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Movie lover. Growing Capoeirista. Space enthusiast. Dedicated craftsman. And best of all, homegrown Los Angeles native. Wait, how in the hell did I end up in China!?
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I've NEVER been to a country that has so many unique ways of travel, seriously. I've taken so many cruises, cable cars, high-speed trains, scooters, ride-sharing bikes, and more during my 7+ years in China. Check out this video of the cableway-turned-highly-popular-tourist-attraction in Chongqing. It's the Yangtze River Cableway. Would you ride it?
You look up, you look down, you look out--anywhere you look stands these colossal stone pillars that look straight out of some expansive, apocalyptic-themed movie set, or some mountainous backdrop for a log ride at a Disney amusement park. Yep, you see it too, right?
So, China’s Shaolin Temple—bang or bust? Pass or get there asap? We’ve all seen documentaries of Chinese monks at Shaolin sprinting across temple roofs, busting out backflips and somersaults with ease, and spewing out beautiful, jaw-dropping Kung-fu-ography that encapsulates the true spirit of conventional martial arts.
You’re living in China, and sure, you’ve thought about going to Beijing. You want to explore Shanghai and overlook its marvelous skyscrapers. Or maybe you’d like to venture off to some picturesque countryside in Inner Mongolia and sleep in an authentic yurt.
It’s China, after all, and yes, the destinations are endless. Exhilarating adventures lie in just about every corner of the world’s 3rd largest country. But what’s next? What’s that fun, unique, off-beaten, eye-popping journey that’ll take you somewhere you’ve never known; somewhere, most expats and tourists have yet to experience, and that’s not listed on your average top 10 places to visit in China exposé.
Here’s a thought: How about boarding a roundtrip international cruise from one of China’s major cities to, let’s say, Singapore or South Korea?
I know, that caught your attention. It’s something fresh, exotic, rousing, and best of all, possible.
And well, I did. In fact, my friend and I celebrated Chinese New Year 2018 aboard a roundtrip SkySea cruise from Shanghai to Sasebo, Japan, and let me be the first to tell you: That’s the kind of awe-inspiring adventure I guarantee you’re looking for, and most likely, have never even considered.
How’d We Book the Cruise?
You won’t find too many expats in China that know this, so read carefully: Trip.com (formerly CTrip), China’s homegrown, leading online travel agency, offers domestic and international cruises on the Chinese version of their website, but not on the English. B-o-o-y-a-h.
They cover lots of ground, err, ocean, too, from popular nearby regions like Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Thailand, to far reaching ports in Hawaii, Africa, the Mediterranean, and Middle East.
The great thing is that Trip.com has excellent English speaking customer service available, and you can book your voyage through them. Go ahead and see for yourself. I’ll wait …
What’s the Cruise Like?
Our cruise departed from Shanghai’s Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal. We’d set sail across a striking East China Sea for 2 days, spend half a day in Sasebo, then enjoy another 2 days on the water heading back.
As for our transport? The SkySea ship was impressive, but a far cry from the biggest cruise lines I’ve seen, aka The Royal Caribbeans, Carnivals and Norwegians. I will admit, though, that it was also one of the cheapest options. Hey, you should already know what happens across the travel industry every year during CNY: Prices double. Smh.
Our SkySea ship was equipped with 2 pools, several spas, a basketball court, walking/jogging track, ping-pong room, theatre, restaurant, several lounges, cafeteria, casino, shops, and plenty of places to get loaded off booze.
I was probably 1 of 5 foreign passengers on the ship—nearly all the guests were Chinese. However, as this was an international cruise line, the majority of staff hailed from every corner of the globe. China, Philippines, Africa, Russia—it was just as exciting to meet and greet the workers as it was to explore the facilities onboard.
What Daily Activities Were Offered?
When you're miles out in the middle of the sea, you'll need to eat, keep busy, and stay entertained. With that, each day several things happened:
Enjoy the Scenery: It’s a cruise! Walk around, peer out over the East China Sea, hang out in a lounge, explore the ship, chill out on the balcony in your room.
Go For a Swim: This was February 2018, so it was freezing cold, but that didn’t stop any of us from jumping in the pools or cozying up in a hot tub. They’d show movies on a projector, too, and you could buy drinks at the bar.
Play Basketball/Ping-Pong/Miniature Golf/Jog: This one didn’t have excursions like zip-lining or snorkeling, but like I said, it was the cheapest option. Enough said!
Eat, Eat, EAT: People forget one of the best reasons for going on cruises in the first place: The food. Buffet style. A solid mix of authentic Chinese and international dishes, open 24/7, in the cafeteria. By the way, there was a fancy restaurant onboard, too.
Special Activities: Where’s the freaking entertainment!? Luckily, there was a grand lobby that played host to numerous scheduled activities throughout the day, from welcoming parties to dance classes, group exercise to CNY festivities. This was the place you wanted to visit every day. And yes, it was always a party!
Theatre Fun: Probably the best entertainment on the ship. Every evening an international group put on very entertaining performances—mostly song and dance related. Plus, the female dancers were smoking hot!
Welcome to Sasebo, Japan!
You ever heard of Sasebo, Japan? Don’t feel bad, neither did I. But, that’s what’s unique about these kinds of trips: It’s an exciting, unforgettable experience to a place you’ve never been.
We didn’t spend too long in the city, however; after all, visa entries and exits took way too long. We did manage to hop on pre-arranged shuttle buses and explore parks, shops, and tourism zones, aka this-was-a-Chinese-tour-so-that-means-spend-lots-of-time-shopping.
I’ve visited Japan numerous times, and every city I’ve step foot in has been nothing short of remarkable. They’re orderly, safe, peaceful, cultural, and always had me thinking I’d wish I’d have lived there!
Nihon, mata ne!
Highlights of the Adventure …
What’s cool about living in China is that ‘foreign privilege’ doesn’t just apply to the Mainland—it also applies when you’re aboard a cruise in the middle of the East China Sea. No, seriously.
To put it simply: One afternoon, my friend and I were ‘randomly’ stopped a communications officer on the ship and asked to join in on dinning at the captain’s table later in the evening. Was it luck? Nah—I’d argue it was just being a handsome foreigner in China at the right place and right time!
We, along with a few other guests, had the privilege of dinning with the captain, co-captain, and other prestigious crew of the SkySea cruise, and enjoyed stirring tales of their adventurous life traversing the seas. Talk about awesome!
But Wait, There’s More …
And though we couldn’t celebrate Chinese New Year with endless fireworks—as is the notorious thing to do across the Mainland—we did bring in CNY in style.
That evening kicked off with a huge, energetic dance party in the grand lobby, followed by a live showcase of the infamous CCTV New Year’s Gala screened in the theatre around midnight. I guess even in the middle of the ocean, there’s no escaping the CCTV New Year’s Gala during CNY. Not that that’s a bad thing!
What Are You Waiting For!?
So, this is it--this is the great escape you’re looking for if you’re living in China and hell-bent on checking off some highly adventurous, unique, and electrifying Instagram-worthy trip off your travel bucket list.
Forget those places everybody’s been, those same ol’ experiences everybody’s done. Make this kind of voyage you’re next amazing story to tell!
Look, I’m from America. When I think basketball, I think … NBA. I think WNBA, NCAA, AND1 Streetball Tournaments, Harlem Globetrotters, NBA All-Star Weekend. I think 21, Horse, 3-point shootouts. I think Michael Jordan, Kobe—may he rest in peace—Lebron, Shaq. I think Space Jam, Coach Carter, Love and Basketball, He Got Game.
“Mammoth”. That was my first thought. The second? Is it really all that powerful? Well, turns out it was.
Eyes wide, focused. Mouth open. Gasp. Between the crowd finally emerges an opening. I can see it, and it’s as massive as they say.
America may be home to the world’s largest movie industry, but it sure ain’t home to the world’s biggest movie studio. That record belongs to China, and more specifically, to Hengdian World Movie Studios, located in Donyang, Zhejiang Province, only a few hours out of Shanghai.
Never in my life would I have thought that anywhere in China would be a perfect destination for a honeymoon. Never.
The best places to tour in China aren’t its sprawling futuristic megalopolis--no. Instead, some might tell you that China’s greatest travel destinations lie tucked away in remote parts of the country. So remote that you might look up and find yourself one of only a handful of foreign faces for hundreds of miles, and that’s even during the holidays.
Let’s see, my t-shirt? Smeared with mud. Legs? Near white from dried flakes of dirt. And my watch? I couldn’t tell you the time if my life depended on it. The face was completely obscured by clay. And well, all that was worth it. Welcome to China’s Hukou Waterfall! Wait, ever heard of it?
Looking to visit China’s most popular waterfall? Here’s how: From Xi’an East Bus Station, take a long-distance bus to Yichuan. The bus ticket cost 97.5RMB, and the trip takes around 4.5 hours.
Over the years, tons of people have often asked, "Just how do you teach English to Chinese ESL students anyway?" My response? “Eh, it’s a lot easier than you think.”
I remember it like it was yesterday—It was my 1st year in China and I was speaking to my Chinese colleague about the education system in the country.
I’ve been nearly 4 months removed from my awesome 7½ year experience teaching English abroad in China, but even now, I still find myself reminiscing on the incredible journey I’ve had living and working overseas.
When it comes to traveling, everyone outta’ have one time in their life where they just flat out say, “Fuck it.”
Moving back home to the USA after living abroad in China for 7 years feels ... strange, to say the least. Don’t get me wrong—there are things I absolutely love about being back in the States, but at the same time, less than a week in, there are millions of things I’ve already missed from China.
It’s finally here—you’re leaving China and ain’t coming back. Maybe it’s a new job opportunity. Maybe it’s an emergency or you’re getting married. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ve lived in the country that long and it’s just time to pack your bags and get the hell out before you’re stuck in a void that you feel you can’t escape.
“5...4...3...2...1, liftoff! We have liftoff!” Ah, music to my ears, and if you’re reading this, probably to yours too, eh? Mankind’s journey into space, from Russia’s launch of the first satellite, to NASA putting a man on the moon, and in today’s world, Space X blasting the first reusable rockets into the upper regions of the atmosphere, has been nothing short of an astonishing feat.
“Don, what’s the process like teaching English abroad in China? From finding jobs, getting visas, and working at schools, to getting an apartment, traveling ... everything!?”
It’s been a wild 7+ years teaching English abroad in China—I know, I can’t believe it either. I’ve had ups and downs, highs and lows, experienced the good with the bad, and … yada, yada, yada. Who cares? Look, in the span of those years I’ve come to notice two genuinely important things: One, I don’t know who was/is a cooler president, Barack Obama or Xi Jingping? What do you think? Ah, that’s a tough one. Damnit!
I’ve taken so many local bus tours across China that I’ve lost count. Honestly, as an expat, they’re just one of the best ways to travel and see all the beautiful sights China has to offer, from bustling cityscapes riddled with towering skyscrapers to the most incredible, jaw-dropping natural escapes you just might ever lay eyes on.
It's 7:30pm—after hours at the hospital. The Emergency Care is up and running, and there must be hundreds of people moving back and forth between the hallways and corridors.
Well, well, well, if it ain’t Shanghai, China’s most populous city. It’s home to some 24 million people--registered, that is—spread out over 3,900 sq. meters (1,500 sq. miles) of beautiful, organized chaos.
You're in China, there's a holiday fast approaching, and you have zero clue as to where to spend your next vacation. Shanghai or Beijing? Nope, you've either been before or feel very keen on exploring some offbeat tourist hub you've probably never even heard of. Here's my list of 30+ top things to do and places to visit in China that aren't Shanghai or Beijing.