Final Stop – Beijing 🇨🇳

After successfully meeting back up with my friend at the Dragon King Hostel we wasted no time in heading off to explore Beijing, we had a lot to cram into our final 3 days of the trip.

It was a short walk to the underground, where we took line 1 to get off at Tian’anmenxi Station.  It was almost New Year and the cold wind was brutal so it was a brisk walk to our destination – Tian’anmen Square. This giant square, one of the largest in the world, was built in the 1600’s and has considerably grown over the years. Chairman Mao designed plans for the square to be extended to fit 500,000 people, which expanded yet again after his death to hold 600,000. Of course outside of China its most famous for the 1989 protests and massacre, but of course you can’t mention that whilst you are there, and the security cameras mounted on posts all around you, remind you of that fact constantly.

We found the Meridian Gate which lead to the main entrance of the Forbidden City, but as we were in the middle of a public holiday, the crowds, security and winter cold proved too much, and we decided to return later. We also had planned to visit Chairman Mao’s mausoleum but it was closed due to being a Public Holiday, so after doing a full lap of the square, we admitted defeat and decided to get some food.

Our first meal in Beijing had to be the famous local dish, now known all over the world as Peking Duck. This roasted bird, with a sweet bean sauce, steamed pancakes and thinly sliced vegetables has been around in some form since the 1300’s, and like anywhere with a national dish on offer, we were spoilt for choice on places where we could sample it. We were cold and hungry so we entered a place just a short walk from Tian’anmen Sq, up N.Dongdan Street, a wide, busy street, full of designer shops and modern shopping malls. We found a place that was open and suited our budget and placed our order. Back then I was still eating a little meat on holiday (if it was a traditional dish) nowadays though, I’d have given it a miss. But even back then I preferred the sauce and pancakes over the duck, washing it down with copious amounts of green tea that accompanied it.

We spent the rest of the evening exploring the streets, cafes and just trying to take in and absorb the crazy, chaotic city that is Beijing. We window shopped in the designer stores, perused the local markets, sipped more delicious salty cheese tea and then found ourselves in the now defunct Donghuamen Night Market. Not for the faint hearted, this market was famous for selling silk worms, scorpions, star fish, crickets and a whole array of what you could call ‘interesting’ delicacies to eat. My friend was ready and willing to sample some of the treats on offer, so I somewhat reluctantly joined in, buying a couple of deep fried scorpions on a stick, to the amusement of a local family who seemed less keen to try them than we did.  I can’t say it was tasty, but it was definitely crunchy, and an experience I wasn’t going to repeat.

Feeling a little queasy we managed to locate our hostel in the dark and collapsed on our beds for some rest, the next day was Chinese New Years Eve and we had an early morning pick up, to visit probably the most famous site in the whole of China.

Booked via our hostel, we had a 40+ mile journey to see one of the best preserved portions of the Great Wall, Mutianyu. Arriving mid morning, we almost had the place to ourselves, as it was New Years Eve and most local were probably preparing for the evening celebrations. Having seen lots of photos of the Wall rammed jammed with tourists, we were incredibly lucky that it was just us and a couple of other tour groups.

There are 2 options to get up and down, climb the steps or ride up in a gondola and a 3rd option to descend back down, via a wheeled toboggan. Having walked a fair bit across Beijing the previous day, we decided to head up via gondola, having second thoughts as we started the ascent, it was a quite old and creaky, but it was too late to change our minds, and despite the odd noise and rattle, we made it up to the wall in one piece.

Once on the wall we had about an hour to wander, take multiple photos, drink in the amazing scenery and woodland that surrounded us, never mind the immense history this manmade wonder represents. The fact that we had portions of the wall to ourselves was mind-blowing, we were so incredibly lucky, what a way to spend New Years Eve.

The Mutianyu section of the wall is said to be the best preserved of all the sections you can visit, as well as being one of the oldest parts, as the building started in the mid 6th century, becoming the northern barrier to protect the capital from invasion. As we had about an hour, we walked one way for almost 30 minutes and then retraced our steps for the other 30. As I glanced across the countryside, from high up in one of the watchtowers, I couldn’t help but wonder just what these walls have seen over the years. It really was a pinch yourself moment that I was actually there and I wanted to remember every second.

Of course what goes up, must come down, and although the hundreds of steps back down seemed inviting, we opted for the wheeled toboggan with a gentle push from the most smiley man who’s sole job was to push people back down the hill & he gladly too photos of us too.

Once back on the street below, we had time to shop for souvenirs, all things Great Wall related of course and then it was time for a late lunch at Mr Yang’s, before boarding the bus back into Beijing and to get ready for the evenings celebrations.

That evening at the hostel we had a dumpling party, were we all got to make our own dumplings from scratch and then steam them for our last dinner of the year.

Once suitably stuffed, a bunch of us from the hostel jumped back on the metro and headed to a very cold and unfortunately deserted Tian’anmen Square. Turns out, all outdoor parties and firework displays were cancelled due to already disastrous  of pollution, all we encountered were police advising us to leave the area. We wandered in the cold for a while, eventually getting separated and I found myself in a McDonalds as the clock stroke midnight with 2 strangers from the hostel, eating french fries and dancing in the mass of red paper let off from the many firecrackers being exploded (quite possibly illegally) outside. We all eventually found our way back to the hostel and continued the celebrations there, not exactly how I had imagined celebrating Chinese New Year in Beijing, but it was definitely one I won’t forget.

After a lie in, we decided to start New Years Day over at the Summer Palace, despite it being in the heart of Winter. We took the metro and then entered via the path up Longevity Hill, where we were met with spectacular views of palaces, gardens, temples and a frozen lake full of children enjoying the holidays tobogganing.

Trying to stick to a budget, we decided to follow the locals and eat what they were having, which involved buying a cup of noodles on sale in the palace grounds, then adding boiling water from an urn, then slurping our way though our tasty lunch. Absolutely delicious and costing about 50 pence.

The grounds were vast and once we had warmed up from our lunch, we explored more gardens, temples and marvelled at the frozen lakes glistening in the new years sunshine.

It was coming close to the end of our trip, so we headed to the old part of Beijing, exploring the ancient hutongs or alleyways, buying a few souvenirs along Nanluoguxiang Alley including a little red book.

There were some cheap delicious places to eat and drink in the hutongs, so after a rest back in our hostel, we returned once it had gone dark for a few beers and some great live music at 69 Cafe. It was such a friendly little dive bar, with young local musicians, cheap beer and excellent live music, we stayed till closing time

Our last full day together, before I returned to the UK and my friend returned to Wuhan, we aimed straight for the entrance of the Forbidden City, but it was overwhelmingly busy as everyone and their uncle was out on the public holiday, so we reluctantly turned around, putting it back on hold, for maybe China trip No 2 in the future.

So we decided on a chill out day instead, and went and got cupped. Although its origins don’t necessarily start in China, it is a popular part of Chinese Medicine, with it being used in hospitals since the 1950’s. The idea being, glass suction cups create a vacuum when placed on the skin to draw up fluids and toxins to aid health and circulation. There are different forms of cupping available, so we decided to go all out and book ourselves in for fire cupping, which involved cotton wool soaked in alcohol. The cotton is then lit via a match and in one motion, placed into the cup and quickly removed, while the cup is placed on the skin. The fire uses up all the oxygen in the cup which is then quickly placed onto the body and the negative pressure “sucks” the skin up. It tingled but wasn’t unpleasant and once I got over what exactly what happening to my back, I could relax and enjoy it, then with a cup of green tea I could sit back and watch my friend get hers done, then the fun part, we could compare bruises! Then to end our spa day, I got my final salted cheese tea from Coco’s, I knew it may be a while before I had another one.

That night, our last night, we convinced some of the others in the hostel to join us back for food and drinks in the hutong. Grabbing the most delicious dumplings at Mr Shi’s Dumplings they were so good, we still talk about them to this day, then it was back to the 69 Cafe, for a final few drinks and a bit of a dance.

The next morning it was an early trip to the airport, with a slight headache for the long flight home, but my goodness what a country, it completely surpassed all expectations and I so hope I can return one day to see more of it.

Top Tip – When I originally started planning this trip I figured I would fly in and out of the same city, but China is HUGE, and getting a train back from my final stop in Beijing to Shanghai where I started was over 4 hours, that’s not including getting too the station, and the extra hour that you are supposed to arrive prior to departure. Flights were 2.5 hours, but cost about the same as the extra cost of my main flight if I departed from a different city. So, basically play around with your options, get creative, the less time spent getting too and from places, the more time you will actually get to explore when you get there.

Trip to the Terracotta Warriors – Xi’an 🇨🇳

After being in the country for over a week travelling independently with my friend who spoke Mandarin, it was time for me to go it alone for a couple of days. I could not visit China and miss the Terracotta Army, which I remember learning about at school, all those many years ago, and had dreamed of seeing in real life ever since.

I was travelling there from Chengdu and with limited flight options to Xi’an, which didn’t fit into my packed schedule, and the fact that I wanted to travel overland as much as possible, I decided to book onto an overnight sleeper, taking just over 15 hours. Loaded up with snacks, podcast’s and a good book, I managed to find my carriage and bed with help from what seemed to be the only other English speaking person on the train (a Chinese-American from Seattle) and got settled in for my journey.

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Taking the vacant top bunk, I met the family I was sharing the cabin with, my plans to rest and read on hold as it became apparent my young neighbour on the opposite bunk, wanted to play and wave for pretty much the entire trip. I’m not complaining, he was lovely and enjoyed watching the scenery and sharing snacks as much as I did.

I caught the train mid afternoon, and as well as playtime with my young companion, I sat out in the carriageway on one of the little drop down seats to watch the incredible landscape pass me by. Tiny little villages flew past, then miles and miles of nothing but countryside, bridges, rivers and mountains. It was a part of China I wouldn’t get to see on this journey, I was only sticking to the big cities, but it made me day dream of a future trip where I could get off the beaten path a little bit more.

Then came the night time, and although I had a broken sleep, I luckily wasn’t sharing my cabin with a snorer and managed to get some rest. It was still dark when I arrived at Xi’an station in the Shaanxi Province, and with my hostel name and address written down, I waved it in front of a taxi driver and within a few minutes he pulled up outside the Hangtang Inn Hostel door. Had I been more awake and arriving in proper daylight I may had figured my way there on foot, but the taxi wasn’t expensive and it was my first full day travelling alone in the country so getting a taxi felt the safer and more sensible option.

I had a lazy sleep in, and with 2 days to spend in the city, I decided to spend a quiet day wandering around the ancient city, with day two earmarked for my trip to the giant terracotta warriors.
Xi’an is one of the oldest cities in China, and so its overflowing with history and culture so I was happy to just wander around aimlessly soaking it all in. The centre of the old city is enclosed by old city walls and right in the centre is the Bell Tower which made a good navigational point so I didn’t get too lost.

The bell tower was lit up bright red in preparation for the New Year definitely making up for the cold grey, smoky skyline. There was two levels to explore, a spiral staircase to climb and of course the huge bell, although the original is now on display in a museum, There are many legends associated with the tower, one being that there used to be a powerful dragon in the river who was always causing earthquakes in the region. A strong iron chain was attached to the dragon from the bell tower and was used to restrain him under the water so he could never cause trouble again, and to this day there haven’t been any more earthquakes!

For lunch I explored the many food stalls and markets in the area, full of dumplings, noodles and tofu sizzling away, it all smelt delicious. I was surprised to find a Muslim quarter too, selling kebabs, cakes and breads, I was really spoilt for choice and just grazed my way through the small passageways.

The rest of the afternoon was spend exploring the the city walls and the Daci’en Temple complex, specifically to see the Wild Goose PagodaThe Pagoda was built during the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 AD),  it’s full of Buddhist artefacts, including golden statues, figurines and artwork. From the top you have a great panorama of the city around you, whilst down below at the entrance, buckets of incense burn slowly, giving the air a scented, smoky feel.

That evening, I wandered far longer than I should have, trying to find a place to eat. Many places didn’t have any menu’s translated into English, and after my recent fail with the spicy Sechuan food, I fancied something simple, veggie and none spicy, but still traditional. I eventually found a menu with pictures and had written down the word for ‘vegetarian or vegetables’ and I succeeded in ordering a huge pile of stir fried greens with plain rice and lots of green tea – a total success!

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The next morning I was up early to catch the tourist bus from Xi’an train station to the Terracotta Army, bus 306 had an English sign in the window, making it plain and easy to board the correct one. It’s also the bus where all the tourist looking people were hanging around (i.e holding camera bags, bottles of water and bulky rucksacks) all of us wanting the same destination. It takes about 90 minutes to get there and the journey costs just under £1 each way. Although there are many options for private tours, the public bus was clean, easy and dropped you right off outside the world heritage site, and at such a tiny cost, there was no way I could justify spending a lot more for basically the same ride.

The terracotta army is indeed one of China’s most famous and renowned sites, but it is also one of the most famous archeological sites in the entire world. I remember being fascinated at a young age learning about the thousands of life sized statues buried underground but still standing to attention, as they guarded China’s 1st ever Emperor in his vast tomb. Discovered only in the 1970’s, the site is still a working excavation area, and even now, more of the army is continuing to be uncovered. There are 3 main pits you can visit, and I had been advised to visit them in reverse order, as Pit 1, is the largest and most impressive of the 3 and makes for a great finale.

So far over 8000 warriors have been excavated and the number is growing, so basically this UNESCO site is not only an historic museum, but also a working archeological site and you can see workers painstakingly dusting off new discoveries during your visit. Each of the thousands of warriors has its own unique face, along with chariots, weapons and horses, its absolutely fascinating to see, as you start to notice different hairstyles, clothing, footwear as well as their individual facial expressions.

Pit 3, which I left till the end was incredible, housed inside a building the size of an aircraft hanger, 2000 warriors all stand to attention facing east, with another 6000 potentially still to be uncovered. As I walked around the perimeter trying to take it all in, I noticed everyone just like me, peering down open mouthed at the sheer vastness of this historic discovery. Yet another day in China that will stay with me forever.

It was mid afternoon as I caught the bus back into Xi’an and then another short walk via the hostel to collect my bags and I was back to the main train station. I had a late afternoon train to catch onward to Beijing, taking about 5 hours on the incredibly futuristic looking bullet train. I even opted for 1st class, it being a luxury I can’t afford back home in the UK, it was worth it, I got a reclining window seat, snacks and unlimited green tea.

The views started off nice and clear, and I got to witness more small countryside villages, rivers and mountains in the distance, but the closer we got to Beijing the harder it became to see much at all. The hazy polluted air became thicker all around and I had to almost rely on the train guard to let me know when we had arrived.

Beijing was unlike any place I had visited before, and so I was glad that I had been in the country for a couple of weeks before my arrival to this loud, frenetic, serious capital city. Those first 2 weeks had given me time to adapt to the pace of Chinese city life and familiarise myself with certain words and signs, so I was able to figure out enough to get myself to the hostel without getting too lost. There I was reunited with my friend who had flown in from Wuhan, our final leg of this Chinese trip was about to commence.  .  .

Eats – I ended up eating at a food court, there was so much choice, and although all the menus were only in Chinese, all the food is on display, so you can look and point at the food that looks the most appetising to you.

Coffee and Cake – As well as delicious savoury foods, the Muslim Quarter had stalls full of cakes and fruits, it was a sheer delight to wander though.

Top Tip – If you are doing the Terracotta Warriors independently, don’t bother with the audio guide, I had been told its not great quality and hard to understand. Just get a map, wear your most comfy shoes and head off on your own, its all you need.

Always be polite –  bù  xiè xie! “No thank you” (if the audio guide sellers get a bit pushy!)

 

Pandas, butter tea and ear scooping – my trip to Chengdu 🇨🇳

I don’t quite know where to start with this post, Chengdu was memorable for so many reasons, obviously seeing the panda’s for sure, but Chengdu really overdelivered on all fronts.

First of all, I really wanted to travel overland from Wuhan, but it was an 8 to 10 hour train journey, which is pretty much an entire days sightseeing, and with a flight taking only 2 hours and for not much more money, we went with the flight option. The internal flight itself was an experience, a shaun the sheep video, followed by the most terrifying government information film on drug smuggling, the inflight entertainment was varied, I’ll give it that.

We arrived at our hostel, Lazy Bones, early evening and had a wander in the local area, going straight in for some very spicy Sichuan food at a local restaurant and spent the remainder of the evening swapping tales with fellow backpackers at the hostel, the hostel was incredibly cheap, but super modern and one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in for price, friendliness and location.

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The next morning, we got up early for our pre-booked guided tour (booked via our hostel) of a place that has been on my bucket list for years, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. With no direct buses or trains to the research centre, your best bet besides booking a tour is to take a taxi, taking roughly 30 minutes.

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Starting in 1987 with just 6 giant pandas, the breeding and research centre just outside of Chengdu now has 83 panda’s living their best life, along with the ferocious little red pandas. It was just magical seeing the pandas in real life as we wandered down the bamboo lined paths, taking us to the nursery, research centre, cinema, the giant panda kitchen, the veterinary centre and of course the outside enclosures. So magical indeed that I threw up in a cluster of bamboo trees, I think it was a combination of overexcitement, far too many Sichuan chilis the night before and strong black coffee on the early morning drive over.

 

 

We got to watch the pandas play, eat, and sleep, all while learning about the incredible work that the researchers are doing to ensure that the conservation of these fascinating bears continues. Those with extra cash to splash can pay to meet the pandas in person, but for us, we managed a quick selfie with a giant panda and a quick photo with a curious red panda, curbing the urge to give it a tickle, as these small red bears are known to be a bit aggressive. What a privilege to spend the morning there, seeing these endangered but beautiful animals in their native China and meeting those who have dedicated their lives to their survival, it’s a trip I will never forget.

 

 

That evening, after a restful afternoon, settling my stomach and feeling much better, we booked tickets for the Sichuan Opera House through our helpful hostel, for a display of shadow puppetry, magical face-change theatre, as well as traditional singing and dancing. Oh, and unlimited cups of green tea, every single time we finished our cup, a waiter would instantly re-appear to fill our cup again, causing us to sip a bit slower to avoid a trip to the bathroom mid performance!

 

 

Next morning, revived with a bowl of porridge from the hostel, we caught a taxi 15 minutes through the manically busy traffic to the People’s Park, also known as Renmin Park. It’s a popular and busy park filled with both locals and tourists, and it showed an incredible insight into everyday Chinese life. Around every path was an open space filled with people taking dance classes, tai chi, aerobics, a karaoke session and we even spotted a man practicing his Samurai sword moves along a hidden path, and so began another day of memorable experiences.

 

 

But Renmin Park was just the gift that kept on giving, it is here where you can experience the ancient tradition of Tao er or Ear Scooping. Within seconds of sitting down at a table, a serious looking man came over with some serious looking instruments and before I had time to change my mind, I handed over my money and he set to work. It was not uncomfortable, he sort of twirled and scooped his way around the inside of my ear.  It was like someone was giving you a light tickle inside your skull, he also used a vibrating tuning fork (like I use on patients back home) which gave the most unusual, but again not uncomfortable feeling, the funniest thing though was watching my friends reaction as I sat there oblivious to what he was doing.  Then it was her turn, and I got to experience it from the other side, then with our newly cleaned ears we sat and drank our Jasmine Tea, watching other slightly cautious tourists and seasoned locals take their turn.

 

 

We exited the park east to explore around the huge Tianfu Square, the largest open square in the region, a giant statue of Chairman Mao presides from the sidelines, with skyscrapers, shopping malls and cafes stretching off in every direction. We shopped, ate dumplings, petted the cutest of dogs and even got a photo with yet another golden horse, as the final days of the Year of the Snake wound down until it was the horses turn again.

 

 

I had just about recovered from my spicy Sichuan dish from our first night, when it was time for the hostels weekly hot pot evening. We arrived in the dining room  to be greeted by a large sizzling pot in the middle of the table, surrounded by thinly sliced meat, vegetables and a whole array of dipping sauces. Unfortunately for pretty much all of us, including a traveller from northern China, it was just too spicy for us to enjoy. We all really tried our best to eat it, but it was blow your socks off, turns your tongue numb hot, luckily the accompanying beer was cool and refreshing and after admitting defeat, we all set off to buy yet more dumplings from a local street vendor up the road instead.

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On our final full morning in the Sichuan province, we got a taxi to a little piece of the Himalayas, or rather Little Lhasa. Chengdu is a popular starting place to travel onwards to Tibet, although it’s over 2000km’s away, it’s the closest Chinese city to the Lhasa, so many overland tours to the mountainous kingdom begin here. Little Lhasa or the Tibetan Quarter is mainly based along Jinli Pedestrian Street, and is full of restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops and little market stalls. With over 10,000 Tibetan’s living in the city, the area is a cultural hub, full of people walking in traditional dress and monks making their way to the temple, there is an obvious increase in police presence here too, a constant reminder of the many restrictions these people face on a daily basis.

 

 

 

Tibet is famous for many things, one of those things being Yak Butter Tea, so we headed up a steep set of stairs to a cosy little tea shop, full of kittens for some bizarre reason. We ordered a pot of this buttery, slightly salty hot tea, settled into the comfy couches, people watched and played with the kittens for probably a good hour, another one of those memorable moments from the trip.

 

It was an early evening of more dumplings for dinner, before my Welsh Mandarin speaking travel companion and I were to part ways for a few days. She had to return to Wuhan and I was travelling onward alone by train to Xi’an, until we were to reunite in Beijing for the new year celebrations. The adventures continued . . .

EATS – Hot Pot is the dish to try when in Sichuan, just maybe have a back up, if like me you couldn’t handle the chilli. Hot Pot restaurants are all over, our hostel provided us with our very own hot pot experience, but also had plenty of recommendations if you wanted to go it alone. I also picked up some dumplings at little road side stalls, always hot, always fresh and always delicious.

COFFEE AND CAKE – After not having too many sweet things so far on this trip, we found the Taiwanese chain 85 degrees at various spots around the city, selling both hot and iced coffees along with cute little cakes, it made the perfect pick me up.

TOP TIP – If you have time, a popular day trip is to the UNESCO Leshan Giant Buddha I really fancied it, but chose to spend my final day seeing more things inside Chengdu, but you always need a reason to go back right?

ALWAYS BE POLITEKāfēi – Coffee, Hǎo  – Ok. (there are many different ways to say Okay depending on the context, next time I visit, I am taking a translation app!)

 

That time I went to Wuhan 🇨🇳

I hadn’t heard of Wuhan, in the Hubei province of central China, until my friend moved there for a year back in 2014. It’s not really on most tourist travellers itineraries that’s for sure and there isn’t really any reason why it would be, its a super frantic, fast growing city, that sits on the banks of the Yangtze and Han rivers. Of course it’s now a place that pretty much the whole world has heard of thanks to a certain virus, but back then, it was pretty unknown.

Within China, Wuhan is well known though as being the main educational hub of the whole country and has an astonishing 59 Universities and colleges based here as well as a being a major economic and technology zone. I have never seen a place with so much development, scaffolding and cranes high up in the sky, a sea of sky scrapers and tall apartment blocks stretching as far as the eye could see.

But first I had to get there, beginning my trip in Shanghai was a great starter to Chinese travel, as it’s a pretty international city, so they are used to foreigners and English is spoken a little, so this allowed me to settle into the culture slightly, without feeling totally overwhelmed. Although you can fly into Wuhan, I fancied overland travel as much as possible, for the environmental aspect of course, but also relaxing on a train and seeing the countryside go by is far more pleasurable than being stuck inside an airport.

China has an exceptional train network including modern bullet trains, so we boarded the fast train for our 4 hour journey west, it was comfy, fast and friendly, I would highly recommend travelling this way. Loaded up with podcasts and tv on our iPads, we ended up passing the time with a sweet young boy who ended up watching cartoons on my friends device, whilst my other neighbour kept trying to entice me to eat the spicy duck neck he had brought with him, a local delicacy I was told, it was a memorable journey for all kinds of reasons.

I booked all the train tickets before I left the UK, this was to ensure we got the exact days we needed, it was Spring Festival time, when literally millions of Chinese travel across the country back home to their families, so trains get booked up fast. I used China Highlights to book all our train trips and would use them again if I am lucky enough to return.

Once we arrived it was a short trip to the University campus where my friend was living and we spent the next few hours meeting up with her fellow students from all over the world, hearing about their adventures in China it was truly enlightening. We ate in a local noodle bar for dinner, a favourite with the local student population where it must have cost less than £1 for a main meal and drink and it was delicious! Then it was off out reliving my own student days from Salford, as we hit a local bar, worryingly called Wuhan Prison for some beers and my first attempt at a Chinese squat toilet, not that easy once you’ve had a couple of beers.

The next morning we grabbed breakfast at a local stall, for what was to become another one of those food dishes that I still think about today – Wuhan Hot Dry Noodles or ‘rè gān miàn’. Its a local speciality breakfast consisting of yellowy noodles, coated in a thick sauce with soy, garlic, chilli and sesame oil, oh boy it was amazing, it cost about 30p and was freshly cooked by the road side.

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Then my friend took me off to explore her ‘hood, we wandered the streets, explored the local shopping mall, spotted a bride and groom having their wedding photo shoot, and amused ourselves trying to deciper the information signs at the local park.

We made it to the banks of the Yangtze River & although it was pretty quiet along the promenade it seemed a popular place for families, I spotted bike rentals, craft stalls and if you fancied, you could rent a kite to fly. It’s Asia’s longest river and the 3rd longest in the world, so unsurprisingly there was quite a lot of ship traffic passing through and beyond the other side you could continue to see the forever growing Wuhan spread off into the distance.

For dinner than evening, it was time yet again to experience some of the best food I have ever eaten, the colourful, messy and utterly delicious, Soup Dumplings. These delicate ‘soup basket buns’ are filled with a clear soup, that you have to quickly slurp up before it bursts. I was lucky having my personal friend/guide, who having lived in Wuhan for a few months knew all the best spots, and we treated ourselves to a large bamboo dish of rainbow coloured parcels, full of spinach, carrot and red cabbage.

My final full day in Wuhan, started the same as the previous day, but this time we got our hot, dry noodles to go, complete with chopsticks and braved the Wuhan Metro system. Opened in 2004 with just 1 line in use, the metro has rapidly grown like the rest of the city to become the 6th busiest transport system in China, with 11 lines, 282 stations, and serving 1.22 billions passengers a year!

We hit local markets, practicing my none existent haggling skills to try and get some hair curlers, then shopped till we dropped in a mall, before getting our nails done. All the while, stopping to say hello to any cats or dogs that crossed our path, of which there were many.

That evening after styling my hair with my new appliance from the market, it was time for another student night out, this time to a KYV or Karaoke Bar.  We rented a booth for the evening, ordered drinks and snacks including spicy deep fried lotus root and spent the evening singing American rock songs out of tune. It was great to have a few days just living regular Wuhan life, with no particular agenda, as the next morning we had a plane to catch, and a chocked itinerary ahead of us.

EATS – The main speciality in Wuhan is the hot dried noodles, and they are incredible, best served piping hot at a road side stall. The soup dumplings also cannot be missed, I wouldn’t have a clue where to go now in Wuhan, I do remember visiting a food hall in a shopping mall for some though. It was a slightly easier experience than having to navigate a menu in a completely unfamiliar language often found in the local restaurants, I guess it must have catered for the large number of international students in the area with part of it’s menu translated into English.

COFFEE AND CAKE – No cake discoveries as yet on this trip, there were too many noodles and dumpling dishes to try. That said, I did discover sweet cheese tea, it sounds an acquired taste and it was, but I loved it. It’s usually a green or black tea, made with or without milk, and served with a topping of salt covered cream cheese, oh boy it was good!

TOP TIP – Find a local to take you to the best spots and hidden areas of interest, or like me have a friend move there for a year! It’s a busy, expanding, working city, and although it does have a rich history, it’s not an obvious tourist destination, so you will need to come prepared in order to get the best from your trip if you want to get around.

ALWAYS BE POLITE – ‘Nǐ hǎo’ – Hello