China

Beijing

Beijing epitomizes our expectations for China – crowded, aggressive, and polluted. But it was also exciting, historic, and a culinary treat!

China

Dunhuang

We can’t imagine what commuting on the Silk Road must have been like. It was not easy to get to Dunhuang, and we had never heard of it until a few weeks ago. This place is special and worth the trip. Climbing through these gorgeous dunes at the outer edge of the Gobi Desert affirmed what we already knew…China is massive and beautiful. There’s an incredible oasis called Crescent Moon Lake, which must be seen. The Mogao Grottoes were particularly impressive and surprising with 735 caves dating back more than 1,300 years.

China

Jiayuguan

We were definitely the only westerners here! The Great Wall of China ends in this industrial place. Can’t say this was our favorite stop, though we did love our hotel. It’s amazing what a decent mattress and bathroom amenities can do to lift your spirits! The reason to come here is to see the end of The Wall and Jiayuguan fortress.

China

Zhangye

We had seen photos of the Zhangye Danxia Landform, which is what lured us here. The National Geopark is full of colorful rainbow mountains. These are as they appear in most photos, at least the ones that don’t bump up the saturation too much. The experience was full of awe, although it is not really like communing with nature since you get on the bus packed with Chinese tourists, get off, snap some photos, take a short walk, and then get on the bus again until the next stop. But if you know that going in, it is one of the more incredible natural sights you’ll see. The big bonus here was the lesser known grottoes and mountains around Mati Si. These were Buddhist temples carved into the rock mountain sides in the foothills of the Qilian Mountains. Breathe the fresh air deeply and meditate on your warmest dream.

China

Xi’an

Visiting the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an was truly unbelievable for several reasons. First, we learned that Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, unified the country at the age of 39. Then, he had 6000 unique warriors and 2000 horses created and buried! And lastly, that something so incredible wasn’t found until recently in our history. In 1974, a farmer discovered the site. Just as we tell ourselves it’s a small world, we’re reminded how much there is that we have yet to explore!

China

Chengdu

Truth be told, we went to the wrong station and missed our sleeper train to Chengdu. Oops! We boarded the 6am train and got comfortable for the next 16 hours. This meant we only had 12 hours in Chengdu, but that’s all we needed to see the world-famous Giant Pandas!! We fell in love with these adorable creatures and learned so much about what the conservationists are doing to protect the species. Did you know that a panda can be pregnant for anywhere between 11 weeks and 11 months?!

China

Yangzi River

Our trip went from warp speed-boat to puttering cruise ship in a matter of steps. Once we boarded the Century River Cruise, things slowed down. Our cabin was luxurious and the buffet meals were plentiful. Read more below…

China

Zhangjiajie

Most Westerners may recognize Zhangjiajie National Park for its out-of-this-world column-like rock formations that were the inspiration for Avatar. It is perpetually enshrouded in fog. But no one tells you that before you arrive. Some fog is wonderful and adds to the magical feeling of the place. However, for most of our first day, it felt like we were inside a ping pong ball as we hiked up the steep spires. Our unexpected highlight and one of our most thrilling days yet, was the trip to Tianmen Mountain. The experience included a 30 minute bus ride on China’s most dangerous street consisting of 99 hairpin turns and several breathtaking walks on glass walkways over 3,000 ft. high cliffs! All set against a majestic backdrop of dark mountains peaking through thick fog. Talk about an adrenaline rush.

China

Kunming

They say Kunming is the most livable city in China, and we agree. It’s at a bit of elevation, the air is clean, the city is pretty, the food is scrumptious, and the people are laid back. It was the perfect place to plan logistics for the rest of our China adventures and eat on a nickel.

China

Dali

A small town in the middle of the Yunnan province, this is a special place like nothing we would have expected to find in China. We decided to just hang out here for a week over the National holiday and the vibe was perfect. Live music at every turn, flower crowns and corduroy, great food, and extremely friendly people. We embraced our inner hippies, drank tea, and found some peace.

China

Lijiang

To call a place endearing gives the connotation of being lame, but Lijiang is endearing – a cute, fun, touristy place that is famous for it’s small, medieval-feeling cobblestone streets and it’s proximity to the Tiger Leaping Gorge. For us, this place was full of fun walks and tasty treats. We’ll have to come back to properly hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge and the Jade Mountain.

China

Longji Rice Terraces

This was the meeting spot for our Habitat for Humanity build. We were only here for one night but managed to squeeze in a tour to see the Longji rice terraces. Form over function is true for this this stunning landscape. We learned that the government doesn’t allow frequent harvests in order to keep the scenery intact for tourists. The day also included a stop at Longjiang, otherwise known as the long hair village which was fascinating! These women cut their hair only twice in their lives and it’s… long.

China

Yangshuo

About 45 minutes outside of Guilin is Yangshuo, the home of our Habitat for Humanity build. Famous for its karst scenery and a perfect setting for a bamboo raft down the Li River, we were fortunate to experience a few of the cultural sights in the evening while putting on our hard hats and work gloves during the day. While we loved the scenery here, the prize of this location was being able to give back and meeting like-minded volunteers from the US & Canada. Who knew that laying bricks in a septic tank could be so rewarding?!

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