School has started once again, so I’m back to my usual routine in Xiamen. I had a wonderful winter break backpacking around China; it was filled with adventure and great new experiences! I first started traveling with two friends, from China and Germany, and half way through the trip I started traveling alone. Even though it’s nice to travel with friends, I highly recommend traveling on your own for a bit, just for the experience.
I personally liked traveling on my own better, since I felt I had more freedom and flexibility to do the things I wanted. Also, traveling alone doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to be alone. You meet so many unique people along the way, so don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and talk to people you’ve never met before, whether it’s on the train or at the store, hostel, etc. You can always take the opportunity to make new friends! Furthermore, the cities I traveled to were Sanya, Guilin, and Guangzhou.
Traveling from Xiamen to Sanya
We first traveled to Hainan, an island off the southernmost coast of China. We first took a train from Xiamen to Shenzhen, then we took an overnight bus to a port where we waited 13 hours on a ferry to take us to Hainan, due to heavy fog. The bright side was we got to listen to one of the crewmembers sing his heart out in karaoke. We finally arrived to Haikou at 8 p.m.
Exhausted from our journey, we took refuge at our hostel for the night. The next day we set off by train to Sanya, located in the south of Hainan. We stayed in a hostel called Sanya Backpackers Hostel. If you are traveling on a budget, staying at hostels is the way to go. All the hostels I stayed at had extremely helpful staff, and I got to meet so many great people from all around the world! However, it’s a good idea to check the hostel’s rating and reviews online before staying there.
I spent a week in Sanya exploring the city on my own and with friends I met at the hostel, especially with Hattie from the United Kingdom and Xiao Pi from China. Together we visited the lovely beaches of Sanya, hot springs and local restaurants. My favorite restaurant was especially popular with the locals due to the delicious dishes of duck they served. The most interesting thing I ate there was the chicken brain and comb, because Xiao Pi explained to us that it was good for your brain and would make you smarter. It had a very interesting taste (creamy and eggy), but I don’t think I’ll eat it again anytime soon.
Other days when I went exploring on my own, I found a local fishing village, night markets, and a bar with a great atmosphere. I spontaneously entered this bar because I didn’t feel like staying in at the hostel one night. I definitely didn’t regret my decision, since this bar felt more like my friends or family’s house during a gathering (minus the alcohol) than a bar. Everyone in this bar new each other and were very welcoming to newcomers like me. They were people from China, Russia, USA, the United Kingdom and elsewhere who had been living in Sanya for a while. They gave me great advice about the places I should visit.
I later met up with one of the girls from Orange County at an amazing beach called Houhai. If there’s one thing I learned from this trip it’s to take the opportunity to get to know someone better, like his or her culture, hometown, travel experience, etc. You never know what you’ll learn or the advice you’ll get from these experiences.
Plane ride from Sanya to Guilin
I spent a week in Guilin, located in the north of the Guangxi province, at a hostel called Wada Hostel. My major highlights in Guilin was taking a bamboo raft tour down the Li River with limestone mountains surrounding it, getting lost in the fields of the rice terraces, and walking along the river. I also met a tea master, Mr. Liming, who invited me to a hot cup of tea in his teashop on a very cold day. Mr. Liming introduced me to many teas, like Guilin’s famous local tea called Guilin hua cha (it is made out of sweet osmanthus). In addition, he taught me how to properly prepare tea, the unique health benefits of each tea as well as some history about the origins of tea.
On days that were too cold for me, I stayed at the hostel talking, watching movies, and hanging out with travelers like myself. There’s no way I could ever get bored hearing the stories of others and getting to know someone new. After deciding Guilin was too cold for me, I headed for warmer climate in Guangzhou.
Train ride from Guilin to Guangzhou
My final stop was Guangzhou, located in Guangdong Province. I spent 5 days exploring the city and spending time with people at my hostel, called Lazy Gaga Hostel. Guangzhou is a city with skyscrapers and beautiful architecture. One of my favorite places I visited in Guangzhou was a park that had an opera house, library, and stadium hidden within in. It also had spectacular views of the river and Canton Tower. The best part was seeing the tower and park light up at night.
Since it was the day before Chinese New Years, they also had special lights and decorations, which made it even prettier. Other days when I wasn’t out in the city, I did laundry and watched movies with friends I met at the hostel, like Julie from Denmark. Even though laundry doesn’t sound very eventful, I had a surprisingly good time doing it, since I did it on the rooftop, which had an amazing view of the city.
Additionally, I met an elder Argentinian woman there, sitting down by a table making jewelry. We had an intriguing conversation about her experiences traveling the world on her own, making jewelry along the way to sell. Listening to her experiences made me realize how fortunate I am to be in China; to be able to continue learning and experiencing new cultures, lifestyles, languages and more.
Plane ride from Guangzhou back to Xiamen
I had such an amazing time traveling around China! I am definitely going to take the opportunity to travel more this semester, as well as get out of my comfort zone and explore more! You never know what you’ll find or who you’ll meet – so make the best wherever you are!
Sara Torres-Robles is earning a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry at San Diego State University. She is video blogging from Xiamen, China for the 2015-2016 academic year.