When couples begin the process of deciding where to go for their honeymoon, more often than not China doesn’t immediately come to mind. After all, a honeymoon is generally thought of as time of romantic seclusion in a tropical location. And although specific areas of China may be tropical, romance and seclusion would not be the first words used to describe this vastly populated Country.
Then why decide to fly to four different cities within China, with a boat ride to a fifth, in a Country where we don’t speak the language? Why choose to forgo a guided tour and take our chances with only a guide book in hand? After considering all of the various locations we could go, China just felt right.
Fortunately for us, our instincts turned out to be correct. There is no doubt that we would have enjoyed most any location. In the three years leading up to our wedding we had been on six trips together. We had experienced endless days on beaches eating westernized foods served by locals. We had gone backpacking through the Grand Canyon to the most beautiful waterfalls either of us had ever seen. We’d had clam chowder in San Francisco and crab cakes in Portland. Our history of traveling wasn’t extensive, but in the short time we had been together, we had done quite a lot. So we both had an idea of what we enjoyed together. And that was time spent exploring authentic locations. We were not looking for a relaxing vacation of seclusion on the beach, but rather an experience, an adventure. We were looking for a honeymoon that we’d never forget, a honeymoon that wouldn’t blend in with memories of our other beach-themed holidays. And China provided just that. For twenty-four days, from July Seventeenth to August Tenth of 2007, for less than five thousand dollars when all was said and done, we experienced another world. And that is the best way that I can think to describe it. It truly is another world.
Beijing welcomed us to the Country with a flurry of people. No matter the time of day, there were people going about their business everywhere. As the location of the upcoming 2008 Olympics, Beijing gave the impression as the host of a dinner party in which the guests have arrived too early. The pride of hosting the Olympics could be seen everywhere, but it was obvious that there was a lot left to be done. The pollution is a serious issue and was really the only negative aspect of our trip. But a first trip to China without a stop in Beijing is unforgivable. A visit to the Forbidden City, Tian’anmen Square, the Temple of Heaven, and the Summer Palace is a must. Our most memorable experience is the six mile hike that we took on the Great Wall. It was an incredibly humbling experience to be allowed to walk on one of the Seven Wonders of the World. And to hike on it for more than three hours gave us both a greater appreciation than would have otherwise been available had we just seen it in passing.
Xi’an was our second stop on our self guided tour of China. And our primary reason for visiting Xi’an was to see the Terracotta Army. Although the Army was impressive, it turned out that Xi’an had a lot more to offer than expected. Our approach to getting around every town was to use public transportation and our own two feet as much as possible. And in Xi’an we did just that. By walking the streets we were able to find all kinds of back alley shops and experiences. We enjoyed getting lost looking for the Great Mosque tucked away in a neighborhood that resembled a labyrinth. It was an adventure taking a public bus ride to The Big Goose Pagoda, never exactly sure if the next stop is the one we want. And we loved just hanging around the parks where we were able to enjoy our new favorite ice cream that we could only identify by the picture on the wrapper rather than the characters that described it. Our adventures extended into the evening when we went exploring through an alley full of shops where we discovered a self proclaimed well known Artist who has toured the world selling his wares. Surprisingly he had the published books displaying his artwork to back up his claims. And the peasant paintings spoke for themselves. We purchased a beautiful painting of kiwi fruit that will forever grace our home and bring back fond memories.
After leaving Xi’an we flew to Guilin followed by a river cruise to Yangshou. This leg of the trip proved to be the most enjoyable of all. This area of China provided some of our most beautiful photographs. The karst topography surrounding the city was true evidence of a foreign land. The beautiful silhouettes contrasting with the cityscape was a welcome site after spending significant time in the more industrialized Chinese cities. If there is romance to be found in China, these two locations are capable of providing it. The tourist attractions that were so readily available in the other cities were harder to find here. And that was one of the reasons we enjoyed this area so much. We were able to do a lot of hiking and bike riding through local villages and rice fields. We were able to see a glimpse of the everyday life of the Chinese people. And at times we were able to just relax on the banks of the river outside the Yangshou Mountain Retreat and watch the water taxis go by while reading our books together.
Shanghai was the last stop on our trip before we flew home to Colorado. Because of our extended stay in Yangshou we only had two full days to spend. Shanghai is a huge metropolis with skyscrapers as far as the eye can see. And from the top of the Pearl Tower, you could see forever. Our time spent in this historical port city was short, but the view of the nighttime skyline from the Bund will forever be ingrained in our minds.
Although we were ready to come home after twenty-four days, it was a sad time when we actually had to leave. It was immediately obvious that this trip had touched us both. It opened our eyes to a world that neither of us had seen before. And it strengthened our bond to one another. The trust that must be placed in your companion during an extended stay in a foreign country is immense. There are language and social barriers abound. The simple task of going out for dinner can become a challenge and an adventure. With so many millions of people in the Country, we were more secluded than one would expect. So maybe we did find the romance and seclusion that comes with a honeymoon after all.