Traveling in China... is it even worth it anymore?

in Pinmapple2 months ago

Tl;dr - This is kind of a pre-blog setting up the following one or two about my travels in China. It's mostly moaning about the difficulties I've already moaned about extensively so feel free to go back and read something else. You have my permission.

So. Anyone paying attention here knows the basics for the context of this post to be appreciated:

  • I live in China
  • China has zero-covid policy
  • It's a pain in the ass

Ok good. With that in mind, I have barely travelled anywhere since 2019, let alone internationally. This is by far and away the longest i've been stuck in one country without leaving even for a few hours, since I became an adult. The last time I was in my home country England was, well, right as the pandemic was starting off in 2019.

Any other travel I did was limited to a few days and kinda next-door or satellite cities, or visiting my girlfriend's hometown down south. None of these three trips were truly 'vacations' so to speak.

So it was pretty exciting when we decided to do a 6-day trip out into the mountains/countryside, to finally get away from these urine-soaked hellholes we call a cities.

Well. It turns out not to be so damn easy.

Stay Indoors, Peasant.

Not long after we moved into our new apartment together, we got locked down for several days, as one person in the building somewhere had walked through an area where somebody else walked through earlier that day who knew somebody who had a positive infection. Cool.

Then we got locked down again. And again. 3 times in the space of a few weeks. So it took us a while to really gain the courage to even bother trying to travel anywhere. By the time we went for it, time was short and we were still deciding where to go the night before we were actually gonna go!

This isn't to say we only started the night before, but all our previous ideas were getting constantly shut down because - you might guess it - Zero-covid Policies!!! Woooo (among other political restrictions)

For example, I wanted to go to beautiful, massive mountain regions such as...Tibet!

Sorry, you need a permit for that, foreign scum. It takes at least a month to apply for it. Oh, and you can only go in group tours to carefully selected areas. Deal with it.

Ok... How about Qinghai?

Sure, you can go there. Er, just to be clear, half of Qinghai, you know, the interesting bits, are prohibited for foreigners cause, you know, Tibetans live there. In fact, the main tourist spot - the lake - is about half-blocked to foreigners too. So you're welcome to go but you better just sit at one part of the lake and don't ask any questions until it's time to go home again.

Screw that. Xinjiang?

Of course! Well, I mean, you can see a couple of carefully catered streets full of fake dancing miniorities, because their entire identity is built around wearing cheap, made-in-china mockeries of their cultural attire while they dance. But stay in those areas. We'll be heavily surveilling your phone and tracking your position in case you feel the need to explore a street we didn't put on the approved list.


To be clear, these three regions add up to about 1,400,000 square miles - Significantly larger than the entire sub-continent of India.

All functionally pointless to even try to enter if I even legally could.

The problem with this is that all this amazing mountainous, starry, fresh-aired stuff is out West. The further East you go, the more trashy, sticky, polluted, concretey, grimmey, and infected with humans the country becomes.

And we were constantly being forced to search further and further to the East. As in, Shanghai. Where I live.

It almost got to a point where we just accepted we are functionally restricted to Shanghai no matter what. But, just remember not to leave your apartment. It's dangerous out there. There's at least 12 infected people in a city of merely 26 million people, four times the area of London.

Decisions, Decisions.

Well, ultimately, decisions were made and we narrowed it down to a couple of areas. One such area was Sichuan - Another province roughly the size of France.

Oh Sichuan is easy, of course you can go there, no biggy. Just... remember when you arrive, 3 of the 6 days you're taking on vacation require you to stay indoors and get tested at least twice before you can enter any shop, restaurant or park. Cause you know, there's at least 7 cases in this France-sized province.

We cancelled this plan to another area before deciding to just accept the inevitable, hold our noses and head to one of the main cities - the one famous for pandas - Chengdu. Here we would get tested, and tested, do basically nothing for a few days, then spend only 3 days actually doing stuff.

After the first result came out, we were actually allowed to do things like enter convenience stores in the city or visit the pandas - The literal only thing there is to do in this city. Once you arrive in its airport you're greeted by pandas. The taxi to the hotel is littered with models, structures, posters and billboards of pandas. That's it. Pandas.

Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to see the pandas because they were outside of the area we were permitting with merely one test result, and the sites staff warned that they were in the most severe covid area, so they were basically limiting visits.

Walks around other tourist spots proved essentially pointless, as most shops and events were shut down and cancelled because it was pointless to run a business nobody was allowed to go to unless they had taken a test in the last day or so.

Moving forward

Simply arriving at the hotel was pretty annoying in itself, though ultimately doable. To get out of the Airport, you need to scan about 5 different QR codes proving where you've been where you are, how many tests you've taken, how pure your blood is, how much your soul is worth and various other trinkets of personal data you might need to sacrifice to the Gods in Beijing.

Once you get to the hotel, the same general practice, including a couple of survey exams where you handwrite the same basic info, your health record and so forth. And of course, scan some QR codes.

The hotel itself was alright, though. It was a kind of spa-house hotel, except the spas were unavailable COVID RESTRICTIONS.


And although they would normally house about 700 people, they were legally restricted to about 45.

In short, Chengdu sucks about as much as every other city. In fact it was physically indistinguishable from Shanghai from what I could tell. The streets, roads, cars, people, vibe, atmosphere, weather, whatever you want to call it, as far as I could tell, we were in Shanghai.

In fact, the only difference and highlight of my time in Chengdu was this random Chicken, chilling on a street flower bed.


And thus, pretty much the only photo I took while I was there.

Actually, I noticed in my whole trip that the food was nothing short of incredible. Shanghai may have restaurants from all over China and the world, but they just don't seem to do the dishes justice when it comes to their own country. Shanghai is famous for having the worst of all Chinese cuisine. Sweet, bland, dull. Sichuan is famous for having extremely strong spices, but it's not limited to this. We consistently had pretty amazing meals on the cheap. I hope yet doubt I can recreate them.


Thankfully, because my girlfriend and I are such a good team, we had a pretty great time just being with one another in a place, in spite of the place being such a bore. The food certainly helped.

Finally, on day 3, we could leave to the rest of the province. We had hired a driver for a pretty hefty price of about 4,500RMB/ 550GBP / 670USD for 3 days. I though it was a bit extreme but after a couple of days under his service, I could pretty much justify every penny. I'll get to that in the follow-up post where we actually go exploring.

But until then, I hope you enjoyed my whinging about a place I live in completely by choice!


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Sorry to hear that you’ve had so much difficulty travelling in China these days.

Travel inside China sounds quite unworthy to me, for landscape, Tian Sheen mountains in Kyrgyzstan is just as nice as in Xinjiang, maybe much more beautiful considering it’s more open, and much more local culture to see. Not to mention that for Tibetan culture it’s much nicer to see it in Nepal. The way China does tourism isn’t what I like at all. Homogenous, boring, lack of original traditions, rurning every piece of nature/landscape (mountains, desert, lakes lol) into some sort of disneyland amusement park, with fense and ticket. And of course, scammy ripoff culture almost more than anywhere else.

You got it pretty much spot on. I've always had this issue with China. I can't think of a worse place to 'see the world', really. After leaving my years in Korea and Vietnam, coming here was almost a culture shock in how little actual culture was left here. I found so much beautiful Chinese culture... in other countries. Celebrations, festivals, architecture faithfully restored or maintained. Same in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Nepal I've visited too and it feels far more genuine.

Here... nada. People would tell me 'no you have to go outside of Shanghai to see the culture'. So I did and saw basically how you describe it. 'Ancient towns' which are barely 15 year old pseudo-villages selling tourist garbage. Local villages which, upon further inspection, have glorified Xi Jinping propaganda pictures on the wall of their own homes, with stories of his statue being taken by buddhist monks to be cleaned at the temple because he is too precious for them to clean it themselves - but they are still buddhist! Just not as much as they are CCP loyalists. This is all before they unveil a table full of silverware to be sold as souvenirs. This wasn't even a tourist spot lol. Just a regular village with flies swarming around a pig's carcass on the front gate.

I did notice on this trip, whenever we were going through any point of interest, the landscape had been stripped bare, mountains carved into in order to make space for a new elevated highway/tunnel/tourist spot. Sad really.

The post after my next one will be about Kangding, perhaps you know it. But man, that is the headquarters of tackiness. Tacky lights, tacky shops. GREAT food, but man oh man... tacky.

Exactly. It’s very sad. It wasn’t like this when I was growing up 20 years ago, all I remember is markets, street food etc. My best memories were having street BBQ stewers on summer nights, nowsdays most of those food stands either disappeared or turning into more expensive shiny “concept” restaurants.

Right now I’m in Bangkok, that’s the reason I like about BKK, although more and more trendy hipster modern stuff coming, there’re still huge group of ppl to support local street vendors, while in China nowadays you barely see those family run business that exists for dacades or even longer. It’s probably very normal in cities, but somehow so much worse in China (maybe because people there are so easy to adapt to things/changes? not sure)

I visited Xinjiang 15 years ago and it was more genuine, I feel so sad about it.

I cannot wait to leave, that's for sure! But like I said in the other comment - easier said than done X(

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I'm not saying this to be negative or anything, but it sounds like you have mixed emotions. Ever thought of leaving China for greener pastures?

Of course, but the government stopped issuing new passports since covid, which my gf needs, so currently we're kinda imprisoned here until she can find a way to get the privilege to leave handed to her...

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I think the thing about this zero covid policy is not healthy for the travel business.
I heard they put in place more restrictions in Hainan due to the recent outbreak.
The bad thing that happened was to the people who came out of 2 months restriction in Shanghai and travel there for holiday only to get lock in there. It's sad.

Yep, one of my colleagues is stuck there and trying to get back but can't leave hotel so far...and a few other people I know. Seems a lot of people from here went to there! Worst luck.

Even for me, i've been locked into this apartment 3 times since I moved in a month ago - each time a few days. It's absurd.

Yesterday I just learnt I will have to start doing covid tests every. single. day in order to go to work - and I'll have to start paying for it a month or so from now.

I sent in my resignation (tentative) and will be looking at ways to work from home instead if at all possible. This is too much bending over even for me. I thought I could handle anything but I guess not.

That's sad.
All the best to you

"In fact, the only difference and highlight of my time in Chengdu was this random Chicken, chilling on a street flower bed." hahah

I mean it's true.

I guess there was one more highlight - tried to get into this pedestrian street but the guard wouldn't let us cause the green code wasn't yet approved. So we went to the other entrance and tried to go through. The other entrance was within visual range of the other one, about a 30 second walk, couple of buildings down.

Between the time we got rejected to the time we got to the second guard, the code magically turned green! (Just like the airport situation but day 1), so instead of going through the second guard, we went back to the first guard and showed our code to piss him off because he was being grumpy. He didn't look happy at all. Especially because I did the 'tadaa!!' sound when I shoved it in his stupid face.

The ole tadah haha Restoring the balance :D ... I can't believe this made it into the top 2 experiences haha