Every October, China shuts down most institutions for a week-long fall holiday, more or less the Chinese version of "Thanksgiving Break." It's a time for students and children to return home, help finish up the harvest, and hang out with family. For those foreign teachers in China, it's a week of either catching up on back work or traveling to see the sights. Given my procrastinating nature, you can guess which one I chose! :p Problem is, you know how crazy travel gets in America during Thanksgiving Break? Add on about 500 Million more people into the mix, and you'll see our dilemma. Where oh where to go?
We decided to ditch public transportation, and 25 foreign teachers pitched in for a bus and a Chinese speaker to take us around Southern Henan Province (we live in the north). They arranged hotel reservations, where to go, transportation, tickets, etc. for us and were in charge of getting us where we needed to be. Unfortunately, they hadn't actually been to any of these places before, so it all ended up QUITE the adventure.
We chose locations that not a lot of foreigners or tourists visit, which kind of ended up being the Back of Nowhere, China. This included sending a big tour bus up a one lane dirt road on the side of a massive mountain sans guard rails and following 180 degree curves. Bus got stuck quite a bit, and we took a ton of wrong turns. One time, we were driving along and the bus driver started shouting in Chinese. The tour guy (Charlie) jerked forward and they started chattering. Finally Charlie turned back and told us that on our right was coming up Henan's largest Buddha if we so cared to look. Also, we are going the wrong way. Apparently seeing the giant Buddha was a pretty good sign that we were 2 hours out of our way :P
Anyway, the trip itself was a ton of fun. We saw the Lao Jie Ling scenic area, the Dragon Valley scenic area, the Temple of Marquis Qu. Shopped at the Zhenping Jade Market. And relaxed at the Mingyang Hot Springs. We even made a little extra trip to a large lake for a boating excursion! We covered a lot of ground, tried a little bit of everything, and got our adventuring in without too much hastle involving the maddening crowds!
- Housing ~ Stick to 5***** hotels. Anything less in Southern Henan won't guarantee you clean sheets or hot water, much less working internet or tvs. In fact, the 5-Star Hot Springs was lacking the tv or cold water, so no shower! I know it might cost you a little more, but it is absolutely, completely worth it to pick nicer hotels. We stayed at a 3-Star hotel where a lot of people refused to actually sleep given how filthy it was.
- Eating ~ Be careful, and be prepared. Utensils weren't always clean (I had a dried on mosquito stuck to my bowl. Good idea is to make sure they provide you with a pot of hot water. Then pour some in your bowl and dip your chopsticks in it to swirl it around. This cleans both bowl and chopsticks! Otherwise food was awesome, although we did get a chicken head in two dishes and a rabbit head in one 0_0
- Shopping ~ Jade market is HUGE. And bear in mind that they are selling fakes alongside those real jade pieces. Don't count on a "good deal" meaning not a lot of money. Real jade costs, even at a discount. Still, check it out, because if you want some jade, they had that and more besides!
- General Tips ~
- Don't forget to bring Water and Soda/Coffee with you. If you get a drink at all (even at restaurants!), it will be hot water. And drink machines are few/far between.
- Take good walking/hiking shoes!
- Bring along about $100 worth of Yuan for emergencies, convenience stops
- Arrange everything a couple months early!! We only got our hotel/food reservations because we had someone arrange everything really early. Otherwise, it might be packed.
- Don't forget your passport!! You have to have this to check into a lot of places.
- Be prepared to get lost and for everything to take longer than expected. Life in China is both crazy and lazy, just get used to it. You're going to be stalled, end up in road work, and find yourself taking insane speeds on hairpin curves. Roll with it!