China—it’s growing on me. It was quite a culture shock after arriving here, having just left China’s quiet and conservative neighbor Japan, and maybe I was ignorantly expecting them to be somewhat similar. The first difference we noticed was that while in Japan there are no public garbage cans anywhere (everyone takes their trash home with them), in China trash cans are everywhere… only nobody uses them. 

I’ve been stuck in a love-hate relationship with this country since our first day. Some things I’m still struggling to get the hang of, (navigating chaotic city streets and using squalid, squatter toilets), and some sights are difficult to comprehend (there are towering cranes and construction everywhere, yet everything seems to be in a state of partial completion or disintegration).

Shanghai, China, Travel, Most people haven’t exactly been friendly and service hasn’t been all that great, but after feeling how oppressive the heat and humidity is, one might start to understand. Yesterday I walked across the street to the bus station and got sweaty like three games of basketball. So forget putting any effort into anything.

In Shanghai we hibernated in our hostel room, afraid to go out and do or eat anything, choosing instead to fuel up on large portions of western food they served in the bar downstairs and watch World Cup games. We eventually made a quick trip down to the famous Bund and nearby Old City of Shanghai, which hosted some impressive little shops and food vendors, but both of us were eager to depart when we boarded our first overnight train.

Train, China, Travel, Visiting China, Exploring China, Railroad, budget travel, It’s on those trains that one is really introduced to all of the sights (endless construction), sounds (how does one spell out the sound of someone clearing their throat to spit? “Hchooooaaaaaak!”), and smells (cigarette smoke), of this place.

But when you finally escape all that, the stunning scenery found in China makes it absolutely worth it. Our first stop outside of Shanghai was Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, home to the towering landscapes that inspired Pandora, the home planet in Avatar. And while we never quite escaped the crowds, shops or litter, all of which we found along the trails, the scenery was beautiful, one-of-a-kind, and well worth the hefty ticket price.

Zhangjiajie, Tianmen Mountain, China, Travel, Backpacking, Hiking, Avatar, Landscape, Photography,Tianmen Mountain was next, boasting a towering arch and man-made trails jutting out thousands of feet up the cliffs above it. A cable car transported us from the city center to the top of the peak four and a half miles away after an incredibly steep and anxiety-inducing ride – for me at least. Up there we walked a glass walkway with a sheer drop beneath us, then continued on an equally nerve-wracking walk for a mile along a similar, concrete trail. Next and final stop was Tianmen cave (the arch), after a winding seven mile bus ride that included 99 bends, followed by 999 steep steps on foot.

Zhangjiajie, Tianmen Mountain, China, Travel, Backpacking, Hiking, Avatar, Landscape, Photography,It was quite an experience and well worth any of the discomforts experienced along the way. After departing Zhangjiajie we endured 20 more uncomfortable hours on a hard sleeper train where all occupants sleep in open corridors, three bunks high. This was followed by an hour on a bus we paid too much for, before arriving in Yangshuo. Once again, all worth it.

Walking from the edge of town, where our not-the-real bus dropped us off, we admired the landscape of karst peaks, shaped like giant fangs, that surrounded us. Stepping off the street and into our air-conditioned hostel to escape the miserable heat, we dropped our packs and Britnee exclaimed, “I haven’t been this sweaty since… yesterday.”

But we’re getting used to it, just as we’re getting used to China.

About The Author


Mark quit everything to travel the world for a year with his wife, Britnee. Along the way, he picked up a love for many other things, including illy coffee, Nepal, Bolivianos bills, and Thai beaches. Now happily home in Utah, Mark is a balding marketing professional with a mountain biking addiction.

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