As I mentioned in a previous post, in typical me-fashion I’ve found an entirely ridiculous thing to stress about whilst in China. This time it’s choosing just where to go on our travels when we have some long-awaited decent time off. Before coming to China I obviously knew it was pretty massive but it’s only been since I landed here that I’ve begun to appreciate the full scale of the country. We could spend the next year exploring the Sichuan Province alone and only see a tiny proportion of it. Having spent many childhood summer holidays as a passenger on my family’s epic Aberdeen to Dover drives I find it incredible that the equivalent of this almost-country-crossing journey in China doesn’t even get us to the neighbouring province (of course depending on which direction we head in). Whilst we are incredibly lucky that being based in Chengdu means we are able to hop on a host of planes, trains and buses to far flung places, epic distances, extreme weather variations and my penchant for more remote destinations means we need to plan relatively far in advance for our future adventures. As such, I’ve been compiling a bit of a ‘China Bucketlist’ with my Top 5 places that I am determined to visit before we need to face inevitable real life and come on home to the UK.
1. Tibetan Plateau, Western SIchuanChengdu’s proxomity to the incredible scenery of Western Sichuan and its beautiful, rugged Tibetan Plateau was one of it’s main selling points (aside from the food) when we were considering which city to relocate to. Whilst Tibet itself would be utterly incredible to see, the bureaucracy, ever changing permit laws and the expense of going with a restrictive but mandatory guided tour has meant we’ve struck it off the list. However, Western Sichuan is by all accounts and purposes just as amazing and it’s the place I have Googled most consistently since we first decided to come to China. It’s looking highly likely that this will be the first place we will tick off the list too as we have been chatting with some friends about making the 9 hour bus trip to Kangding to then embark on a 5-7 day trek around Gongga Mountain (pictured above). It basically sounds like a dream trip to me (lack of showering facilities aside) so I am keeping everything crossed we can sort out our current (very slow and frustrating) visa situation and make the trip!
2. Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan ProvinceLiterally the first image I saw when I opened my brand new Lonely Planet China all those months a go was of Tiger Leaping Gorge. Listed in the Lonely Planet as the must-do trek in China I’ve been desperate to visit ever since. Whilst several blogs detailing the precarious path conditions (sheer drops and vertical ladders, anyone?) make me feel queasy I am desperate to do this walk. Originally mooted as a potential autumn destination, we’ve since discovered that the walk is highly ill advised during rainy season so we’ve postponed. Although I was initially a bit disappointed that I have to wait until 2016 to see the views for myself, it’s really a blessing since I need to get a whole lot fitter before tackling the gorge’s infamous 28 bends.
3. Kashgar, Xinjiang ProvinceNeither Kashgar, nor the entire Xinjiang Province were really on my radar until quite recently – the only thing I really knew about the region is that it’s home to the majority of China’s Uighur people – an Islamic ethnic minority who sadly have faced a lot of persecution by the majority Han Chinese – and that they eat a lot of lamb there, a meat uncommon in most Chinese cuisine. However, since reading a book which detailed the author’s travel to the area and of course, Googling it extensively, I now really want to travel around the province and in particular visit Kashgar (pictured above). A city that’s physically closer to Tehran than Beijing, looking at pictures it doesn’t look like it’s somewhere in China. Sadly, as in every other city in the country, mass-development is moving in and historical architecture is being flattened to make way for white tiles and blue glass buildings but it’s still got pockets of genuine Kashgar left and I want to make sure I see those before they disappear.
4. Yangshuo, Guangxi ProvinceTo be honest, I think the above photo explains why I want to go to Yangshuo far better than I ever could with actual words. To me, Yangshuo looks like the China you first envisage when someone mentions the country – it looks like a real life version of any landscape chinese watercolour I’ve seen. It’s here that you can float down through the karst scenery on a bamboo raft and watch fisherman with their cormorants. Guangxi is south of Sichuan and in the grand scheme of China is pretty close to Chengdu. Much like Tiger Leaping Gorge, rainy seasons mean it’s pretty much off-limits for autumn if you want to do any decent hiking and cycling (we do) so it’s on the 2016 list.
5. Jiuzhaigou National Park, Sichuan ProvinceAnd last but by no means least is the stunning Jiuzhaigou National Park, conveniently located right here in the Sichuan Province. Slightly less conveniently, it’s still a 10 hour bus ride away unless you can afford some very expensive flights. However, the mere fact you can get to it on a cheap mode of transport and in a days travel means we have absolutely no excuse not to get there at some point in the next 18 months. According to legend, Jiuzhaigou was created when a jealous devil caused a goddess to drop her mirror from the skies, shattering into 118 turquoise lakes when it it hit the ground. These lakes and their surrounding parkland and villages are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts over two million visitors a year. Recently, as part of the park’s ecotourism project, multi-day camping treks have been introduced for a lucky few visitors (probably those with healthy wallets) so I am hopeful we can find some unexpected riches and escape some of the crowds to explore less accessible areas.