My favorite part of traveling is the opportunity to learn and expand my perspective of other regions and cultures. A top travel destination to do just that is China. China represents a complex, growing, unique, and ambitious country that is changing rapidly. A superpower in the global economy, China is going to be a massive part of the world’s future. There is no better time to gain a better understanding of this distinctive destination.
1. China’s airports are spectacular; they really put our disgraced U.S. airports to shame. I will never forget the moment I stepped out of the plane from Chicago and into the PEK terminal. My first reaction was “WOW…” The airports are insanely clean, bright, modern, and easy to navigate. China continually delivers new infrastructure in a fraction of the time as the U.S. government. Yes, infrastructure growth is successful through blatant force of the government to purchase land and leverage cheap labor, but it is done mostly out of desire to showcase China to the world in a positive light. And it shows. U.S. take note.
2. Luxury hotels are top notch and fairly priced; they make staying in the heart of the main cities easy, affordable, and fun. You can find all the major hotel brands in each city. While the inventory is high, not all hotels are created equal (even the luxury brands). For example, the Ritz Carlton in Shanghai is actually quite out-dated even though it’s one of the most expensive places to stay. Look for options in the best city center location, while also being new construction or recently renovated. Top picks from my trip include the JW Marriott Hotel Beijing Central, Shanghai Marriott Hotel City Centre, and the Renaissance Hong Kong Harbour View Hotel. Make sure to analyze whether cash or points makes sense before booking.
3. While staying in China as a tourist is affordable, buying property in China is quite expensive; buying an equivalent-sized condo in China (compared to my Chicago condo) would cost over $1.5 million USD. So how do people afford to live there? Most property is handed-down through generations. This is especially true for properties in the major city centers that were purchased before the economic boom, therefore the cost remains relatively neutral for the families that have owned the properties for several years. For the owners that get displaced based on new construction efforts, the government provides fair payouts to buy replacement properties. Furthermore, it is not uncommon to have 4-6 people living in small condos in effort to keep their housing costs low. Unlike a lot of other countries, foreigners cannot easily buy property in China, which helps maintain availability for Chinese citizens.
4. Air pollution is still a problem, but the Government has plans to fix it; most of China’s existing air pollution problem has sprung up based on the manufacturing boom in the last century. The government initially placed no restrictions on companies because they were so focused on growing and scaling their economy to support trade around the world. Also, a lot of homes in rural Chinese areas still burn coal to heat their homes. Unfortunately, both aspects have had a significant negative impact on their air quality. However, new government regulations on manufacturing emissions and newly placed coal burning restrictions are part of their ‘2020 action plan.' Read more about it here. Air pollution should not be a deterrent to traveling to China because not every day is bad, but it is something to keep top of mind.
5. China is formally the People’s Republic of China; established in 1949 and currently governed by the Communist Party of China. The paramount leader of China is General Secretary Xi Jinping. China is deeply rooted in communist and capitalist socioeconomic practices that can be overly restrictive and prevent citizen freedoms. With that said, China is very orderly and safe with a crime rate that is significantly below worldwide averages. While I personally do not agree with most of China’s governing principles, I believe that the ideal state of society is found somewhere in the middle-ground of complete restriction and complete freedom. In other words, there is always something to learn from varying global cultures to continuously improve society.
6. The Great Wall of China is just as epic as you have imagined; you must add Beijing to your destination list, if not solely because it allows you to get to the Great Wall of China on a day trip. Seeing the Great Wall was actually the primary motivation for my trip to China. As I continue practicing to become a better photographer, the Great Wall provides the perfect backdrop. Not all days are proven equal weather-wise, but we got extremely lucky with a sunny, clear day. Hire a private driver to take you to the Mutianyu portion of the wall, take the chairlift up, explore for 1-2 hours, and then take the toboggan down. A truly epic experience all around!
7. I love Xiaolongbao; also known as the Shanghai soup dumpling. In preparing for China, I read about them in almost every food blog I came across. I was blown away at how TASTY they really are. A thin and decadent dumpling shell is filled with pork, vegatables, and other spices and mixed with broth. Chefs perfectly connect the shell into beautiful formation. Pop the whole thing in your mouth and be ready for amazement. I highly recommend Din Tai Fung, which is a chain serving up the best dumplings in town. And if you are lucky enough to live in California or Washington you can check out the goodness closer to home.
8. Shopping in China, particularly at their ‘markets’ is a fun experience; and the goods do not disappoint. The luxury counterfeit market in China is quite prevalent, but not all counterfeits are created equal. Southern China is known for the best quality; almost no imperfection/difference can be found in most luxury goods. While I do not completely understand how they operate behind closed doors, I do know that we had a ton of fun exploring and making a few awesome purchases. And if you are looking to build your negotiation skills, there is no better place to practice. Check out the Xinyang Fashion & Gifts Market in Shanghai or the Ladies Market in Hong Kong.
9. Hong Kong is a.m.a.z.i.n.g.; to state the obvious, Hong Kong was my favorite destination in China, and likely the one I’ll be returning to for future visits. Why? Most notably because the scenery is off the charts. It reminds me of Hawaii with the rolling green mountains, but it also has massive high-rises and urban development. This unique combination is unlike any other place I’ve traveled to. There is a great food scene, good culture / nightlife, and opportunities to be one-with-nature. I followed my normal travel best-practice by heading to the highest point in the city upon arrival, which is Victoria Peak. Buy your ‘Peak Tram Sky Pass’ ticket online and go early in the morning for lower crowds and cooler temps. Enjoy those views!
10. Beauty is everywhere, especially in China, so Get Out There; I could not think of a better destination than China to highlight my blog tagline. I’m continuing onward with my journey to travel to destinations that will expand my horizons and perspectives on the world, and China fit the bill perfectly. China is surely not at the the top of everyone’s Bucket List, however it represents so much culture, adventure, history, and beauty, that it should be. I have a whole new appreciation for China now, and I’m so grateful I got the opportunity to visit this year. A travel investment that reaped high returns. Now we’re talking!