Aside from Beijing and Shanghai, many people cannot name a city in China. While they are excellent hubs of international culture, food, fashion, and entertainment, a trip to China would be lacking without exploring places outside of these two super-cities. Spending time in certain areas of Beijing and Shanghai can make you forget you’re even in China! You’re surrounded by international fast-food and coffee chains, and many people speak English. This can be great, but if you’re like me, you want a real cultural experience when you travel, and trying new foods and struggling with the language is all part of the adventure.
Second and Third Tier Cities[/tps_title]
If you’ve had enough of the big city, but aren’t ready to do anything too crazy head to a second or third tier city. They’re still huge by most of the world’s standards (usually around 7-10 million in population), but they’ll have fewer English speakers and upon exploration, you’ll probably find some pretty cool local gems. I enjoy checking out local temples when I’m traveling, especially since it usually means you’ll find a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant nearby. Many medium-sized cities also have off-beat museums and lovely parks. The slower tempo you’ll experience in many of these cities is also refreshing after the hustle and bustle of the big city.
Countryside and Villages[/tps_title]
If you’ve got a bit of Chinese knowledge under your belt (or a nice Chinese friend who is willing to tag along to help) and are feeling especially adventurous head out to the countryside! In the countryside you’ll get to see how millions of Chinese people live, and how extremely different it is from any city you’ll visit. From my experience, the locals have always been friendly. Usually, I’m greeted with a suspicious look, but after I give them a nice smile or a “nihao”, they smile back, and sometimes even start up a conversation. They are usually glad to show you a little about their way of life, just be respectful of their space and feel out the situation first.
Unfortunately, if you don’t speak Chinese or if you aren’t friends with someone who does, traveling to these areas could be tough. The chances of finding someone who speaks English are low, so getting around (especially since there might not really be “tourist” attractions in these areas) could be tough. Also, keep in mind that hotels in small villages might not legally be allowed to accommodate foreigners, so if you’re planning on staying the night be sure to call ahead. As always in China, bring your passport and patience.
Hopefully you’ll be inspired to check out some other towns and villages on your next trip to China. It’s really a great insight into the Chinese food and culture that you just can’t find in the first tier cities. Happy travels!