It all seemed so simple. Take a leisurely 5 minute stroll from our hotel (via a bar for a quick beer) and find a half decent restaurant for dinner. We’d had amazing food every night on our China vacation so what could possibly go wrong? Hmmm. In our defence, we were shattered from travelling to Guilin and we’d had a pre-dinner beer as it was so hot and humid. So, we got lured into a swanky looking restaurant with the promise of delicious spicy hot pots.
WE MISSED THE BIGGEST CLUE ABOUT SPICY HOT POTS
The staff looked astonished when we walked in. We’d gotten so used to being stared at during our time in China we totally missed this. We also failed to notice that we were the only Westerners in the restaurant. But, we’d just arrived from Xi’an where we’d strolled around the awesome Muslim market in the evenings, and we’d barely seen other Westerners there, so we thought nothing of it. As Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman ‘Big Mistake. Huge.’
Like lambs to the slaughter we obediently followed the waiter to a table right at the back of the restaurant. Stupidly we didn’t pay much attention to what the other diners were eating. Or where we were seated. Right opposite the serving hatch for the kitchen. More about that in a minute…
What we did notice was that the table had a big circular hole in it!
It soon became obvious that no one in the restaurant had even a basic grasp of English (in fairness, we don’t speak Mandarin either). With a lot of sign language we managed to order a couple of beers, then we settled down to browse the menu. Which was, of course, in Chinese. Without any of the helpful pictures we’d become used to. Which was a drag.
Our smiling waitress appeared and we still had no clue what to order, so she summoned the Maitre D. Somehow we got through the process of ordering, although we’d really no idea what our meal was going to look like. Or taste like.
SALAD BAR TIME
The waitress re-appeared and showed us to a ‘salad/sauces bar’, signalling to us that we should make a selection. So we picked out a few mystery sauces and dips and returned to our table. Thankfully our beers had arrived. It was the high point of the whole experience. Because our meal arrived soon after….
It looked good. The large 2 sectioned (steaming hot) bowl was gently lowered into the big hole in the table. The the other items were brought out. A huge amount of pink mystery meat and a platter of slightly pinker mystery meat with a lot of fat in it. Yum. Plus raw noodles and what looked like raw bamboo shoots. Surely not? I know we could lose a few pounds but neither of us is panda sized. How rude.
Then we noticed the kitchen staff hanging out of the serving hatch gawking at us. Aha – now we knew why we were sitting at THAT table!
WE WERE THE ENTERTAINMENT FOR THE EVENING!!
One kind waitress took pity on us and came to our aid. With more sign language she suggested that the raw noodles needed to be cooked in one of the hot broths. Hot being the operative word, as she dumped the noodles into the bubbling chilli broth. The meat and bamboo shoots also had to be cooked in the broth bowls but we took charge of them and they went in the magic mushroom broth instead. It must have been magic mushrooms as we were crying with laughter by this stage. Especially when we saw what the meat looked like when it had been cooked (shrivelled foreskins). How appetising…
Suffice to say we didn’t eat much, but what we did eat was so ferociously hot we felt like our heads would explode. Beer helped, but not much. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many chillies in one dish in my life and I’m reasonably keen not to repeat the experience.
Still laughing, we paid the bill (almost the most expensive meal of our entire holiday) and headed back to the bar for medicinal gin. Which was much better than dinner.
Have you got a food horror story from your travels? Make us laugh and share it in the comments below.
My love affair with China began in the most unorthodox way. The ex-husband and his (fab) girlfriend spilt up while she was planning a trip to China to celebrate her 50th birthday. It had been on her bucket list for 25 years and she was determined to walk on the Great Wall on her birthday. So she asked me to go with her instead of him. As you do. I’m pretty well-travelled but quickly realised the only interesting facts about China I had were horror stories from colleagues who had done a stint in China and come back less than enthused. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. I was hooked and we booked our trip with an attitude of ‘whatever happens, we’ll have a laugh.’
Little did I know that I was about to totally fall in love with China and that it would become one of my favourite countries of all time. Everything from the people to the history, the natural beauty and the fabulous food totally blew me away. By the time our trip was over, we were already hatching plans for the next trip. After all, you really can’t ‘do China’ in just one trip and I do have a ’round number birthday’ to plan for!
When I told people we were off to China, I found that I wasn’t the only one whose only interesting facts about China were urban myths. It’s true that China has challenges, but it’s a truly amazing country with so much to offer to every kind of traveller, from adventure seekers to foodies to culture vultures. So, if you still have doubts, here are seven of the most common misconceptions about China and why they’re about as true as one of Pinocchio’s tales.
Interesting Facts About China (Debunking Those Travel Myths)
Myth 1: China is a Dangerous Communist State
Like millions of others around the world I watched the 1989 student uprising in Beijing (known in China as the ‘June the Fourth incident’). I clearly remember the brave lone student standing in front of the tanks sent to break up the protests and the horror of the bloodshed as troops opened fire on the assembled crowds, killing and injuring thousands.
For years after this, China was more closed than ever and difficult to visit, but times have changed dramatically and modern China is very different. It’s still an assault on all the senses, but in a good way. You will see police and you do need to have your wits about you, just as you would anywhere, but we felt completely safe walking around, even at night and in street markets.
Myth 2: If you don’t Speak Chinese it’s Impossible to Get Around
This was one of my biggest reservations going into my trip, as I’ve gotten used to travelling to countries where I can at least read the alphabet! We had opted for the luxury of a private tour guide but we did get out and about independently to explore and we found it incredibly easy to get from place to place. On the bullet train from Beijing to Xi’an, there are station announcements in English and the subway in Shanghai was very straightforward (and soooo clean!) to use.
The best advice we received was to take something with you that has the name and address of your accommodation on it, so if you do get lost, you can show this to a taxi driver. This worked for us after a long amble through the winding streets of the night market in Xi’an where we got a bit lost! And if all else fails, use a translation app….
Myth 3: The air pollution is dreadful
You’ll see plenty of people in China wearing masks – even in hotels, restaurants and shopping malls. We bought some as soon as we arrived (ask your guide/driver to stop at a pharmacy as they are so much cheaper to buy in China than at home!!). But, despite both being a pair of wheezy old asthmatics, we never used the masks as we simply didn’t need them. I might just save them for my next trip to London though…
Myth 4: China is Disgustingly Dirty
This is so far from the truth it’s laughable. I can’t stress enough how clean every single place we visited was. There were hordes of janitors, road sweepers and park-keepers everywhere we turned. The streets were spotless everywhere from the awesome historical sites to the bustling street markets, with no specks of litter to be seen. It made me rather sad that we don’t seem to have the same civic pride here in the UK.
Note: Don’t drop cigarette butts in China as it’s a serious offence!
Myth 5: You’ll End Up Eating Dog Meat and Get a Gastro Upset
A few cautious friends were keen to re-hash 3rd hand horror stories about eating bugs, intestines and dogs, but I’m a pretty experimental foodie. I was thrilled at the prospect of eating ‘real’ Chinese food, not something in a tray from the local takeaway! Trying out a new cuisine is one of the best aspects of travelling to a new country for me.
Take it From Me – Chinese Food Is Seriously Awesome!!
China is vast, boasting many different cooking styles and regional specialities, so I was in serious foodie heaven. With one notable exception (the Hot Pot Horror) we ate like royalty throughout our stay. From our blow-the-budget champagne brunch to celebrate Mo’s 50th to awesome crab dumplings in Shanghai, beer fish in Yangshuo and our favourite seafood kebabs bought from a stall in the Muslim market in Xi’an, we loved all the food that China had to offer.
Do your taste buds a favour and step outside your hotel restaurant to go and find real local food. You won’t be disappointed and you’ll save £££s!
Hot tip: Lots of eateries have pictorial menus. You can order food even if the staff don’t speak a word of English! You might get mystery dinner, but it’s always delicious.
Myth 6: China is Seriously Overcrowded, You’ll Feel Claustrophobic Everywhere
It’s true that China is huge and that Shanghai and Beijing are considered ‘mega cities’, with populations in the tens of millions. It’s good to be prepared for crowding and queuing as part of your trip, just as you would for Disney or many attractions in London during peak holiday periods. As you’d expect, some times of the year are much busier than others and some places sites get very busy on Chinese National Holidays. As a rule of thumb, weekends are also busier than weekdays too.
BUT – most sites are massive and if you’re patient, you can get awesome photos just by waiting a few moments for gaps in the crowds.
Myth 7: The ‘Inscrutable’ Chinese are Not Very Friendly
OMG this was the complete opposite of true! In every single place we visited, lovely people greeted us with the widest of smiles. Even where there was a language barrier, people practically tripped over themselves trying to help us. We met some incredible people, swapped stories, laughed a lot and had great conversations with everyone.
We found it hilarious that so many locals wanted to have their photo taken with us but we said ‘yes’ to everyone that asked us. Posing for selfies with locals felt like being z-list celebrities but we got into it and had such a laugh. Chinese people are anything but unfriendly.
Can you see why I love China so much? It’s sad to hear people spouting old myths about this amazing country. We only had positive experiences during our trip and left loving both the country and the people.
Have these interesting facts about China convinced you to check China out for yourself? Drop a comment below to let me know!
Located just a couple of hours outside of Shanghai, the serene and beautiful gardens at Suzhou are an absolute feast for the eyes. Two of the most beautiful are the Master of the Nets garden (the Fisherman’s garden) and the garden of the Humble Administrator. We came away from our visit with masses of Suzhou Garden Photos!
This 1,000 year old garden is the smallest of all of the gardens at Suzhou, however it’s also widely regarded as the most impressive and it’s well worth a visit! Created for a government official, it has the most extraordinary use of space that makes the garden feel much larger than it actually is.
The garden is divided into 3 sections. There’s a residential area, an inner garden and a central main garden with a large pond surrounded by pathways and buildings. Every inch of the garden and the plants in it have been carefully planned and there are lots of interesting little nooks and crannies to explore.
The Entrance to the Garden
The entrance to the garden is imposing, with a fabulous roof and rather splendid mythical beasts. It’s a sign of how amazing the garden inside is.
The garden is a no smoking zone – just like so many places in China (thank goodness). We loved this sign though! Sometimes a translation mishap is just funny.
The Residential Area
The garden was first designed for a government official about a thousand years ago. It was called ‘the Hall of Ten Thousand Books’ at the time because the owner had so many books, stored in three separate studies within the garden. Centuries later, around 1765, another official, Song Zongyuan bought and restored the garden.
It’s said that the official became frustrated with bureaucracy and that he would rather be a fisherman than a bureaucrat. He renamed the garden to ‘Wangshi Yuan’, meaning a fisherman’s garden.
We’d been to a Chinese painting class in Yangshuo just days before, learning how to paint bamboo. It was such a treat to find these beautiful painted panels, covered in bamboo (so much better than my painted efforts).
Every room in residential area has access to the garden and fabulous views. It makes for an incredibly peaceful place.
Out of all of our Suzhou garden photos, this is my absolute favourite. The simple yet intricate design of this window is so perfect. It’s deliberately positioned to offer a view of the external planting, from inside, creating a sense of light and airiness.
We loved the Master of the Nets garden and hope you enjoyed our Suzhou garden photos too.
After booking a trip to China, your next step is to sort out your China travel visa and it’s not difficult. You don’t need to shell out ££s to a visa service agent/company for assistance (unless you want to).
Hiring a China private tour guide is one of the best things you can do when planning your trip to China.
China is the most incredible, rewarding, exhausting, mind-blowing and exhilarating country you can imagine, but it’s vast and very different to the Western world. That’s not a bad thing and it certainly makes for an interesting visit but it’s good to be prepared.
8 Reasons to Hire a China Private Tour Guide (Before You Go!)
Getting met at the airport
Landing in China after a long and tiring flight, the peace of mind knowing that everything is taken care of from A-Z is such a relief. Imagine walking straight out of arrivals and finding your guide waving a board with your name on it. Bliss! And you won’t have to worry about finding your own way out of massive Chinese airports either!!
Your Own Private Car!
There’s no hanging around and waiting for other travellers when you’ve booked a private guide.
Within moments of meeting your guide you’ll be whisked off in a comfortable air-conditioned car!
And that’s heaven, especially if you’re visiting China when it’s hot, hot, hot..
Most private tour guides in China even made sure there is a supply of mineral water in the car, which is a thoughtful touch after a long flight!
You’ll be pleasantly surprised with the quality of vehicles that private guides use. The only teeny wrinkle is that some cars don’t have a huge boot (trunk).
Poor Charlie, our totally adorable driver in Beijing, struggled to get both of our cases (OK they were huge) and our cabin bags into the boot. Our guide ended up with one cabin bag on his knees for the whole journey from the airport to the hotel (about 60 minutes).
Tour guides in China take an annual national tour guide certificate examination sponsored by China National Tourism Administration, so they are bursting with knowledge and super-organised.
Help with checking into your hotel
Unless you’re staying in a big international hotel, you may find that the staff have a limited (sometimes non-existent) grasp of English. While it’s fun to communicate using a translator app (don’t forget that Google is blocked in China) it’s a huge relief to have your guide help you check in when you’ve arrived jet-lagged and brain fried from a punishing flight.
Pre-booked tickets are a godsend! They mean you get into historic and interesting sites with very little queueing time. All the ‘navigating’ of ticket booths, entry gates and security is a breeze with a guide to help you..
Max Your Agenda
You will fit more into each day with a private guide than people on large organised tours can. There’s so much to see in China, it’s a pity not to squeeze every drop of experience out of every day, while you’re there. Going with a private guide means you won’t waste precious moments waiting around for other people to get on and off coaches!!
Flex Your Agenda
One huge benefit of a private tour guide is that you can re-arrange or cancel elements of your schedule. China is hard work and some tours are lengthy so think about building in rest days. We managed to reorganise our activities with our guide’s help. We swapped a 2 1/2 hour cycle ride in the countryside for an awesome painting class.
A guide you can actually hear
In a big tour groups (30+ people) it’s sometimes hard to hear everything your guide tells you. It’s such a shame as Chinese guides are informative, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. With a private guide, you’ll hear every word and be able to ask questions and go at your pace. You’ll get lots of information about historic and interesting sites without being overwhelmed with facts.
It would be hard to visit China without an English speaking guide! A guide’s expert local knowledge will help you learn about local culture and find good places (and good things) to eat. You’ll visit local street markets, browse for bargains and always feel 100% safe.
Your guide will help you to know when you need to take your passport with you and guide you on tipping.
With our guide’s help, we managed 4 airports, 2 train stations and a cruise. Our guides stayed with us, guiding us through until we had checked in, making sure there were no problems. The airports and train stations were all very busy, so this was exactly what we needed.
It’s MUCH cheaper to book your tours as part of your package BEFORE you travel.
Now if you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments down below. I’d love to help you out!