"A holiday in China? Seriously? It doesn't seem like a country you'd travel to;" (much less blog about) said a whole lot of people when we announced our upcoming trip to China.
And yes, China isn't at the top of our "to go" list; never was, and probably never will be.
I can already hear people saying, "China is so huge, there's so much to see, how could you visit (say Beijing) and this dismiss China as a to go place?"
First. This isn't our maiden trip to China.
Between The Girl and I, we've probably visited China 4 times, (This is our 5th) each time to a different region; we just didn't bother to blog about it. The reason for our trip this time? Our wedding photo-shoot in Lijiang. (will update in a later post) Still, we tried to visit as many "blog worthy" attractions around the Yunnan region as possible while maintaining our philosophy of "comfortable & realistic travel without breaking the bank OR living like a beggar.
Before we get into the post proper, here's a fun fact (or tidbit) for readers.
For Singaporean readers: Westerners/Caucasians view traveling to China as "exotic". It's actually a pretty cool thing for them to announce to their friends and say, "hey, i'm going to China!"
For International readers: Singaporeans (most) opinion of China is "FAR from exotic". Instead China is generally viewed as a holiday destination for the elderly. (in other words, really uncool)
Image Credit: http://www.absolutechinatours.com/ (Had to grab this photo of the net to showcase the DongChuan Red Lands. It didn't look like this while we where there in the winter)
Accommodation: $11 (USD 8) (average per person/night)
Traveling around China? Book your domestic flights, train tickets, and buses here!
Accommodation. Now THIS is a real deal breaker for Singaporeans. I'm referring to those pampered ones with the "herd mentality" strongly ingrained into their minds. (which is most of them) Did you (international readers) know, that (most) Singaporeans can't bear to stay in anything less than a 3 star hotel when on holiday? Preferably 5 star (even when they can't afford it) thank you very much. Oh, yes, privacy too. And a great toilet. That's most important. Experiencing the country comes next, or not at all.
To keep things "relatable" (singlish, no such word exists) for our local readers, we decided to pay more for privacy this time. Oh, and of course, for an attached bathroom as well.
The average cost of accommodation per person? 11 SGD a night. (or 8 USD)
Most Singaporeans shudder at the thought of hostels. They imagine cockroaches, rats and noisy backpackers. Yikes! No privacy! And dirty bathrooms! When I look back at our room; (above) the cheapest one in the Jade Emu Hostel, I wonder, is it really that bad?
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The Jade Emu hostel is really cool. It's clean, has an English speaking reception and a great common area for meeting other travelers. Planning to chill out for the day? No worries! They've a pool table, movie room and bar too!
......And a roof top terrace for should you wish to practice Tai-Chi or Yoga with a beautiful view of snow mountains as your backdrop.
Uh-oh. This might be a deal breaker for Singaporeans. It's a night on a Chinese train.......
To be honest, we actually thought it was a pretty interesting experience. In fact, I would call it enjoyable. The living standard on a Chinese train is pretty much comparable to that of an Eastern European couchette (not sleeper) but more sardines-in-a-can-like. I'm pretty certain I counted between 50-60 beds in one carriage!
There are three levels of beds. The higher the bed (because of low head room and difficulty to access the toilet) the cheaper. The lower the more expensive. Should you find this beneath your "sleeping standards", you could always top up even more and opt for a "soft sleeper", which are pretty much the best beds on the train. (think European Sleeper class with 4 beds but still no personal toilet)
In between Lijiang and Shangri-La is the magnificent Tiger Leaping Gorge. (more on that later) We spent the night at "Middle Tiger" because we were too lazy to trek the entire gorge from start to end. Tibet Guest House was our choice of stay. Yes, a private room for us for 50 Yuan each. 10.5 SGD.
The room even comes with our own personal balcony offering breathtaking views of the gorge below. For 10.5 SGD, i'd take this over a hotel any day. Did I mention the fantastic Tibetan breakfast? Pity Singaporeans would rather gorge themselves silly at hotel breakfast buffets.
Tavern 47 in the old town of Shangri-La deserves special mention. Run by a Korean with his Chinese wife, they are among the most hospitable "guesthouse owners" we've ever come across. Great cozy common areas for making friends, and a sort of rustic feel I really loved.
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Our beds even had heated blankets! Why, why why would anyone choose a hotel over this? Singaporeans are really rich!
Accommodation in China is of a surprisingly high standard. A night in a dorm costs as low as $4.50 (USD 3.30), and a great private room in hostels with attached bathroom costs as low as $9 (USD 6.50) each. Even if you could get a hotel room for as low as $50, do you really need it? Well, you shouldn't need to, not unless you're a Singaporean.
Transport & Attractions: $19 (USD 14) (average per person/night)
(Please read our individual posts on the various cities for more details as this post is mainly a summary of our trip and we couldn't possibly blog in detail about exactly what we did and the order it was done)
Imagecredit: http://www.chinatravelca.com/ Stone Forest, Kunming
"China is an extremely affordable country to visit as a tourist". Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
Alright, we aren't playing a game of 20 Questions; so here it is.
Public transport in China is ridiculously cheap. Buses cost as low as 1 Yuen! (0.2 Sgd) Yes, even for a 1 hour bus journey! A bed in an overnight train from Kunming to Dali costs as low as 22 SGD! Transport settled, one night's accommodation settled. Just for $22!
On the flip side, attractions in China are ridiculously expensive. Visiting the Stone Forest in Kunming (above picture) will cost you 36 SGD just for entrance fees alone! Planning on visiting Shangri-La's key attraction; the Pudacuo National Park? Thank you, that will be 60 SGD.
Tiger Leaping Gorge from above. Isn't it gorgeous?
A 2 hours bus ride away from either Lijiang or Shangri-La lies Tiger Leaping Gorge. The highlight of the trek is in "Middle Tiger" (the middle of the gorge). Being short of time, we made our way straight there to begin our trek instead of the start point. Basically, we cheated.
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It takes about an hour of solid downward trekking before you come to the bottom. Climb over a whole lot of rocks (you'll need your hands to help you) and you're finally there. I'd recommend a good pair of hiking shoes. This is NO easy trek. (and i've survived Nepal; twice)
These are the kind of paths you'll be trekking. At some points, it got so narrow that tried to plaster myself as close as possible to the "safer side", mentally wishing I could become spider-man at least for the next few hours.
And of course, the main highlight of Tiger Leaping Gorge, "Heaven's Ladder"; a rusty, narrow ladder towering up to the heavens. Before attempting it, I gave it a few hard shakes to assure myself "Heaven's Ladder wouldn't fall apart!
Oh, forget about a safety harness. China and safety don't go together, you're better off with a prayer.
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Want to experience the "Tibetan way of life" but no visa for Tibet? No worries, catch a bus to Shangri-La, one of the closest cities to the Tibetan border. The Tibetan culture is so prevalent here, you'll probably forget you're in China!
Tibetan Yak. One of their friends ended up as part of my Yak Burger Set.
A failed jump shot in the snow covered "grasslands" of Shangri-La