marathons, numerous TED Talks and many goodies to inhale from the CX Menu. Noodles for breakfast?! I’m in.
The three hour flight from Hong Kong to Beijing was thankfully uneventful. You’d be surprised, however, to know the amount of people who arrive to the mainland without a visa. Tisk, tisk. I’m not trying to act as if I know it all. I obviously don’t. Upon arriving to my Beijing hotel, I thought something must be amiss with the Wi-Fi. I wasn’t able to upload an Instagram or search Google for “do people tip in China?” (Not required.) I even had the IT department come take a look at my iPhone as if something was horribly wrong. It didn’t take long for them to divulge that specific websites are blocked in China under the policy of internet censorship. Uhm, come again? You mean to tell me I can’t publish a single social media post throughout my week here? That I can’t search Google or use Gmail? Girl, please. Like most things in life, there are ways around it. I downloaded the VPN Express app and by securing a connection, I was able to bypass the restrictions. Back in business!
There’s a lot to be discovered in and around Beijing – the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, the Great Wall, the list goes on. What’s hard to miss is the ubiquitous pollution that wraps the region in a toxic gray cloud. Beijing’s skyline is filled with innovative, modern buildings next to historical temples and enchanting hútòngs, ancient alleyways filled with lively locals. China’s stance as a major industrial power is also its own demise. It’s a toss up whether visitors will be able to see the sun upon their visit. During my time here, I was lucky. I think Mother Nature is quite fond of me!
One of my greatest (and hottest) travel memories to-date was walking along the Great Wall of China all by myself, Celine Dion style. About an hour and a half from Beijing lies the Mutianyu section of the wall, winding along lofty, cragged mountains from the southeast to the northwest for a little over a mile in distance.
I’d suggest hiring a car to drive you there, packing a lunch and bringing a good amount of water along with you. It was hotter than hell, and my next trip will include a bikini since the sun wasn’t allowing any dry patches that day. I grew up in the humidity of Arkansas, so I know heat. This was the definition of uncomfortable, but singing the Mulan soundtrack at the top of my lungs had me forgetting that passerbys could see straight through my shirt. What I found comical was that many would stop me to take a photo together. I assure you, this wasn’t due to my sweaty shirt. It wasn’t because I was on The Bachelor. They liked my blonde hair and white skin, and I was happy to smile for the paparazzi.
Do: The Great Wall
Eat: Roasted Duck
Sleep: Rosewood Beijing
Truth: I could live in Shanghai. It’s modern and pretty and shiny with a good mix of the young and the restless, the bold and the beautiful, the old and wise, etc, etc.
What made my time in this energetic city was accomplishing what I strive to do anywhere in the world: to live like a local. I met a Chinese woman around my age when I checked into the Ritz Carlton Shanghai. Little did I know her expertise on the city would be a huge game changer. From trying on multiple qipaos (traditional Chinese dresses) to sampling different Chinese food, I had the most authentic experience possible. Nebula, thank you from the bottom of my heart for showing me the ‘Bests’ of Shanghai!
Do: The Bund, Yu Garden, Xintiandi
Eat: Xiao long bao
Sleep: Ritz Carlton Shanghai, Pudong
It wasn’t until I arrived in Hangzhou that I realized exactly how different each mainland China destination was. Beijing has more past than the History Channel. Shanghai can light up the sky with its towering new skyscrapers. As for Hangzhou, it was surrounded by nature with lush greenery that engulfed me all the way to my hotel room.
The train ride into Hangzhou from Shanghai was quick, taking about an hour. Train travel within China has undergone many upgrades in recent years, luring in the efficient traveler who doesn’t have time for possible airline delays or security lines. Travel China Guide is a reliable source from which to buy tickets, and changes are free of charge. I needed to change my departure time twice, and they were very quick to do so via email.
I wasn’t lying when I said locals came up frequently for photos.
One of my favorite moments was spent in nature in the alluring West Lake region of the city. The UNESCO World Heritage site enjoys abundant greenery, gardens and temples with an area totaling 2 1/2 square miles. Hangzhou is a big city with a population of 2.5 million people, but the beauty of West Lake not only lies in its flora and fauna. It acts as a water wonderland retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city center. Visitors can bike, walk, or take a pleasure cruise on the water! I’d suggest going at dusk to photograph the sunset.
Do: West Lake District, Lingyin Temple
Eat: West Lake Vinegar Fish
Buy: Longjing Green Tea
As the final day of my China experience drew near, I sensed a feeling of sadness creeping up in my subconscious. Not only was Hangzhou my final stop in China, but it was also the final stop of my entire five week Asia tour. I had packed and repacked countless times. I had boarded. I had deboarded. I posted Instagram after Instagram. I made many new friends around the world. I ate my body weight in authentic Chinese food. I came, I saw, I conquered…and then I left. Thank God for that endurance training. It takes a lot to run the world.
I teamed up with the Cathay Pacific, an airline known for rave reviews and ‘Bests‘ in many categories, for #MyChinaExperience, a digital campaign to inspire and celebrate the diversity of travel in China. Flying to over 22 destinations within China, the Hong Kong-based airline tops the charts for service and amenities every mile of the way. Be sure to check out Cathay’s ‘The Pier’ Lounge when in HK, too!
The Road Les Traveled was welcomed aboard flights as a guest, however my opinions are as always, my own.