Updated: Jul 5, 2020
This post is the beginning of a series of "photo story" on beautiful places in Southern China during my 84-day backpacking trip that began in the autumn of 2012 — well, don't dismiss these stories because it was 5 years ago, I am sharing photos and information on how I travelled around those places (with new info as well).
I will share the beautiful places on that trip, not minute details on everything I did. I call them "photo stories" as they are mostly photos — since a photo speaks a thousand words — but I will elaborate when necessary, such as how I travelled to the places and what are the things to do. At the end of each story, there will be a link to the next city or place of interest that I visited until the end of the whole journey. Or, use this post as a "menu" to jump to any of the places that interests you.
Get tips from someone (like me) who had been there if you are planning to do something similar — regardless of whether you are joining a tour group or travelling solo. Otherwise, enjoy the photos as though you are travelling there.
The China trip started from Hainan Island to Guangxi (广西, 简称"桂"), mainly in Guilin and around, then to Yunnan Province (云南, 简称"滇"), from Kunming to as far as Shangri-La, and swung around to Xiamen in Fujian Province before crossing the sea to Kinmen Island, Taiwan, where I continued for another 23 days in Taiwan — a total of 107 days.
It was a solo budget travel where I spent about SGD 3,600 in China and SGD 1,560 in Taiwan — that's about US$4,000 in total, average of US$40 a day. And that included all airfares, travel insurance and China visas. Check my stories and see how I did the long journey and keeping budget low at the same time.
Tip #1: To control costs, use budget airlines, domestic flights, public transports to get around whenever possible. For long trips, take up an annual travel insurance plan. Stay in international youth hostels in China (apart from dormitories, most hostels have rooms too) and eat local food. Lastly, do your homework before visiting any tourist attractions — make sure you are really interested in what are in those places and the ticket prices are value-for-money.
Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (广西壮族自治区)
I took a budget airline flight from Singapore to Haikou on Hainan Island (海南岛海口) with a 2-month visa for China. After spending a couple of days in the small island city, I flew to Guilin (桂林), in Guangxi, where the real adventure began.
Tip #2: Switching to a domestic flight in Haikou cuts my airfare by up to 25% and allowed me to explore Haikou city as well.
Starting from Guilin City, I went one round to Xingping and Yangshuo (still in Guilin Prefecture) and as far as Huangyao Ancient Town in Hezhou Prefecture before doubling back to Yangshuo and, subsequently back to Guilin City. I will start the photo stories with the more interesting journey from Guilin City to Xingping and sum up the sights in Guilin City in Story #5.
After exploring the southeastern corner of Guangxi, I headed to the northeast corner from Guilin City. This part of the journey took me deeper into the ethnic minorities' territories to learn more about their cultures and wisdoms and also to check out famous landscape and ancient architectures.
I visited the villages of the Zhuang (壮) and Red Yao (红瑶) minority people in Longji Rice Terraces and also the Dong (侗) minority people in Chengyang (程阳).
After Chengyang in Sanjiang County, Guangxi, I rested for a day in Nanning before taking a train to Kunming in Yunnan Province. I had spent almost 3 weeks in Guangxi and left with 5 weeks' visa to get to Shangri-La and then out of China.
A list of local food specialties in Guangxi:
Yunnan Province (云南省)
See Google Map.
Starting with Kunming, I went to Yuanyang Hani Terraced Fields next, back in Kunming again before heading off to Dongchuan Red Land. After Dongchuan, I was back in Kunming again before taking a train to Dali.
After "intruding" into the life of the Hani (哈尼) and Yi (彝) minority people in Kunming and Yuanyang, I continued westward to checked out the Bai-minority people (白) in Dali. And steadily heading towards Shangri-La.
Departing from Dali, I headed for the third city in Yunnan — Lijiang. I was left with 2 weeks' visa in China and time was running out for me to get to Shangri-La before leaving China.
And I was finally in Shangri-La — the paradise in the Lost Horizon!
Shangri-La was the furthest I could go in Yunnan without crossing into Tibet (no entry for foreigners via Shangri-La). After extending my visa in China for another month, I made a U-turn back to Lijiang for Lugu Lake. I had more time to explore more places.
Departing from Lugu Lake, I started on my final lap in Yunnan before exiting from Kunming to Xiamen.
I was back again in Lijiang for the third time before heading to Shaxi Ancient town, in Dali, where I spent 11 days "living" there.
After spending New Year's Day of 2013 in Shaxi Ancient Town, I went back to Nuodeng Ancient Village via Lanping (兰坪) for 2 days, followed by another 2 days in Dali Ancient City, which was my last stop in Yunnan. After Dali, I took a train to Kunming and got on a 35-hour train to Xiamen. My journey in Yunnan had ended.
A list of traditional food of the ethnic minorities in Yunnan:
Xiamen, Fujian Province (厦门)
I had 14 days left on my extended China visa. But, it was no longer a concern as I would be exiting China from Xiamen to Taiwan. 14 days were more than enough to check out Xiamen.
Next Story: Gulang Island in Xiamen (厦门鼓浪屿)
After spending a few days in Xiamen, I took a ferry to Kinmen Island — one of the Little Three Links (小三通) between China's Fujian Province and Taiwan's Kinmen and Matsu islands. This started my 23 days journey in Taiwan, visiting the Kinmen Islands, Taichung, Taipei, Dongshan in Yilan and Hualien before flying home — just few days before Chinese New Year of 2013.