Where should I take my vacations in/around China?

So I am living in Sichuan Province, China. I’m not too far from Chengdu. I will have several chances to take vacations during my two years here- two winter ones, two spring ones one autumn one and a summer one (which I’ll probably spent with my my mom hitting the main tourist stuff in China), and I am a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available to me within China, not to mention that I could just take a train to Thailand or pop over to Kazakhstan if I wanted to. Each trip will probably be a week or two in length.

So here are things I like in a vacation:

[li]Cheap. I make about $250 a month, so I gotta keep it cheap. I have funds I can dip into if it’s for something spectacular, but things like beach resorts and fancy hotels are out. I’ll shell out for a plane ticket if its for something way worth it. [/li][li]I’m not big on outdoors stuff- trekking, mountain climbing, etc just aren’t my thing. I do enjoy beautiful natural places but I’ll take some cool remote village over some cool field any day. [/li][li]I do like adventure, and can deal with some hard traveling. I’m totally happy on long train trips or stuck on horrible mini busses on dirt roads or whatever. I’ll sleep anywhere from dirty hostels to riverbanks. Indeed, some sick part of me enjoys hard travel. [/li][li]I like to hit the weirder, more remote spots in the world. My favorite travel destinations have been things like the rat temple in India, and Timbuktu. I’ll go on the tourist circuit if it’s worth it, but I love seeing really, really bizarre stuff.[/li][li]My favorite kind of museum is the kind where they have to turn the lights on when you visit. I’m all for second-rate tourist attractions.[/li][li]I’m a sucker for camels, deserts, nomads, Muslims and anything else that reminds me of Tales from the Arabian Nights.[/li][li]I don’t need much in the way of activities- I’m usually pretty happy showing up someplace, walking around, and eating. It’s not too important for me to hit the big sites. For me, tourism is mostly an excuse just to be somewhere. [/li][li]I like religious sites and old stuff. I particularly like old religious sites. I’m not too interested in Buddhism, but I like visiting Buddhist temples well enough. [/li][li](not gonna try to PC this up) I like hanging around crazy looking people with cool ethnic costumes. If they’ve got facial tattoos or giant nose rings or weird headdresses, I’m into it. [/li][li]Too hot is better than too cold.[/li][li]I think beaches are just okay.[/li][/ul]

Any ideas?

I’m not an expert or anything, since I only went to China once, but I can give some advice based on your requirements.

Of the three places we visited, it sounds like you would like Xi’an (big city, but has a lot of cool stuff) and Luoyang better than Beijing.

Xi’an: Neat old city wall that you can ride a bicycle around, plus some cool parks and pagodas, temples, a great old Muslim quarter (including an amazingly cool mosque) and of course the Terra Cotta army. We stayed in a hostel near the south wall and found it both inexpensive and exactly what we were looking for. You can take a really cheap city bus to the Terra Cotta army from the city rather than paying tourist prices and, as I’m sure you know, you can eat street food and from grocery stores quite inexpensively.

Luoyang: Not very touristy (we were the only non-Chinese people we saw in the 3 days we were there, but it was November), and there’s a really interesting old city center (with another wall). We ate fantastic and delicious food for about 40 cents each one night (a bowl of broth with some sort of meat, vegetables, and noodles). You can take a city bus to the Longmen Grottoes, which were probably my favorite less-touristy spot we visited - it’s full of thousands of buddhas carved into the rock of all shapes and sizes, from gigantic to wee. We went to Luoyang in order to get up to the Shaolin monastery (home of kung fu) but didn’t think it was ultimately worth the price, about 100 RMB for the entry fee and it looked the same as most of the other temple-type things we saw in China.

I’m sure other dopers can tell you the crazy and cool things to do in Beijing. We loved it, and did a lot of non-touristy stuff (our hostel was in a hutong and we really enjoyed staying in the area), and we did the Jinshanling to Simatai hike along the Great Wall (10 kilometers) rather than visit one of the closer and more touristy areas of the wall. The 3-hour bus ride (each way) was fantastic because we got to really see the countryside rather than just the big city. One of my favorite things was shopping in the “dirt market”; we got pretty good at haggling and even bought some stuff from some Miao women.

Speaking of, that’s probably what I would do if I were in China and wanted to see weird - I’d get to a Miao village.

I wish I had more ideas for you. Good luck!

There’s no train service between China and Thailand. :confused: The only one of Thailand’s neighbors you can travel to and from by train is Malaysia. Laos doesn’t even have any trains.

They’ve been trying to build a highway through Laos to connect China and Thailand for years. Looks like that will be finished in the near future. Thailand used to be afraid to cooperate with that, fearing the Red Hordes would come marching down and conquer the kingdom, but relations are on a better footing these days. Still, I never could understand why the Lao portion of the highway never seemed to get finished. You can also travel through Burma to Thailand, but I hear the roads are bad.

You can, however, travel to Thailand by boat, down the Mekong River and docking at Chiang Saen, in Chinag Rai province in the North.

Xi’an- Pretty cool city. One of the few remaining ancient city walls in China. The Bell tower is nice, and the Muslim street (yes, Chinese Muslims) as well as the Great mosque is pretty sweet. Coupla nice pagodas there, but once your in China for a while, one pagoda is the same as any other.

Beijing- Have to go here once to see the great wall. No question about it. Going to China without seeing the Wall is like going to a brothel without having sex, i.e. totally pointless. Also did the Jinshaling->Simatai walk, with one night spent on the wall. Definitely one of the things I am glad I saw in life. The Temple of Heaven is another nice place. Sits inside a park that had people singing and playing instruments while we were there.

i’ve got some cool wesights on my work pc i’ll try to do later. if i evet scan my guidebook (long out of print SW China off the beaten track), i’ll send a link.

that said, the three years i spent travelling in SWChina in the 1980’s lead me to ask a few questions.

Have you spent any time in the tibetan areas and do you like tibetan monasteries? to me, they are magical places not llike anywhere else. some ideas are Ma’erkang area (unknown buddhist holy mountains in the area) but earthquake damaged and ‘tensions’ there. Aba and the surrounding nomad lands.

rangtang came highly recommended by local Tibetans.

i loved ganzi and always wanted to go back.

kangding is closest to chengdu halfway to ganzi. there is a horse racing festival you should not miss. from kangding it’s a couple hours by bus but you get up on a wild pleateau with nomads.

the Dege printing house.

litang is interesting IIRC 4700 M. don’t go in the winter like i did. Batang was recommended by the original china off the beaten track author as his favorite place. from kangding you can also check out gongashan, a solatary 7556M peak.

i liked xichang, which still had the walled city area. heart of the Yi nationality. they have a torch festival. got kicked out of Muli before getting to that tibetan area - look IP old national geographics of Dr. Rock, who lived in lijiang but traveled through here in the 1920-30’s. there’s also a place called the ‘sun bridge’ arpund there somewhere that exploreres in the 1800’s thought were cool.

guizhou has some great miao & dong areas.

winter trip to xishuang banna or dali. anywhere else in china is cold except for the guangxi beibu golf near Nam or hainan island (over rated).

the above are all cool. many can be broken into a week trip from chengdun on a budget.

i have specific info that’s 20 years out of date if any of those is interesting

Thanks China Guy, I was hoping you’d show up! I think I’ll try to get to Xishuang Banna this winter holiday.

As for the other places- I haven’t been anywhere yet! All I’ve done is training in Chengdu and settling in here. I’m so excited to have the chance to start traveling. Everything you said sounds great- right up my ally…I guess I ought to sit down with a guidebook soon and figure out a good plan. I’ll probably spend time in Beijing with my mother next summer. I’m a little worried about the extra paperwork and stuff I need to do to go to Tibet, but I do want to make it up there.

I imagine I’ll be in Guizhou pretty often, since most of my American friends are scattered around there and I’m an easy overnight train to Guiyang (if you really want to know where I live- think big beijiu factory). I grew up in an area with a big Hmong population, so I think it’ll be interesting to visit Miao areas.

Someone’s been telling me lies! This, of couse, is the problem. My head is still stuck in some distant African village and I haven’t been here long enough to make sense of all the information and misinformation I’ve been hearing. ’

Thanks for all the advice everyone!

You can take a train from Kunming down to the Vietnamese border, at Lao Cai. Maybe that’s what you were thinking of? It’s a pretty neat trip, though the only thing Lao Cai has going for it is the train out of it, or a bus/jeep into the mountains up to Sa Pa. Worth thinking about though.

Given your location (I think there is a temple there called the Yunfengsi (云峰寺), you should check out the Big Buddha at Leshan. Or the Buddhist mountain of Emei Shan.

If you’re into dinosaurs, go to Zigong。I haven’t been, but they discovered and are actively digging out some big fossils there somewhere.

Here’s a really cool site on SW China and Tibet.

Here’s another kinda interesting backpacker tourist site

Definately check out the Miao/Hmong areas of Guizhou. Put these dates in your calendar. The Duanwujie or Dragonboat festival in the village of Shidong, Guizhou.

Watersplashing festival in Xishuangbanna.

PM me please with your email. I scanned in a couple of pages from my guidebook that lists the major Miao festivals in Guizhou along with the lunar dates. You can put your colleagues to work on verifying the information.

The China Daily enlish print version yesterday had some articles on the Mioa. Both Guizhou & Hunan. Guizhou is having a tourist poromotion conference or something now. i’m sure you can find it in www.chinadaily.com and then navigate to the English site.

I scanned and posted 3 pages from the guidebook I wrote 20 years ago here:

These can be opened as either pdf or jpg file.

  1. Guizhou Miao festivals - lunar dates posted so get your colleagues working on when and where these really happen, and plan a vacation around that.
  2. Muli - tibetan area in the Liang Shan
  3. Taiyang Qiao - sounded like a cool place when described 100+ years ago. Never heard of anyone that’s been there
  4. The Monks of Zhongdian (Shangrila) circa 1986

The International Herald Tribune just named Hainan Island one of the coming new “must see” places, now that everyone’s been to the Great Wall and Cambodia. (Vietnam, Laos and Kerala, India, are others.) Story here. Might be good to see it now before it gets crowded.

You may be in luck! China has announced plans to build a rail line from Yunnan through Laos to Thailand. Story here.

Excerpt: “China will invest 20.4 billion Chinese yuan (about US$ 3 billion) to build a 600-km railway segment running from its Southwestern province of Yunnan to Thailand’s Mohan through Laos.”

Unfortunately, you may have to wait a few years, as these things usually take time. LOTS of time. And where the hell is “Mohan” anyway? I’ve never heard of such a place in Thailand. :confused: