Last Stops

All right, so my last big trip is coming up. Where will I be going this time? To China’s northeast (dong bei) region, hopefully in time to catch some fall foliage!

I will say that there are some marked changes between this trip and the last. One being TRANSPORTATION. Remember how in Qinghai, there were vast stretches of uninhabited land that was virtually inaccessible? Not so with China’s east coast! I was checking train tickets, and assumed that they would be slow ones that took well over 20 hours. But…surprise! There’s a high-speed train that gets there in 8. Just…high speed trains. Everywhere. The other, more subtle difference, is that I’m personally more restricted by budget and time. Much of this is because I’m a student, and so most of the trips I’ve taken in the past 2 years have had to undergo some creative gymnastics to even happen, such as volunteering in certain areas for a stretch of time. This time, I’ve been pretty choosey about what I’m seeing, and have definitely picked up some spare work to raise up some funds for what I assume will be an ungodly amount of dumplings. (Those files may have taken me a full week to translate, but it’s all for you, 饺子!)

But that’s not why you’re reading this. The real point: just where will I be going?

Like my trip in the summer, I’ll be starting with the Shanghai Literary Review people (who probably think I travel all the time now). For China’s National Holiday week, they’ve rented a villa in the water town, Zhujiajiao, to have a writing retreat. There will be activities, writing, and probably some BBQ. I’m not actually staying the full week with them, but for the last couple of days.

After that, I hop on a train and head to Panjin, Liaoning province, which is where seaweed grows red in their wetlands area. I’m coming at the tail end of the season, but have heard that the colors are at their best near the end. It’s always possible that I’ve miscalculated, which happens, but the wetlands sound nice anyway. Once in Liaoning, I’ll hop on over to Dalian, which is a big sea-side city that I’ve only ever heard people gush on and on about. I don’t think I even know what makes it special. I’ve read that people have seen UFOs, floating cities, and glowing beaches, but I’m guessing they were referring to the seafood.

Once out of Dalian, I’ll then go to Jilin. Now, initially, I planned on going to Changbaishan, which is a gorgeous ecological nature spot. It has a dormant volcanic crater lake on top of a mountain, which also serves as a border between China and North Korea. Plans have changed (and you can probably guess why). While I’d never planned on actually going to the border between the countries, given the recent political climate, I think I’ll just stay far, far away. Oh, and also because the recent nuclear missile tests out of North Korea have triggered seismic activity around the mountain, and some even say the volcano could erupt again. If you just read that last sentence and thought “Holy shit,” buddy I’m with you. (Also, fun fact: there’s a bunch of lore about a loch ness esque monster inside of the volcano…metaphor for North Korea? Let’s hope not). The likelihood of any of those doomsday scenarios happening? Pretty low. But, there’s no reason to tempt fate.

Luckily, Jilin is a big province, and so I can go there without being in close proximity to the world’s most insane country right now. (Seriously, Mom, don’t worry! So long as I’m well within Chinese borders, there’s no safer place in the world than China when it comes to NK). Sadly, the biggest and best thing to see in the province is FOR SURE Changbaishan, but I’ll also check out Jilin’s meteorite museum, go to some national parks to catch the red leaves, and (you guessed it) eat lots of NE food. Best part? There’s actually another lake with a loch ness esque monster allegedly inside. I’m starting to think the NE is totally bonkers.

I’ll finish out my trip by going to the end of the Great Wall, which tapers out into the sea. A perfect spot for brooding, and also to end what has been a wild ride of traveling in China!

Stay tuned for more info as the trip unfolds. And, if you want to know more about specifically traveling in China, you can check out my other blog here. It’s both in Chinese and English, and is all about China travel (as the name suggests).


The End of the Tours

As many of you might know, I’ve almost been to every single province/territory in the Chinese Mainland (and have also been to the “One party, Two Systems” areas like Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan, aka the “Don’t mention them if you don’t want to get in an argument” regions). In one month, that “almost” will change into “have,” as I hit the last provinces, Jilin and Liaoning and complete years worth of tours and circuits.

Had I planned to go to every province when I did my first backpacking trip in Spring Festival, 2013? Of course not! But, here I am, and man it’s been a ride. I’ve been up in the mountains, out in the deserts, swimming in the ocean, hitchhiking on a wagon, and even biking in a valley. I’ve stayed with nuns, worked at a beach-side hostel, and even visited Chinese Hell.

What lays in store for me next month? Well, I’m not going to pretend that it’s going to be the best of my trips, because I’ve already had great trips. And true, it might have made more sense to have saved Tibet for last, but I’m happy that my last major trip is more akin to what I’ve done in the past: just me and the road.

Be excited.

Where Next?

Spring Festival is approaching, and for the first time in a long time, I have no major trips planned. Not because I’ve stopped liking travel, but because a) I just got back from a 3-week trip to America to see family and friends, and b) am going to be staying back to watch the cats while my roommate goes home to see her own family!

With all of the people off and traveling, it’s made me think about remaining trips to be had in China. Of the 34 “provincial-level administrative units,” the 23 provinces, the 4 municipalities, the 5 autonomous regions, and the 2 “special administrative regions” (Hong Kong and Macao), I only have FOUR left to go.

My map of past trips. The lines are different routes for long-term travels. The dots are for single trips to a specific location.

What are those 4 regions? Here’s a quick run-down of where I have left to go.


In the northeast, or “dong bei” part of China, it’s a place full of awesome dumplings, winter-hardened people, and from what I hear, decent mountains. All of this sounds nice, but what I hear most about this area is the large sea-side city, Dalian. This is a relaxing place along the sea with tons of seafood, sailing, and a laid-back atmosphere. If I were to go here, I might not make it to the rest of the province, just saying.


Also in dong bei, right next to Liaoning, Jilin province is a place best known for its natural scenery. Like Liaoning, it also has mountains, but as most photographers will tell you, it’s the lush red forests that are worth the trip. The red seaweed mentioned in the link sounds surreal, and I’m all about surreal. Added to the strangeness is the fact that beyond the mountains of Liaoning and past the forests of Jilin, North Korea lies in wait. (Though with a begrudging friendship with China, so no worries on that front).

**NOTE if you look at my map, you’ll see a line going through both of these provinces, indicating that I’ve been there. Not so! I rode a train through them, which doesn’t really count.


Located in the wild west of China, Qinghai is a desolate province bordering Xinjiang and Tibet. More than half of Qinghai is part of the Tibetan Plateau, which means that the elevation is high. According to some travelers I’ve talked to Qinghai is Tibet, but without the bureaucratic red tape. You’re still on/near the Himalayas, and the Tibetan people live everywhere in Qinghai. Something else that draws me to Qinghai is the Chaka Salt Lake. I love the thought of swimming in the mountains, and since I’m a mediocre swimmer at best, will appreciate the buoyancy.

Tibet Autonomous Region

This one hardly needs introduction, since it carries so much romance and imagination. Mount Everest is in Tibet. Religious mystery is in Tibet. One of the highest ferries wheels in the world is in Tibet. I have not yet been in Tibet. Many travelers are frustrated with Tibet, and it’s no secret why. Whereas back in the 90’s, travelers could carry a backpack and tent and just ramble on through, now it’s required to have a permit, a planned tour, and a guide. Sort of takes the mystery out, but I still want to go all the same. Though, I have also been told that Tibetan areas of Qinghai and Sichuan provinces are almost better because there is less government intervention.

China is very big, and even once I hit all of the provinces, there will be more to see. For now, this is what’s ruminating in my mind for the summer/fall when the weather is not brutal and I can catch some nice nature scenery.

Until then, it’s time with the cats!