a whirlwind of tourism

I don’t really know how to start this post, other than to say that I’ve finally begun traveling! Which I will continue to do until November!

So, after a few short but great weeks at home (and after moving my cat from China to the US, which was infinitely better than last year, when I moved the cat from Chengdu to Shanghai) I headed back to Beijing via Air Canada on June 20th.

I arrived in Beijing on June 21. I had three nights booked at a hostel I’d stayed at a couple summers ago, and my major tourist plans consisted solely of my desire to go to my favorite Beijing duck restaurant, 四季民福烤鸭店 (Siji Minfu Duck).

okay technically, it was a half-duck, but trust me you don’t want to know the details of the anti-social struggles I went through in order to enjoy this half-duck by myself. 

The eating of Beijing duck was preceded by walking 30 minutes in the pouring rain. It was absolutely worth it.

Also, in the three nights I was in Beijing, I spent some weird jetlagged hours trying to figure out if the sound I was hearing was a mosquito, my stomach, or the dying cries of the AC. My first two nights of sleep were sponsored entirely by some Ambien and the earplugs that my perennial accomplice, Katie, once got me as a joke because the sound of people smacking their lips induces an irrational amount of irrational anger in me.

So on Friday, I bought a train ticket for five-hour high speed train to Xi’an for Saturday, and booked a hostel on my way to breakfast.

And I was off! The first new destination of my trip. Somehow, I’d gone three plus years in China (including my study abroad) without going to see the Terra-cotta warriors!

However, Xi’an is hot. Like 100-degree weather. Its only saving grace is that at least it’s a dry heat.


The Terra-cotta army is best described as a thing you absolutely can’t miss in China, and definitely would take people to Xi’an to go see, but 100% would not go actually go myself again. I’d take anyone straight past the unregistered cabbies and load them onto the bus and then go spend the day at the park or better yet, in the AC somewhere. 😛

I once harbored delusions of learning actual photography for my travels. 
So really, getting super touristy was my only other option.

On the second day in Xi’an, I got breakfast with a Chinese Muslim at my hostel, had the token No I Am Not Married, and Let Me Tell You How My Parents Don’t Actually Care Because I’m Still Only 24 conversation (though actually, it was a lot more enjoyable than it usually was!)

And then I was a boring person who avoided the heat by doing work in the AC for the morning. In the afternoon, when I thought the heat was dying down (spoiler alert: it wasn’t), I went up to the Xi’an City Walls that surround the center of Xi’an, and biked the perimeter.

It took a really long time. The wall was very impressive, and also never ended. However, that might’ve been the 100-degree weather getting to me.

This smile is actually 80% a grimace. I paid entirely too much for this hat, and then I forgot it in my Xi’an hostel. I never got around to taking the tag off of it. RIP.


So that brought me to Monday, June 26th.

On Monday, I bought a train ticket and booked a hotel for Tuesday. (Are you starting to see a pattern yet?)

From Xi’an, I took a seven+ hour train to Lanzhou. I got a hard sleeper. I got the middle bunk.

I honestly do not know how people taller than me manage to make themselves comfortable in these bunks. And there are a lot of people in the world who are taller than me. Actually, most adults even in China are still taller than me. 😦

​Seven+ hours later, I rolled into Lanzhou and bundled myself into my hotel room. (Lanzhou doesn’t have many hostel options.) After showering and grabbing dinner… I bought a three hour high speed train ticket to Zhangye, and booked another hotel.

Since I got to Zhangye at about 11:30 on Tuesday, I went to the Zhangye Danxia Land Mass Thing in the afternoon. It was about an hour bus ride out.


Guess #howmuchfilter 

​The trip back to Zhangye took closer to two hours, because the bus driver drove at the pace of a snail and honked the horn for just as long as he went without honking. We were constantly picking up and dropping off people for the whole stretch. Public buses in more rural provinces in China are pretty casual about what constitutes a bus stop. (In other words, anyone on the side of the road who waves it down can be a bus stop.)

Later in the evening, back in my hotel room, I slowly learned that the sun never sets in Zhangye.

Okay, the sun sets in Zhangye, but until about 9PM, and let me tell you, that really messed with my head. I read get to read by daylight for an incredibly long time though!

The next day, I got up bright and early to take a two hour bus out to Mati Temple. Mati means horse’s hoofprint, because a legendary horse left its print at Mati Temple.

The temple was really cool. It was built into the cliffs, with roughly-hewn indoor and outdoor stairs. For obvious reasons, we only used the indoor stairs.

The stairs were roughly-cut out of the stone, and very dark. Pictures were not allowed. Pictures that I snuck anyway did not come out well. 
Pictures of the shrines at each stage of the temple were not allowed, so have a picture of one of the many traffic jams instead. Because China has a lot of tourists, and these stairwells were not made for a lot of people. 

​After I went through the temple, I continued to be extremely touristy and got a horse ride up to a mountain.

​Do you see the dark clouds in the distance?They got a lot darker. By the time I reached the waterfall, it was a little cold and windy. My guide tried to convince me to go the long way back, up on the ridge, because it was a much prettier view… and added twice the price of the original ride.”Is it going to rain?” I asked.
“No,” he said firmly. This no was followed by a pretty comic-book like crack of thunder.
“Really,” I said, very skeptically.
He looked unimpressed. “Well, it’ll rain, or it won’t.”We took the short way back.

That night, I bought a seven+ hour train ticket to Dunhuang.

Oh wait! Map time.

Inline image 1
I stole this map from the Internets. Basically, I went southwest from Beijing, down to Xi’an — which is in Shaanxi province, on the bottom left hand of this picture — and then slowly took trains and made my way Northeast. I was originally going to go from Zhangye to Jiayuguan to see the end of the Great Wall, but then I got lazy. #badplanner #lazytourist 

So anyway, last year when people asked me where I was going to travel, I would just laugh and joke that my only criteria was that I avoided the heat.

Xi’an was about 100 degrees. Dunhuang is in the desert. I am an idiot.

Thank god it rained, which cooled the place down a whole heck of a lot.
Desert oases are actually pretty breathtaking… as long as you don’t get too close. The famed Crescent Lake is a little meh from spitting distance.

In the hostel, I hung out a lot with an Australian woman a couple of years older than me. We ended up splitting a cab to the airport — she to Beijing, and me to Chengdu.

And then I spent a couple of days back in Chengdu, crashing on my friend’s couch and playing with his cats, who blessed me with their many pounds (they are incredibly large cats) while I slept.

My fourth of July was thus spent eating Justin’s home-cooked Chinese meal (I think we both forgot it was the 4th). But he made four Chinese dishes + a soup for dinner, and I will never be able to cook that well but will always be down to eat that much. I hung around basically long enough for my laundry to dry, and for me to figure out where I was going next — Dali, in Yunnan, on Thursday, July 6th!

Finally, I will leave you with one last piece of advice: in China, when passing through a security checkpoint (which is whenever you enter the metro; whenever you enter a train station; whenever you enter most bus stations; whenever you enter an airport, but not at the actual airport security lines) “Go on, take a sip of your water,” is well-recognized and widely-used security protocol.
Until next time! Which actually should be pretty soon, since it’s now July 13th and I’m incredibly behind on my blog posting schedule. And just behind on my writing in general. Whoops.


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A 60-year-old cat lady disguised as a 25-year-old digital nomad.

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