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30 Days in Southwest China
Foreigners in China


By Gilles Barbier


We, Heidi Sequenz, Austrian & Gilles Barbier, French, have taken a year off work to travel around the world, a dream that finally became true in July 2007. First, we spent about 6 months in South America, then crossed the Pacific hoping from island to island till we reached New Zealand. From there we flew into Hong Kong and started our trip through the southwest of China. We almost daily write about our travel experiences on our website www.oneyearoff.net, where we also post our best pictures. Here you find a summary of our experience in China.
We traveled the 30 days our visa permitted throughout China’s southwestern provinces: Guangxi, Sichuan and Yunnan. This was definitely not enough! Nevertheless, we now know it can be easily done without a common language. This introduction to China also was an immense eye opener and some of the negative concepts we had of this country we corrected or simply vanished!
Heidi in Yangshuo
What was so different from the image we had and from what we actually somehow expected? And when thinking about China, which aspects will stay in our memories?
• Chinese people are very friendly, helpful and mostly open towards Westerners.
• Communication was always possible, even though we do not speak a word of Chinese (ok, “Thank you”, “Hello”, “Rice”…). No matter where, we always found people eager to communicate, making great efforts to understand us and getting out of their ways to help us. We would almost always find someone who knew the three words of English to help us.
• Southwest China is definitely off the beaten tracks, for Westerners. Many times, we would be the only non-Chinese on a bus, on a plane or on a train and only very few could be seen even in touristy areas. The only exceptions were the few traveler hostels we stayed in.
• On the other hand, every tourist attraction is now overrun by Chinese tourists, who almost always travel in bigger groups. The number of Chinese tourists is at time simply overwhelming. A small paths leading to rice terraces can be as busy as Grand Central Station or the Champs Elysees at rush hour.
• Environment concerns only exist in Western, developed countries? Not exactly! In several cities, all 
 Photo taken in Yuanyang
scooters and motorbike are electrical. No noise, no pollution. We will not experience this in years, maybe decades in Europe… Also all taxis use liquid gas. So the environment begins to be a great concern in China, and they act!
• Food is simply great even in the most simple food stall. We always enjoyed delicious dishes. True, we sometimes found delicacies that surprised us…
• People, to be precise men, are chain-smoking! On a bus, in the restaurant while eating, always a lit cigarette in one hand and chopped-sticks in the other…
• And last but not least … Of course the terrible experience of the disastrous earthquake: Monday, May 12th at 14:28 local time will forever stay in our mind. Those were the longest two minutes in our lives. But we are lucky, since Chengdu was hardly damaged.                 Photo taken in Sanjiang
People in the region of Wenchuen were the hardest hit. The death toll of 71.000 is only an estimate, since 25.000 people are still missing.
Photo taken in Chengdu
The highlights of this trip were:
• Traveling in China is simply overwhelming: at every street corner, you discover something new; every bus ride offers something unexpected; in every restaurant you find dishes or food you do not know, not talking about animals we are really not used to eat.
• Traveling through the Southwest of China is mostly off the beaten tracks: we met extremely few Westerners. It is also a very demanding traveling, but that what we came here for!
• Landscapes are simply breathtaking: the rock formations around Yangshuo, the rice terraces of Yuanyang, the peaceful sceneries near Sanjiang…
• The Giant Panda Breeding Research Base in Chengdu! If you do not go gaga watching the Great Pandas having their bamboo breakfast, you will definitely do so when seeing the younger ones, between 8 and 18 months. They play all kind of games that only a baby panda can imagine… • The beautiful and crazy alike city of Lijiang - there we watched Chinese tourists party hard, the serene Wenbi monastery in the surroundings.

Would we do something differently the next time? Yes, actually!
• Take more time! Each province offers more than many countries in the world. One month would hardly be enough to discover Yunnan alone. This is especially true if you do not want to hurry from one touristy place to the other and go a little more off the beaten tracks where there are no Chinese tourists groups.
Photo taken in Yuanyang
• Avoid some of the so-called “highlights” of China and go to more remote places. Dali is for instance definitely was not worth the trip, but the bad weather probably prevented us from enjoying the scenic surroundings.
• Did we have bad luck with the weather? Yes, except in Xishuangbanna, we never saw the sun! And in rained us in completely in Yunnan. So May is maybe not such a great month to visit Southwest China after all.
Photo taken in Yangshuo

 
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