Five Travel Moments From a Year in China

Hello, Rhyme & Ribbons readers!  I’m excited to be guest posting on Amanda’s blog this weekend.  I’m Marielle, and I blog over at This Flooded Sky.  I started blogging around two years ago when I was working in Hangzhou, China.  These days, I write mostly about travel, culture + society, and the post-expat life back in the States.  It’s been almost exactly one year since I left China, and I’ve been feeling some restlessness and nostalgia.  So today, I’d like to share some of the most memorable travel moments from a year spent in the Middle Kingdom.
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1. That time when I thought I was probably going to die
When I visted Xi’an with a friend, and he said he wanted to hike this mountain, I was like, “Sure.”  Hiking is Asia is easy.  It’s all stone/paved paths that girls (not me) can navigate in high heels.
However, Huashan is one of the most dangerous mountains in China to hike.  It has one of the scariest trails in the world – one that’s a set of narrow planks nailed to a cliff. 
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Hiking trail on Huashan.
If I had seen photos of the paths on Huashan beforehand, I definitely wouldn’t have done it.  I am really, ridiculously, afraid of heights.  I get vertigo on escalators.  So when we reached the last two km of the ascent and were facing near vertical sets of stairs – some so narrow that only half of my size 5/36 foot could fit on them – with chains to help you climb, I started regretting my life decisions.  When we woke up at dawn on the mountain to hike to the other three peaks and did the climbs in the pre-dawn dark, I got a little worried that I would lose my grip on the chains and take a long fall.  
But I made it!  And I might have thought I was going to die at times, but the view was worth it.  Definitely passed on that plank trail though – unlike my friend, who paid $5 to risk his life cliffside.  
2. That time my boyfriend and I got stranded
I loved China for all its amazing landscapes.  When my boyfriend and I visited Kunming, we hopped on a few buses and got to run around in the kind of place we’d never even imagined.  If you’re ever in Yunnan Province, check out the Stone Forest.  It’s amazing, and was definitely one of our favorite places.  
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Stone Forest
But sometimes you have to learn lessons the hard way.  Like. . .bring snacks, because even in a country where people list “eating delicious food” as one of their favorite hobbies, it can be hard to find food in some places.  And when you take buses to the middle of nowhere, China, make sure you have your return ticket before you run off and explore.  Or else you’ll get so distracted by finally being able to eat dinner that you don’t realize the last bus has left.  And then you’re either stuck in the wilderness or have to pay 600 RMB to get back to the city.  Sure, 600RMB = $100, but in China purchasing power terms, that’s like $600.  Ouch.  
We still can’t talk about this place without referencing its lack of food – nothing available in the park, surprisingly – and how incredibly difficult it was to get there and back.  But hey, at least we have cool photos.
3. That time a camel really wanted to eat my leg
I love to see things, but I’m usually not that into doing them.  I’ll take seeing a gorgeous landscape any day over trying weird food, washing elephants, or paying $5 to risk my life on some planks attached to a cliff.
So I thought I was really adventurous when I rode this camel out in the desert in Dunhuang.
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Unfortunately. . .
1. I don’t like animals.  Real life camels look kind of creepy and oddly hairy.  
2. I fell off when the camel randomly decided to stand up while I was getting on.
3. My friend’s camel behind me kept nuzzling my leg and I was pretty afraid it would either bite me or spit on me.  Ew.  My friend, of course, was laughing hysterically the whole time and named his camel Henry. 
But it was all good, because my nieces literally screamed with laughter when they saw my photos and I got to see a perfect sunset out in the dunes.
4. That time I finally traveled all by myself to Pandora
Well, not really.  But Zhangjiajie is one of the places that inspired the mountains in Avatar.  It’s in Hunan Province, and, judging by the handful of non-Asian foreigners we saw, still largely unknown to Western tourists.
Zhangjiajie was actually my first solo trip (though I did meet up with a friend after a few days), not counting the “moving to a new country alone” post-college experiences.  I hiked around Tianmenshan.  Found some secluded paths, and felt absolutely free, on this mountaintop in China.  Walked across the city from the train station to my hotel, just taking in the sights and feeling completely safe.  Loved that city, for its nature, and for that feeling of freedom.
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Unfortunately, I dropped the ball and didn’t take many great photos of the super cool mountains.  But I did love this view of Tongtian, the Heaven-linking Avenue with 99 turns, from the top of Tianmenshan. 
5. All those times I searched for peace
I fell in love with Hangzhou the first time I saw West Lake.  After the craziness of the first few days, arriving and setting up our apartments, I went downtown with a friend and saw the music fountain show and the boats on the lake.  
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Eventually, I realized that the music fountain show was a multiple daily event and stopped noticing, but that first time was magical.  And after a while, I reached the point where living in Hangzhou was just what I did, nothing special.    
But whenever I went to West Lake, I got that feeling of excitement about China, and loved it again.  The eastern side of the lake had a more downtown feel, but the western side bordered the mountains and was more secluded.  That was where I went to hear music, for quiet walks, to escape the city, to see the gardens.
What are you favorite travel memories?      

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