Six weeks in China...
February 17, 2011 7:30 PM   Subscribe

Hi Mefis, This is an open-ended question about taking a long trip to China. My boyfriend and I will be spending about six weeks traveling throughout China from early March through mid April...

We’re looking for general travel advice and sightseeing recommendations – particularly anything quirky, amazing, off the beaten path and non-touristy – as well as places that may look great in guidebooks but should be avoided or aren’t worth it. We’re into ridiculously beautiful scenery, outdoor adventures, bicycles, hot springs, boat trips, train rides and pretty lights.

We’re also looking for specific recommendations within Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. Vegetarian restaurants, bars/clubs/concerts/dancing particularly if they feature awesome DJs or underground electronic music (techno/house/electro/drum and bass), and anything really fun and silly – festivals, amusement parks, special events, anything that will blow our minds. Finally, if you know of links to good resources – blogs, mailing lists, message boards – for finding this sort of thing specific to China, please let us know! (New Yorkers, we’re thinking along the lines of NonsenseNYC or Flavorpill.)

We are mid-20s New Yorkers and we do not speak Chinese. Let me know if you need more information and I am happy to respond. Thank you for your wisdom!
posted by infinityjinx to Travel & Transportation around China (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
For ridiculously beautiful scenery, you can't beat Jiuzhaigou National Park. It seriously looks like a fairy tale. The color and clearness of the mineral lakes are unbelievable, and it's one of the largest of a fairly rare geological system. There are tourists but not as many as you'd think since it's not close to any of the 'must-see' cities.

The only downside is that it's a fairly long bus journey from Chengdu, the nearest city (but the bus journey is definitely An Experience - one lane roads basically hugging mountains). I think there are some flights into the area but they're pretty expensive. On the plus side, I liked Chengdu the best of all the Chinese cities I visited - there was awesome regional food and it was less touristy than other major cities. The panda research center is also in the area.

If you go to the Great Wall, the Mutianyu section is maybe about an hour? bus trip from Beijing, but slightly less touristy and has a toboggan ride-thing to go back down from the wall.
posted by nakedmolerats at 7:46 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Red Classics Restaurant in Beijing might blow your mind. A Communist dinner theatre with the cultural revolution as it's backdrop. I don't know how easy it is to get in if you don't have a Chinese person with you, but worth looking into nonetheless. I couldn't believe what i was seeing when i went.
posted by fso at 7:53 PM on February 17, 2011

The most fun thing I did in China was walk up Emei Shan, which is a mountain very close to Chengdu, in Sichuan. It's sacred to the Buddhists, and there are something like 20 temples and monasteries there. Some people take a bus up to the top, but you can walk all the way. There are steps and stone/concrete pathways, although they are in some disrepair in many places. You sleep and eat in the monasteries, and also there are vendors who will sell bottled water, ramen noodles, etc.The first part of it is crazy busy with Chinese tourists, but once you get beyond the first couple of temples, you'll see barely anybody. I think this fulfills the "outdoor adventure" and "ridiculously beautiful scenery" requirements.

Also the panda research and breeding center. Those baby pandas were basically the cutest thing I've ever seen in my life.
posted by number9dream at 8:14 PM on February 17, 2011

I loved the two-day hike through Tiger Leaping Gorge, out in the area near Dali and Lijiang. The scenery is stunning, and we stayed at a friendly guest house with great cooking the one night in the middle. (The old cities of Dali and Lijiang are cool, but the crush of tourists really detracts from the experience. The Three Pagodas in Dali are lovely, too, as are the gardens there. Zhongdian might be more up your alley, but I haven't been there.)

There's some great scenery right above Dali as well, if you avoid the main flat, stone-paved path that winds through about halfway up the mountains.

In Beijing, go to Dongyue Temple (Dongyuemiao). It's got niche after niche of fantastic, sometimes bizarre, wooden sculptures, nearly life-size. Each niche represents a “department” of the Zhengyi branch of Taoism, including the Jaundice Department, the Department of Opposing Obscene Acts, the Department of Wandering Ghosts, and the Department of Egg Birth.

The scenery around Yangshuo is gorgeous, but it's also touristy. The thing to do is rent bikes and go through the paths between karst hills and rice fields, but you won't be alone there. Make sure the bikes are in decent shape. You can also kayak on the Li River there and/or float down the river on a bamboo raft.
posted by bassjump at 9:03 PM on February 17, 2011

I would definitely recommend:

-Taking a cruise through the Three Gorges down the Yangtze. Take a Chinese boat if you can. We shared a room with four other people (all Chinese), took turns sitting on a stool while rolling down the river and had the best time ever. Since you're foreigners, they'll try to talk you into upgrading. Don't do it. Definitely do the excursions offered along the way (e.g. taking a smaller boat into remote inlets was amazing . . . plus, you'll get to see monkeys!).

-Shanghai has a great acrobatics show. It's frightening, yet entertaining!

-Stay in the hutong while you're in Beijing. I'd lived in China for nearly three years before my first hutong experience . . . I wish I'd done it earlier.

-Get lots and lots of massages. There's nothing like a $2 foot massage at eleven o'clock at night after you've had a few drinks.

-If you can, visit an amusement park. Safety standards are a bit different in China which definitely make everything more exciting. I like this one in Shanghai.

-If you're into Chinese history, it's hard to beat the Terracotta Warriors. Take an overnight train to Xi'an. For a real taste of China, stay gen. pop. when buying your tickets. You'll find quiet and boring if you ride first class. General fares are where the action is at.

-Avoid the first week of May, if you can. It's a national holiday so everything gets a bit more complicated.

-Eat lots and lots of street food.

-Learn your Chinese numbers as best as you can and become familiar with the money. Negotiating with street/market vendors is it's own special kind of fun.

You'll love China . . . have a fantastic trip!
posted by WaspEnterprises at 9:25 PM on February 17, 2011

Best vegetarian restaurant in Beijing is Jingsi in the back alleys north of the National Art Museum.
posted by Abiezer at 9:47 PM on February 17, 2011

You mention vegetarian. How serious are you about this? If the answer is "very", then you're pretty much going to have to stick exclusively to Buddhist restaurants outside of the larger cities I'd imagine.

Kaifeng is a cool little town with a very neat theme park and its Night Market cannot be beat. Of course, this was 6-7 years ago, things may be different now.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:03 PM on February 17, 2011

You mention vegetarian. How serious are you about this? If the answer is "very", then you're pretty much going to have to stick exclusively to Buddhist restaurants outside of the larger cities I'd imagine.

Well, not exactly...It's true that very few Chinese people are vegetarians, but there are tons of dishes you can order than contain no meat, or very little meat that you can eat around. If you want absolutely no meat on your plate, you can tell them when you order:

wo bu chi rou. yi dian rou qing bu yao fang (我不吃肉。一点肉请不要放)。

(I don't eat meat. Please don't give me any meat).

However, "meat" doesn't include fish to Chinese people, and sometimes not chicken either, so that can get tricky, and without the language it can get complicated explaining things. I'm happy to send you more sentences written out about that if you want; you can print and show them at restaurants.

If you are comfortable with possibly having to eat around the meat you can on your plate though, there are plenty of vegetables to be eaten!
posted by bearette at 1:04 AM on February 18, 2011

sorry, there's a slight grammar mistake with the Chinese I just wrote. The second sentence should be, qing yi dian rou dou bu yao fang。 请一点肉都不要放。
posted by bearette at 1:09 AM on February 18, 2011

I really enjoyed climbing Tai Shan, next to Tai'an city in Shandong province a few hours' train ride (if you catch the "D-class" bullet train) from Beijing. It's a tourist attraction, but almost entirely for Chinese tourists.

I liked the panjiayuan market in Beijing, although it wasn't cheap. Lots of awesome fake antique stuff, some of it obviously buried for long enough to become dirty then dug up for sale. I got a few truly strange ornaments there.

One thing that isn't so much fun about Beijing and especially Shanghai is that people are trying to scam you all the time. Foreigners are not rare or special in these cities, so if someone comes up to you in the street to "practise their English" or whatever it's a safe bet that they have some kind of scam running. On the other hand, the people who chatted to me in Tai'an were being genuinely friendly.

Here's a similar question I asked before our trip.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:06 AM on February 18, 2011

When you said beautful scenery, I immediately thought of Jiuzhaigou as well, as suggested by nakedmolerats.
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 6:58 AM on February 18, 2011

Go to Hang Zhou/West Lake area which is not too far from Shanghai. Beautiful landscape, lots to see.
When there make sure to go to Louwailou, a restaurant on the lake, and order the Beggar's Chicken. Do not go to Hang Zhou without eating this particular dish!
posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:54 PM on February 18, 2011

However, "meat" doesn't include fish to Chinese people, and sometimes not chicken either, so that can get tricky, and without the language it can get complicated explaining things. I'm happy to send you more sentences written out about that if you want; you can print and show them at restaurants.

This is exactly what I meant by "very". Some people want to avoid meat, some people want to never eat meat of any kind. Such people will find that difficult outside of buddhist eateries or self-catering.

Note that there is stealth animal everywhere: most pastries and steamed buns, for example, are made with lard even if they are "vegetable". Unless things have changed, lard is the fat of choice for cooking.
posted by Deathalicious at 3:36 PM on February 22, 2011

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