James in China: Challenging The Stereotype And Being Blown Away By The Great Wall

James in China: Challenging The Stereotype And Being Blown Away By The Great Wall

7 min read

As the most populated country in the world, it’s practically impossible to think you understand or ‘know’ China without visiting it for yourself. For our global wanderer James, it’s was never a country at the top of his list (unlike Iceland, Kenya and the Middle East) but when opportunity knocks to experience somewhere new, dive into it as you might be surprised by what you find…

Isn’t China Just Full of Overpopulated, Smoggy Cities And Soulless Countryside…?

China has always been one of those places I never had a massive desire to explore. I had an idea of large, modern day, ‘smoggy’ cities with hordes of people and no real pulse or identity, just scale. From working in the travel industry and being exposed to different places and various cultures all over the world…

I quickly learned that you cannot judge somewhere you have never been or experienced and so I promised myself I never would. When a trip to China emerged from the woodwork, I decided to go for it and hopefully prove my own idea of China wrong. So, I did….

I was lucky enough to be part of an organised adventure tour to explore China on USIT’s China Highlights trip. The good thing about the trip is that you can either start in Beijing and work south to Shanghai or start in Shanghai and work North, this allows for better date flexibility for people looking to do the trip. Our group started in China’s Capital city, Beijing.

How Did I Get From Dublin to Beijing?

We flew with Finnair who are a relatively new player in the Irish Market after first building a relationship between Ireland and Finland in 2007 but only endorsing the link in 2015 where they introduced year-round daily flights linking Helsinki and Dublin but also connecting Ireland to some great fares onwards to Asia and the pacific. We met the group in Dublin Airport and immediately I knew this was going to be a hilarious trip.

We flew business Class which is always sweet as being treated like a Saudi Prince is always welcome. Flying Business with a bed that allows you to lay horizontal and be massaged to sleep, puts flying into a new perspective and really allows you to land and get going straight away in your new city. Which is exactly what we did.

The Importance Of Having The Right Tour Leader

We met our tour leader, Jay, In the airport on arrival surprisingly upbeat for a guy who had come off a 22-hour sleeper train from his home village and began our adventure in China. If you are unfamiliar with Intrepid or any organised tour operator, the system is simple, they take the hassle out of travelling that comes with every trip that experienced or not experienced travellers face.

People are all different so some people like going commando into tricky territories and figuring everything out themselves, others like the stress-free route of an organised tour.

I have travelled both ways and it really does depend on the location you are going to, some areas you just need a group and a guide to follow and China is one of them. The tour operators will look after your accommodation, transfers, breakfasts every day, some lunches & Dinners, Transfers between locations, activities included in the itinerary and then some optional activities that can be arranged throughout the tour.

Incidentally, USIT work with all major international and local tour companies. We know the great, the good, the bad and the unnecessary.

Beastly Beijing, Celebrity Status And The Greatest Of Walls…

Beijing is a monstrous city with over 22 million people calling it home. 22 million. In one city. The scale is unimaginable and although I have been to big cities before, nothing quite like the size of Beijing.

For our first day in Beijing, we visited Tiam Square, the Forbidden Palace and lastly the hillside viewing platform of the forbidden palace. The viewing platform offers a bird’s eye view of the old city of Beijing and lets you see a different perspective of the forbidden palace. There was a Chinese National Holiday on when we were there so the place was crazy packed full of domestic Chinese tourists visiting their capital city and us pretty much. It really is you and them in China. We take the diversity that we are used to living in Europe and visiting places with massive ethnic and cultural diversity for granted as in China, prepare to feel like an alien on planet earth where locals will ask you to take a photo with their wife, girlfriend, uncle, cousin. As a group, I would presume we will be on 100 Chinese mantle pieces.  

Roll with it I say, not every day you get to feel like Jamie Dornan despite the fact you are just getting photographed because you’re weird looking. Soak it up.

On day two we set off the Mutianyu Section of the great wall located about 2 hours outside of Beijing. It was a gorgeous October day We were advised by the tour leader Jay to get the Cable Car up to the 14th Section and then walk up to the 20th section taking in all the views and then finally walk back down to the 6th section where you can catch an adrenaline-fuelled toboggan down the rest of the way.

What Jay didn’t tell us is that we would find a little impromptu bar/ woman selling beer on a step of the wall which served as the best location I have ever had a beer. One of those Moments that I will never forget.

This section of the great wall is tough so come prepared if you want to get to the top, some sections are close to vertical which was fun for me, but any fear of heights and you could struggle, fully worth it at the top though.

We’ll be hearing more from James next week as he visited the Terracotta Warriors and the stunning water village of Xitang before ending his adventure in Shanghai.

Interested in seeing China in 2018? Drop James a line directly james.odonoghue@usit.ie, Whatsapp him on 087 4021101 or pop in-store. Let’s stop talking about China and start planning a visit to China!