The best way to see China is through mini-vacations. A long weekend here, a major Chinese holiday there. Slowly, but surely, you’ll be making it through the bulk of China mile by mile.
Recognize that you’ll never truly see ALL of China. It’s just too damn big, but I’m giving it my best go.
After my plans to go to Guilin fell through due to a lack of vacation days at work, I decided to head over to Qingdao for some hiking and beach-time. I was accompanied by my best childhood friend, Amanda, who flew in all the way from the US to come see my beautiful face. We have been friends since we embryos because our parents went to college together, got married at the same time, and then they got knocked-up around the same time too! It was fate!! We’re embryo pengyous (朋友), if you will. (哈哈)
Obviously, we took the train down to Qingdao to avoid blasphemous airline prices. Be sure to arrive at the station an hour before your train leaves so you can grab a snack, fight off aggressive queuing humans, and claim your luggage location on time.
We stayed at the Old Observatory Hostel, which was located on top of a hill that no taxi cab driver seemed to know about. We stopped at two other hostels before we finally got to the correct one and it was pretty hectic to get there. The driver kept insisting that we were at A HOSTEL so that should have been good enough (my bad sir) and he even had the nerve to try to charge us extra!
Not a good first impression Qingdao.
While the hostel’s accommodations were nice enough, the food fell short by a mile as the chef kept trying to replicate foreign dishes with Chinese ingredients. My guacamole was made out of chickpeas and green food dye during “Taco Night;” enough said. The breakfast ingredients fell flat as well as everything tasted a bit like cardboard, unless you ordered eggs. Regardless, the meals still put us out 50-60RMB a morning and I was less than pleased. I get that good foreign food is difficult to find in China and I’m cool with that. Stick with what you know China!
We ended up abandoning the hostel for a local Muslim noodle restaurant. The flavors were AMAZING and only put us out 12 RMB per dish. What a deal. The chef and I even got to talking about his family and it was a great opportunity to practice my Chinese!
While I wasn’t a fan of the food or useless front-desk staff, the owner of the Old Observatory Hostel is one of the nicest people I’ve met in China. He would give us rides up and down the hill to the main road and genuinely took an interest in what we had planned. There’s also a kind waitress in the hostel kitchen who loves practicing her English with international patrons and did her best to accommodate my unique style of eating… of which I eventually gave up on since I just needed to eat SOMETHING. (Damn you gluten and dairy intolerance!)
The bedroom accommodations were just fine and we sprung for a private room and toilet! Well worth the extra money since the boys across the hall insisted on smoking and walking around in their underwear for most of their stay.
The first day we hit Mount Lao (or Laoshan) for some hiking and dropped over 120 RMB on a taxi ride over, whomp whomp. There were only 3 buses that went to Mount Lao every day and they were only in the morning before noon. We had spent the morning wrestling tickets back to Beijing because the hostel we were staying at was less than helpful when it came to traveling anywhere. Laoshan had a beautiful view of the coast and the hike was easy enough to be performed by females in stilettos. I’m assuming their partners carried them up and down the mountain.
The best way to scale the mountain in a limited amount of time is to take the cable car! It may look life-threatening and it may feel like you could potentially fall to your death… but you probably won’t. Probably.
The next day we went to the Qingdao Beer museum for some fun even though I don’t drink anymore for religious reasons (aka CrossFit). It was cheeky and we even got to roll around in a “simulator room” that mimics how you feel when you’re trashed. Some poor child even threw up just outside of the simulator. Hold you’re pretend liquor kid.
We met some cool Irish strangers and invited them back to our hostel for a few beers. Apparently, we were staying at one of the city “hot spots…” which is saying something about the nightlife in Qingdao. As fate would have it, we met a few other foreigners at our hostel’s bar and they took us out for a night on the town! We hit a Chinese dance club and danced on tables until 2am.
Side note: Chinese clubs will often put foreigners on elevated platforms to showcase that their club is “cool enough” to attract foreigners to the business. Very often, you’ll never have to pay a cent for booze or a table AND you can even be paid to party as a “foreign model!”
The next morning, we hit the beach for a few hours before our train departure. The beaches were PACKED with Chinese tourist and it was difficult to find a space that was empty and/or not covered in trash.
If you couldn’t tell already, I’m not the biggest fan of Qingdao. It recently was voted as a “First Tier City,” but in my opinion, it hasn’t quite made the transition. It doesn’t have a bustling nightlife like Shanghai or cultural monuments like Xi’an. Qingdao stuck somewhere in the middle with no real novel attractions or activities.
When choosing cities to visit in China, be sure to do your research first about what sort of attractions are available and if they fit your fancy. I kind of just hopped on a train and went without much research due to promise of sandy beaches. It was the people that we met along the way that really made our Qingdao experience and not the city itself. If you only have a few weeks in China, set aside only a few days in Qingdao or skip it all together. For more pictures of Qingdao, check out my Instagram account @wanderonwards.
Don’t forget about my upcoming South-East Asia Tour!! Have a recommendation about where I should go? Then tag @wanderonwards on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in an explanation about where this place is, what you did there, and why I should go. The destinations I end up choosing will be announced one by one as I negotiate my way into exclusive locations/accommodation. If I choose your destination, I’ll give you a shout-out on my social media platforms and future blog posts. Also, as a special way to say THANKS, I’ll be shipping gifts (purchased along the adventure) to those who have helped me with their recommendations! After all these trips around the world, I happen to be an expert smuggler of legal things (kinda).
Love Wander Onwards? Please donate to my GoFundMe project NOW and help me show the world South-East Asia the right way! There will be shark diving, hiking, and tons of other ultimate activities. Help me continue to inspire women to be their own champion!