At the end of May, I travelled from Regina, Saskatchewan to Shanghai, China with a group of friends. Our first day in Shanghai was exhilarating! We woke up at the Rock & Wood Hostel, purchased a map and planned our day over breakfast in the dining area. There are many green public spaces in Shanghai and they are well utilized. People's Park was a personal favourite. People were dancing, practicing Tai Chi, playing mahjong, sleeping, singing, talking and eating. I saw a young girl painting with water on the path and watching it fade away. It was beautiful and made my heart happy.
Steamed buns from street vendors and a meal at a great little place called GongDeLin were my favourites! It's a vegetarian restaurant that specializes in veggie versions of dishes that are traditionally made with meat. We ate outside at a long table under hanging lights and ordered a bunch of dishes to share.
We took a bus to Yixing where my brother in-law lives and stayed in his apartment that was close to the walking street in the old city centre. Most days we woke up slow, went for bubble tea and then headed out. One night we did KTV (karaoke) with a large group of people mostly from the area. We learned about some of China's 90's pop stars and found common ground in Backstreet Boys.
From Yixing, we flew to Kunming which is in Yunnan Province. This was the portion of the trip that I was most looking forward to. After a day of urban parks and very spicy meals, we took a sleeper train to Lijiang and stayed in a dreamy hostel called House & White Lakeside Lodge. The pictures on their website didn't do it justice. From the roof we had the loveliest view of the Qingxi Reservoir and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The hostel even had a yoga studio on the third floor with floor to ceiling windows facing the reservoir. The water was still and reflected the sky.
We headed to a nearby hotel where we rented bikes and peddled all the way to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. It was a grueling ride and although it appeared flat, we quickly realized on our way back that we had biked uphill almost all the way there! The ride was beautiful and the bike ride back to the hostel was a breeze and took less than half the time. We were a few minutes late for hot pot night at the hostel because the sun setting on the reservoir was too nice to pass by. Plus, watching goats grazing on the grass was pretty good too.
On our last day in Yunnan we took a terrifying van ride up the mountain to explore Tiger Leaping Gorge. If I wasn't closing my eyes, I was staring at the inside of the van trying not to look out the window. Once we made it to our destination I felt so small and awestruck at the beauty encircling us. It was then I was reminded that we were here to hike to the bottom of the gorge. There wasn't always rails at the edge of the cliffs and it was pretty steep. I took it one step and breath at a time until I made it to the rapids at the bottom. We met up on a rock big enough for seven and watched the Jinsha River push by. I could have stayed there all day!
We ended our travels in Beijing and spent our time eating popsicles, exploring The Forbidden City, having Peking duck with a couple of new local friends at Bian Yi Fang, hiking the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall and wandering around the 798 District. One night we discovered a quiet alleyway behind our hostel that had small shops and restaurants. A local working at Spoonful of Sugar recommended a Japanese restaurant in the area called Suzuki Kitchen where we had a delicious meal. We peaked into the windows of some small art shops that were closed for the evening, like Rongdexuan and Ubi Gallery and made a note to check them out the next day.
I didn't expect to go on a 16 day adventure in China with six other people, but I am happy I did. I enjoy going to places that are out of my comfort-zone because I always come home grateful to sleep in my bed and wanting to explore more of the world.
Give yourself enough time to apply for your visa.
Book accommodation. trains, buses and flights 5 to 7 weeks ahead.
Bring cash. Credit cards aren’t always accepted.
Carry your passport. You need it to check-in to hostels.
Helpful apps to download:
ArkVPN (so you can use Instagram, Facebook, Google, etc.)
Ctrip (to book transportation)
Danielle Tocker is a love, lifestyle and food photographer living and working in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. She loves capturing the quiet moments in life that are often overlooked, pulling weeds and vegetables from the garden and turning anything into a song parody. Check her out on Facebook and Instagram!