China Insights

My first trip to Asia led me to China. I went there with my friend Iwona for 16 adventurous days. We flew over 6000km within this huge country and over 30.000km in total! We saw the cities of Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guilin, Yangshuo, Hong Kong and Macau and many beautiful places such as the Great Wall or the valley next to the Li-river.

Table of contents

Map of visited places

China 2009

Getting there

We got a very good offer from a French carrier from Vienna via Paris to Beijing in the year 2009. The flight took us about 13 hours. It was quite comfortable. There were lots of movies to watch and games to play. We arrived in Beijing International Airport where Louie, a friend of my Hungarian friend Andras was already waiting for us. He helped us a lot to get around in his country. He organized the flights and he got us a hotel if we couldn’t find a couchsurfing host. Thank you again Louie, you helped us a lot!


We spent the first few days in China’s capital Beijing. It’s one of the largest cities in the world. There are more than 15,500,000 people living within the city limits (that number doesn’t include people living in the suburbs) 

We saw almost all of the main sights such as the “Forbidden city”, “Temple of Heaven”, the Bird’s nest from the Olympics 2008 and many more.

The so called “forbidden city” was only accessible for Kings in the past. Nowadays it’s open for the public and tourists.


Me at Tiananmen Square. It’s accessible again, but heavily protected.


An Imperial Sacrificial Altar in Beijing – (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
We also saw Mao Zedong’s body, but there where no pictures allowed. It was very hot in Beijing on those dates. It had almost 40°C. The air was polluted and you could taste some sand because of recent sand storms.

As mentioned already before, we also saw the olympic area of Beijing, very impressive.

Great wall & Ming tombs

We booked a tour to the Great Wall for a day. On the way we had a stop at the Ming Tombs. It was quite interesting. The tour itself was very tourist: We also went to a “traditional Chinese hospital” where they wanted to sell us overpriced “medicine” for the “problems” we had!

You can’t imagine how awesome it was to see the Chinese Wall for the very first time for myself. It was huge. We went up a mountain by cable car and walked up the rest of the way to get there. If you walk on the Chinese Wall, you shouldn’t expect too much comfort: It’s very steep sometimes and you have to “drag” yourself up along the handlebar. But once you’ve reached the peek, the view is amazing!


From Beijing we flew to Xi'an, which is about 1,000km Southwest. The city itself is a smaller one (by Chinese standards). It's famous for it's Terracotta warriors dating from 210 BCE. They were discovered 1974 by a farmer drilling a well.

Almost endless amount of sculptures.

There are about 8,000 unique figures made of clay, some of them with horses. There are three big pits. The army was arranged according to rank, the tallest being the generals. The terracotta army were built to protect the king in his afterlife.
We also explored the city of Xi'an. We saw a pagoda and a Chinese mosque. We met another Couchsurfer by accident there. She recognized me by my white Couchsurfing cap!

Here's a shot I've got inside the mosque.


On Xi'an airport, we had to wait for about one hour because of a delay. The reason was written on one of their boards, but only in Chinease!


It was probably because of bad weather. However, we arrived late but safely in Shanghai Pudong airport, which is about 50km away from Shanghai. The city itself is one of the biggest cities in the world, there are about 20,000,000 people living there! It's located on the west coast of the Pacific ocean and at the mouth of the Yangtze River..

We took the high speed train “Maglev” from the airport to the city center. It took us only eight minutes! The train goes up to 413km/h, which is incredibly fast!
Our host, Phillipe picked us up and invited us to a nice dinner: We had hot pot with some other Couchsurfers. It was really good!

The next day, we explored the city like crazy. Together with another Couchsurfer from the US, we saw the Shanghai Pearl Tower.

The city of Shanghai is the financial capitol of China. It has lots of skyscrapers and a very nice skyline.

We also saw the “old part” of the town. It's very touristy and of course all the clever merchants know that. I don't remember the exact name of the district we went to, but there were a lot of people, trying to “help” you. They tried to drag you into expensive tea-houses.

The city itself is very modern and I really liked the skyline, especially at night.

We took a small cable car that goes under the river through a tunnel, that has some nice nice light and sound effects...

Because I wanted to take a picture of the Peal tower at night, we returned there again


Our guide books and our host recommended that we see the city of Hangzhuo, a city about 150km South/West of Shanghai. The region of Hangzhuo is famous for its beautiful landscape and the West Lake. Iwona and I decided to give it a try.

We went by train and arrived there late afternoon. We went to the hostel that was mentioned in my book… But there was no hostel anymore at the address, the house was abandoned.

We headed back to the West Lake and walked around trying to find a place to stay.

A Spanish guy came by and somehow recognized that we looked “homeless” :) He showed us the hostel he stayed at. We were lucky because we got room!

We stayed the night in this lovely looking place – The next day, we rented bikes and went along the West End Lake and to a nice looking Pagoda.

In the afternoon we headed back to Shanghai and stayed there for one night…

Guilin & Yangshao

The city of Guilin is located in the South of China on the Li-river. The region is world famous for it’s amazing landscape. Iwona and I visited the city of Guilin the first day and stayed one night  there. The next day, I booked a tour by ship on the Li-river. It was absolutely awesome. I’ve never seen such a bizarre and beautiful landscape before in my life.

It took us about four hours to get to Yangshao. This small Chinese town is really charming. It’s surrounded by mountains and has a tiny little harbor for all the tourists’ boats. We rented bikes and drove along endless looking rice fields. We experienced a feeling of freedom. Everything was so quiet and stress free. I really enjoyed riding along all those mountains and rice fields.
The next day we rented bikes again and drove along the Li-river. If you plan to go to China one day, definitely stop by in Guilin!

After our trip, we took a bus back to the airport to catch our plane to Hong Kong. It was the shortest but for some strange reason the most expensive flight we had. It cost more than 300 EUR pretty expensive compared to all the other 50-70EUR flights. Of course this flight was delayed. We couldn’t figure out why, but someone who was able to read Chinese could probably have dealt with that.

Hong Kong

We arrived in Hong Kong at night. I remember it was a hot and very muggy night. It was definitely at least 30°C and 95% humidity. When we arrived close to our host’s place, a nice flight attendant from Dragon Airlines helped us to find the right place, because she lived very close :-D

Our Couchsurfing host Sid, a guy from India had already hosted more than 200 people (we were two of them). It was almost like your own flat. You came and went as you wanted.

We stayed there with two other Couchsurfers from Sweden and the US.

The next day, again very hot and sticky, we started to explore the city a bit. Earlier I had made a request for tourguide through Hong Kong. Eva replied that she was able to show as around in her city and so she did :)
We saw all those great buildings of banks and offices. At night Iwona and I went up “the peak”, a hill on Hong Kong island. The view from there was amazing. I took about 150 pictures of the Hong Kong skylight at night.

We came home very exhausted and tired. It was not because of walking around it was more because of the climate. The next day, we slept until 2pm. We were very lazy and went to see the Big Buddha. As we arrived there at 5pm, we missed it. Anyways, I was however still able to take some pictures…
We met again with Eva. She showed us some nice shopping streets and places in Hong Kong.
Compared to other cities in China, Hong Kong is different. Besides driving on the left side of the street people also behaved differently. You could tell that Chinese tradition is mixed up with European influence.


After some nice days in Hong Kong, we took a jetboat to Macau, a former Portuguese province close to Hong Kong.

Macau is famous for being the Chinese Las Vegas because of gambling. Being in Macau was really weird. It looked like a Portuguese city, like Lisboa. All the buildings and even Christian churches could just as easily have been in Europe. You could see people who looked half Chinese, half Portuguese. Some of them still speak Portuguese, although the colonization of Macau happened hundreds of years ago.

The weather and climate was like Hong Kong, hot and sticky. I really had a hard time because of that.

We explored the city of Macau a bit and rested quite often in parks and on benches.  We were also tired because of the long trip we already had behind us…

At night I was able to take some nice pictures of the Casino skyline of Macau.

Macau was similar to Hong Kong and had its own currency..

Long way back

After thousands of kilometers of flying, dozens kilometers of walking and immeasurable impressive experiences, we had to go back to Vienna…

We went back from Macau to Hong Kong airport with the jetboat. From Hong Kong airport we flew to Beijing again and stayed there one night at Hsiaosu’s couch. It was interesting to share our new experiences with a native Chinese in Beijing. We talked almost the whole night. As far as I can remember we slept about an hour. We took a taxi to Beijing airport and flew back to Vienna via Paris – It took us about 17 hours in total.


China is an amazing country. If you have only two weeks, you should definetely have a good plan of what to do, because this country is huge! Travelling there as a European, people will start to take pictures of you! A lot of young girls and women wanted to have a picture of them with me. This is something that’s really funny!

There were less culture clashes than expected, but still there were some!  Something you’ll see quite often, even if it’s forbidden, are people that spit a lot, even in Hotel lobbies! I discussed  that with my Chinese friend. It’s something that poor people from the countryside do, although you have to pay a fine, the people don’t care at all.

The Chinese food was really good. Rather than being completely different from “European Chinese food”, dishes like fried rice with chicken were the same. One difference compared to back home: you don’t get meals like fried baby scorpions which are still alive.  One more thing: China is actually a “noodle-country” not a “rice-country”.

After traveling to many countries in the Northern hemisphere, China was definitely the most exciting one. Not only do people look different, they even think differently and you could feel that, it is a different culture, a different way of life, and a different landscape.

I highly recommend travelers to go there one day, if they haven’t done so already. But don’t forget to take a picture dictionary with you…


You can find more pictures on my photo blog

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