Home in Hanoi

Two weeks ago today, I got my passport back from immigration, and got ready to leave China for good. I would be lying if I said I did anything other than hit the ground running. We went out for dinner in the Old Quarter the night I arrived, started work 4 days later, and started motor biking around the city within 10 days (don’t worry, we’ve bought proper helmets and face masks to save us from the pollution). We’ve also been to dozens of cafes and restaurants around Hanoi, and have gotten to know the city quite a bit! The last 2 weeks have been filled with adventure, experiences and newness; exactly what I crave in my life.

There’s so much for me to write about, but for today, I’ll start with a short introduction to the city where we are living!

About Hanoi

People have been settled in the Hanoi area since the 3rd century BCE. More than 2000 years ago, people began creating communities along the Red River, which flows through the city. With so many little lakes and rivers flowing through the city, it’s no surprise that the area has a long history. The settlements eventually grew, and in 1010CE, Hanoi (called Thang Long at the time) became the capital city of Vietnam.

Hanoi is in the north of Vietnam

Vietnam was a French colony for many years, and was later occupied by the Japanese during World War 2. The American invasion in Vietnam in the 60s and 70s also had a profound affect on the city, with many buildings and bridges being bombed. For a while, after the war, Hanoi wasn’t a very welcoming place for foreigners, which is understandable. It’s come a very long way since then.

A lot of this beautiful city was destroyed by wars

Our experience in Hanoi has been magical so far. People are very friendly, polite and helpful. People have offered us directions when they saw us looking for something, and all our Grab drivers have been very nice. English is also WIDELY spoken here; much more so than in Suzhou. Although many people study English in China, it seems that very few are willing to speak it with foreigners. In Vietnam, our experience has been quite different.

My first meeting at one of the middle schools I’ll be working with this year. I met several teachers who spoke English and even met with the Vice Principal who was able to do orientation in English. I’ve been told that the principal speaks English as well. The big difference between the two countries is that China is relatively closed for tourism. Their tourism industry revolves around Chinese people travelling around China. Vietnam, on the other hand, is a popular tourist destination, so there has been a bigger push for people to speak it here. A large part of their economy depends on it.

A Lively City

Hanoi is known as the introvert city, and Ho Chi Minh City is known to be extroverted. Anyone who thinks that Hanoi is introverted though, should really visit Suzhou! This city is SO alive! There are cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars everywhere. People seem to love being out, walking around the little ponds and lakes all over the area where we live. On any given night of the week, there will be groups of people enjoying beer and a great meal at the tiny restaurants that are scattered across the city.

This was on a random Thursday night in Old Town. There are always people out and about, and bar streets like this are a hive of activity!

We went for a little cruise on the motorcycle Sunday night, after dinner, and couldn’t believe how many were out cruising around the lake as well! The roads in Hanoi are almost always chaotic, but as long as you stick with traffic, and move with cautious confidence, it all seems to be ok. Traffic doesn’t move quickly, but it does move at least. Having a motorbike saves you a lot of time on the roads, so we didn’t wait long before getting one!

Foodie Paradise!

I’m planning several posts about Vietnamese food in the future, but so far, we’ve been enjoying a lot of the international food that we missed so much while we were in China.

Vietnam is much more open than China, and as a result, they seem to be more adventurous here. In Suzhou, many of the ‘international’ restaurants had to make major changes to their menus in order to appeal to local tastes. One chef we knew in Suzhou actually left his job because they wanted his food to be more ‘instagramable’. He made incredible home-cooked style Italian food but the restaurant wasn’t doing well enough because appearances is what sells. He actually left the restaurant because he didn’t agree with the mentality, but the reality is that restaurants need to do this in order to survive in China. As a result, you get less authentic cuisines.

It’s also more difficult for foreigners to open restaurants in China. Rent is expensive and there are a lot of hoops to jump through to make it happen. This doesn’t seem to be such a problem in Vietnam because there are international restaurants EVERYWHERE, and they all taste and feel authentic.

Some of the cuisines we’ve tried so far:

West African – Sierra Leone

North American


French Crepes

French Crepes! We’ve had these a few times. Crepes are one of my favourite foods on earth!

So there you have it, my first post about Hanoi (since we moved here, anyway!). We visited this gorgeous city back in 2017, and I knew I wanted to live here right away. I’m so glad we listened to our guts and made this move. So far, it’s an incredible adventure!


After a wonderful trip to Canada, where we got to see friends, family and so much of what we missed, we headed back to China, where COVID is treated like ebola, and where measures often don’t make sense and seem in excess.  The trip back was a nightmare, especially at Pudong airport, where we queued and walked kilometers across the airport, going from one check point to the next.  By comparison, quarantine wasn’t actually as bad. 

After 6 hours of walking through a hot and frustrating airport, relaxing in my quarantine room was a relief!

When we booked our trip, back in March, we knew it meant 2 weeks of hotel quarantine, followed by 2 weeks of home quarantine.  We booked our tickets knowing this, but were very relieved in June, when we learned that the government was reducing this time to 7 days in a hotel + 3 at home.  With Omicron having a shorter incubation period than previous strains of COVID 19, the government finally loosened up a bit. 

Most people experience symptoms within 2-3 days of exposure for Omicron, as opposed to 4-5 days for Delta.  There were some freak cases last year that had people testing positive weeks or even a month after coming into contact with a positive case, and a lot of the government measures were based on that.

Now, I should start by saying that I’m not actually opposed to the mandatory quarantine imposed on people coming into China.  With such a dense population, it is very easy for case numbers to grow very quickly, overwhelming hospitals, and leading to a lot of deaths.  I believe in protecting the vulnerable, and I know I would feel AWFUL if I caused an outbreak by unknowingly spreading COVID. 

It can spread so quickly if left unchecked, so I do understand why China can’t just drop all the regulations.

Still…I can say, some of it was pretty ridiculous, but hey, it makes for good reading, so at least I can blog about the experience!

Quarantine Breakdown

The current quarantine regulations for people entering China involve 7 days in a hotel + 3 at home.  It can vary a little for residents of cities close to Shanghai (like Suzhou), because Shanghai simply can’t handle that many people quarantining all at once, for 7 days.  So, our Quarantine was actually broken down into 3 parts instead of 2. 

  • Part 1: A hotel in Shanghai
  • Part 2: A hotel in Suzhou
  • Part 3: Home quarantine in Suzhou
Suzhou doesn’t have its own airport, and most of the flights coming into China nowadays are going to Beijing, Shanghai, Xiamen or Shenzhen. That means a LOT of people are quarantining in those cities.

Now, I should begin by explaining that you get 0 say in which hotel you’ll be sent to, and wherever you end up, you have to pay for your room, regardless of the price.  Couples are not allowed to quarantine together either, doubling the already inflated costs of these rooms.  This was a pretty scary reality for us, but we hadn’t been home in 3 years, so we decided to just hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.

We had heard of some people in Xiamen having to spend $300 Canadian per night, per person.  There are currently 7 days of mandatory hotel quarantine (+3 at home), which could have ended up costing us $4200 CAD if we’d landed ourselves in one of the expensive boarding facilities. This was on top of inflated flight prices and the $700 we spent on tests before we could even board the plane.  Again… we would have had virtually no say in it if we ended up somewhere that was charging $300 per night.

Our faces pretty much the entire morning we arrived in Shanghai

Fortunately, the bus that transported us from Pudong Airport brought us to the Mercure Hotel, which was far more reasonable than the ones we had heard of in Xiamen.  Still, we had no idea what we’d be paying until we reached that check in room, and they charged our debit accounts.

The “check in desk”

Part 1 of our quarantine cost us a total of $720 Canadian.  The fees included our daily testing and meals, but was still quite a bit more than we would usually spend on a hotel in Shanghai.  In a typical situation, we would spend about $250 to stay there for 3 nights.  Still, the hotel was nice, and we had desks to work at, so we were relieved with the situation.

Part 2 of our quarantine was in Suzhou.  We stayed at an older hotel there, located on Yangcheng lake, where Suzhou’s famous hairy crabs live.  This hotel wasn’t quite as nice as the one in Shanghai, but the rooms were much bigger.  Plus, the situation was much better for us in Suzhou because I  managed to get a note from my doctor that enabled Dave and I to stay together in the same room.  You can get doctor’s notes for a few things; in my case, it was for anxiety (turns out being cooped up alone for days is bad for the mental health.. who knew!?)

Our hotel in Suzhou even had a balcony.  We couldn’t go out onto it though…

This meant that we still had to pay double for food, but we were only charged the cost of 1 room, instead of 2.  Our Quarantine hotel in Suzhou came to $464 Canadian, which was a big relief.  Our total cost of hotel quarantine came to just under $1200 CAD, which is a LOT better than we had actually expected to pay when we booked our trip to Canada.

The poor testing staff are forced to change their PPE after every test.  They were so sweaty that they could hardly see.  One of the reasons hotel quarantine prices are higher is because of all the hazard pay and extra services the hotels need to provide guests

Part 3 of quarantine is done at home.  Of course, home quarantine is still supposed to be done solo, and without my doctor’s note, 1 of us would have had to stay in the hotel for those last 3 nights.  Many people in Shanghai actually can’t do home quarantine at all, because it’s up to the compounds on whether or not they’ll allow it.  Lucky for us, our compound was fine with it (thanks to my doctor’s note), and even let us order in groceries.  We couldn’t go outside and we were only allowed to open our door for deliveries, but at least we were home!!

Poe was very pleased to have us back

Keeping Busy

Once you are brought to your room, you close the door, and are only allowed to open it again for testing (once per day) & to get your food (3 times per day). If extra necessities need to be delivered (my first thermometer didn’t work, for example), they are left on the table outside of your room, and you can pick it up when you get your next meal. 

I snapped a picture of the empty hallway when I grabbed my food one day

There are monitors on every door, so if you decide to open it when you shouldn’t, hotel staff know.  There are also cameras in all the halls.  It’s all very strict and I’m sure it wouldn’t be pleasant if someone were to break the rules.  We all had to sign contracts on arrival, stating that we would abide by all government laws and COVID protection measures.

Day 1 wasn’t actually too bad.  I was so relieved to be done with the airport fiasco, and sitting in an air conditioned room, with access to plenty of water… it was honestly a relief!  Of course, I kept busy by reading, getting a bit of work done, and by messaging my friends to let them know we landed safely. 

Our passports WERE returned to us, by the way

Day 2 was more of the same. I journaled, blogged, read…. anything to stay busy. By day 3 though, I was like a tiger in a cage… Pacing my room, stretching, exercising and basically just doing anything that requires movement. There was just enough room for me to walk around my bed, so I spent a lot of my day doing exactly that.

Started a new book. Loved it!

When you’re alone that much, you have a lot of time to think. Our dear cat, Ollie, died while we were in Canada. Of course, I thought about this a lot. Also, many of our friends moved away in June, having put up with enough of the restrictions…I thought about that a lot too. It’s difficult to be positive when you’re alone, anxious, and worrying about all the lock downs that will likely be happening during our last year in China.

Losing my best friend on the planet (aside from Dave) was devastating, and the full impact hit me on day 3. He wouldn’t be there when I finally got home.

I called my doctor on day 3, and got the note that allowed me to be with Dave for the rest of our quarantine. 3 days alone was bad enough…10 would have been unbearable for me.

I was stuck to him like glue our first couple of hours back together

The Food

When you’re trapped in your room, unable to go out or even open the door outside of meal time, food become a really important part of your day.  Even though I wasn’t really looking forward to EATING the food, it was something to break up the monotony, so I looked forward to each meal regardless of what they served.

Added Measures

Just as our 2nd hotel stay was coming to an end, we got a message from a government official in Suzhou, informing us that Dave had been flagged as a close contact to someone who tested positive on our flight. We were given an extra day of mandatory quarantine, and were required to do blood tests “just to be safe”. The woman who had been sitting next to Dave was also flagged as a close contact, but as a resident of Shanghai, she wasn’t given extra time in quarantine and didn’t need to do blood work. As is often the case, Suzhou was just slapping on extra measures.


Of course, there’s nothing we could do about it, so we did our extra day in quarantine, did the blood tests, and looked forward to being able to go home.

The (Extra) Strange Stuff


On our last morning at the hotel in Suzhou, they came to do throat swabs, as usual, and then handed us half a dozen wet swabs, with a sign explaining that we were supposed to test various areas of the room, and then give them back the swabs for analysis. Keep in mind that this was after we had already had 12 COVID negative tests and had no symptoms.

Dave, expertly swabbing the light fixtures


For some reason, when we left our hotel in Shanghai, we were made to put on latex gloves for the bus ride and trip to the hotel. This is still a mystery to me. We already had 7 negative tests at this point, and it definitely felt like more theatrics.


Ok, this one sort of made sense to me. Bleach kills viruses, so of course you should find it in a quarantine hotel. The abundance of bleach was extreme though. All our luggage was sprayed down with it upon our arrival to the Suzhou hotel. At other hotels, they were DRENCHING people’s luggage with the stuff.

This photo was taken from a different hotel. The floors of all the buses and hotels were like this.

The bleach is also never actually wiped off, just sprayed on, layer after layer. The buses, hallways and hotels were covered in residue. The halls in our Suzhou hotel had carpet, and therefore covered with tarps and plastic… Which were also coated in bleach. It made everything look kind of gross.

The hallway going to our room


At the Shanghai hotel, we were allowed to order things online, even coffee from Starbucks. We could order food and really whatever we wanted, as long as we only opened our door to receive them at meal time. In Suzhou, however, we could only receive things if family members or friends dropped them off. No food was allowed, and anything that came in had to be left overnight in a special room, and…. You guessed it…sprayed with bleach. Furthermore, our hotel would only deliver these things on Wednesdays and Sundays. We arrived on a Wednesday and left on a Sunday, so even if we wanted to, we couldn’t have had anything dropped off.

At least they provided us with the basics… Masks, bleach tablets (for the toilet?) And rubbing alcohol. And of course, lots and lots of hand sanitizer

Every hotel has its own rules. Last year, when a friend of mine was quarantined after being in a high risk area, I was able to bring her cake from Starbucks, yogurt, fruit and bread. As long as it wasn’t home made, it was fine. Every hotel makes up their own rules, and once more, we were left feeling like it was far more about theatrics than safety.

So… That was our quarantine experience. Overall it wasn’t too bad. I do have to mention that the staff at both our hotels were VERY kind and helpful. The rooms were also very clean and comfortable, and all our food was edible. It could have been SO much worse. Especially if we’d tested positive while in quarantine. We know a few people who did, and they were shipped to special COVID hospitals, where they were given a wide range of drugs to ‘combat’ COVID. If you end up in one of those hospitals, you have to stay there until you test negative multiple times. It’s a nightmare, and I’m so glad it isn’t one that we had to experience.

No matter how welcoming they try to make it look, it just doesn’t look like a good time…

I’m planning on doing quite a bit of blogging about Suzhou over the next year. One thing that the quarantine experience taught us, is that we definitely don’t want to be doing it again. So, at the end of this school year, we’ll be moving onto our next adventure. Until then, we’ll keep living it up (and they’ll keep locking us down… I’m sure).

Southern Manitoba: Part 1 – Sites & Attractions

Having grown up in Manitoba, it’s very easy to take for granted what the province has to offer. Fields are common place, local attractions aren’t a big deal because you can go any time, and you have no idea what you have there unless you travel and see what other places lack.  After 3 years stranded in China, without the opportunity to go home, I got to see Manitoba with new eyes.  I’ve been planning this post for a long time, so I think it’s time I finally write about the place where I grew up.

Manitoba is located in Central Canada.  I grew up about 3 hours from Fargo, North Dakota.

Manitoba is known for harsh winters, mosquitoes and construction, but if you visit at the right time of year, there’s actually plenty to do!  Here’s a list of some of my favourite things to do when visiting home!

Take a Drive

I’ll start with the simple beauty of the province. Located in the prairies of Canada, Manitoba is the perfect place to visit if you want to see huge skies, beautiful fields and stunning sunsets. 

Pull over down a service road and just take in the beauty!

We bought an old 1981 Honda motorcycle years ago, and one of our favourite pastimes is cruising around and just enjoying the views.  Taking the back roads and smaller highways can be a great way to take in lots of natural beauty, and this was honestly one of the things I missed the most in my years away.

Dave and I, traveling in style!

Sunsets are especially beautiful in Manitoba. The days are long in summer, and if you go out from 9:30 to 10pm, you’ll see the most beautiful sights. The whole sky becomes colourful, and the prairies make the skies look endless, with no buildings or mountains to hide the view.

Assiniboine Zoo

No trip to Winnipeg is complete without a trip to Winnipeg’s Zoo. I have seen zoos all over the world, and I’ve grown to be very weary of them because, too often, the animals are given cramped spaces that are very different from their natural habitats.

They even have a beautiful butterfly garden!

Assiniboine Zoo is wonderful. The animals are given plenty of space and the zoo is involved with helping many injured species of birds. The polar bear exhibit is stunning and if you’re lucky enough to be there when they’re swimming, you can even watch them swim by overhead, from an underground tunnel.

You also need to stop by the bison enclosure…truely Manitoban!

The park around the zoo is the perfect place for a summer picnic as well. It’s a great place to bring kids and spent time with the family. Going to the zoo with my nieces and nephews is always a must-do for me when we are home. Some locals complain about the prices since the zoo was renovated a few years back, but maintaining these large enclosures and giving the animals a reasonable place to live costs money. For me, $20 for an adult tickets is peanuts when you consider these things, and all the fun to be had while you’re there.

Winnipeg Forks

The Winnipeg Forks is an important place historically.  The Red and Assiniboine rivers meet there, making it a perfect place for trade between indigenous tribes, and later on, fur traders.  Now, it’s a cool little place to walk around and take in the sights.

There are plenty of pretty paths to walk, and beautiful art is found throughout the site.

You can go antique shopping, grab some craft beer, get some food and shop for local specialties.  My favorite thing to do at The Forks though, is to walk the river path.  There are always geese, ducks, chipmunks and squirrels to see, and if you’re lucky you might even see a raccoon! 

If you’ve got time, you can also visit the Human Rights Museum, where you can learn about all sorts of social issues, both past and present.  It’s a huge museum, and you can easily spend a few hours, learning about everything from Indigenous Rights, to Refugee crices.  It’s been a few years since we were there, but we were really impressed when we visited!

The tall building in the back is the museum.  It is quite an iconic building, and most people either love it or hate it.  Since my husband pointed out that it looks like sky and wheat fields in architecture form, I’ve definitely grown to appreciate it more!

Finally, if you find yourself at The Forks in winter, rent some ice skates and skate down the longest ice rink in the world!  There are little shacks along the way, where you can rest and warm up. It’s a great way to spend some time during the winter!

I haven’t been to Winnipeg in winter for nearly 10 years now, so I had to borrow this photo from the Winnipeg Fork’s website

Visit a Lake

Manitoba is home to over 100,000 lakes.  In fact, 16% of this massive province is covered in fresh water. Lake Winnipeg is our biggest, and the southern tip is less than an hour away from the province’s capital. 

Many of the province’s lakes exist due to massive Lake Agassiz, which covered most of the area during the last ice age.  We also have a crater lake, Westhawk, which was caused by a meteor.  It’s quite deep and even a popular place for scuba diving!

Historical lake Aggasiz, covering most of Manitoba during the last ice age.
West Hawk Lake is near the Ontario boarder.

It’s no surprise that plenty of people have boats and cabins in Manitoba, and this year we were lucky enough to spend time cruising around these beautiful lakes with family and friends. Most of our time was spent on beautiful Falcon Lake, named after a Metis poet.  It only takes about an hour and a half to get there from Winnipeg, and it’s located in a beautiful provincial park.  Campsites book up quickly, and it’s easy to see why!

We saw loons, deer and ducks, and my uncle even recently saw a bear!  If you’re lucky enough to know someone with a boat, it’s a gorgeous way to spend a sunny afternoon in July!

Winnipeg Festivals

I can’t end this post without at least mentioning some of Winnipeg’s many summer festivals. The Pride festival takes place at the end of May or beginning of June every year, and is celebrated in Downtown and The Forks. Canada Day is another big one, with celebrations moving around the city. We have celebrated our country’s birthday in Osbourne village, The Forks and this past year it was at Assiniboina Downs.

My two favourite festivals are Fringe Fest & Folklorama. Winnipeg’s Fringe is always HUGE, with performers travelling from all over the continent to take part. We made it to one Fringe show this year, performed by a group that had travelled all the way from Portland, in the USA!

Folklorama began after we left this year, so sadly we didn’t make it, but we go any time we can! Winnipeg is an extremely diverse place culturally, and Folklorama gives people a chance to learn about all the different cultures represented in our great city. You can try different food and drinks, enjoy a dance or music show and generally just sit back and have a good time, learning while you do it!

Ellie and I enjoying ourselves at the Slovanian pavilion a few years ago

So there you have it: my favourite things to do in and around Winnipeg!  You might be tempted to drive through on your way to Alberta or Ontario, but don’t be shy about spending a few days in this beautiful province on your way through!  I’m proud to call it home.

As always, feel free to leave your comments below!  I’ll be back soon with Part 2 if my Manitoba posts!  That one will include some of my favourite places to eat!!

From China & Back Again

I’ve taken quite the absence from my blogging this year, mostly because there hasn’t been much to blog about. We were in and out of the various stages of lock down for 3+ months, which led to our finalized decision to leave China in June of 2023. The good news is that there was a silver lining at the end of lock downs… we got to go home!!!

The last time I’d seen my family was August 2019.
I had new nieces and nephews to meet this year! And new fur-family to meet too!!!

The months leading up to our trip home was filled with uncertainty. When we booked our flights, we were expecting to do 2 weeks of hotel quarantine and 2 weeks of at home quarantine where we would not be allowed to leave the apartment. About a month before we left however, this was changed to 7 days in hotel quarantine with only 3 days at home. Several other changes lead to us having an extra week in Manitoba as well, so it seemed like things were looking up! Still, I didn’t fully relax until we were seated on our flight back to Vancouver. Things change quickly, and right up until that point, we were prepared for things to go wrong.

The moment we could finally relax

The whole process of getting out of China and then getting back in was quite an ordeal. I thought you might all be interested in hearing about all the steps we had to take, so here it is: our summer adventure!

Getting out of Suzhou

Getting out of Suzhou was a bit of an ordeal up until the week we left. If we had gone 1 week earlier, we would have had to take a car to the permiter between Suzhou and Shanghai and then transfered to another car because it was impossible for drivers to get into Shanghai and then out again. This rule was lifted just in time and we were able to take 1 car the whole 3 hour drive. It was still pricey (3x the normal fee) but doable.

For a long time, no one could even drive in Shanghai without a special (and very expensive) license. If we had tried to travel at that point, it would have cost us almost $1000 Canadian to drive 100km

We arrived at the airport 5 hours before our flight and we were very glad had the extra time. Although Pudong airport was a ghost town (which was very strange because it’s usually an incredibly busy place), it took us 2.5 hours just to check in our luggage. It seemed like everyone packed more luggage than usual (many seemed to be paying to take extra suitcases), and many pets were flying too. Worst of all, due to COVID concerns, the AC was basically non existent so we had to stand there in the heat, wearing N95 masks. Shanghai is a hot city and even in the morning it was between 25 and 30 degrees celsius, with plenty of humidity.

Empty airport

Once we got through check-in, we had to get through immigration and security. They were extra fussy with security this year, and we had to leave behind all our hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. Our luggage was thoroughly checked. Customs was easy for us, but the line was slow because any Chinese people leaving had to explain why they were leaving in detail. I overheard one woman explaining that she needed to go to America because she hadn’t seen her son and grandchildren in three years. China is still trying to prevent any unnecessary travel in and out of the country, so people actually had to have a valid reason to leave.

Their stash of confiscated COVID prevention tools….

Once we were boarded, things went smoothly, but the flight itself was 2 hours longer than normal because there was a crew switch in Seoul. With the added COVID rules, the crews couldn’t legally do the entire trip. They have hours of safety measures to do once the plane lands, so all flights to and from Canada now have a stop in Korea, to allow a new crew to take over We weren’t allowed off the plane, of course, and it added an additional 2 hours to our already long trip home.

When your trip home is already 36 hours to begin with, it’s kind of rough having another 2 hours added on…

Arriving in Canada

Arriving in Canada was easy peasy. Although there were massive delays in Toronto, Vancouver was not very affected, so aside from a slightly longer wait to check in, arriving in Canada was a piece of cake. It was so good to be home, hearing French on the intercoms, and seeing familiar shops and restaurants. Our first meal back was at A&W, where we overloaded on sodium and sugar and immediately regretted our decision.

Getting Ready to Head Back

Our trip home was fantastic and I’ll write more about that in my next couple of posts. The last week, though, was a bit stressful. In addition to worrying about our flights being cancelled, we had to be tested and apply for a codes that would allow us to get back into the country. We heard horror stories of people who had tested positive and the difficulty they were having with getting negative tests, even weeks later. Many flights were being cancelled on the Canadian side (because of staff shortages) and also on the China side (due to circuit breaker measures that China has in place if too many people on a particular fight test positive on arrival).

We were checking groups and websites every day to make sure our flight wasn’t cancelled

Our biggest challenge was finding the right information about the testing requirements to get our green codes for re-entry. Info on the consulate websites were out of date and we had a lot of difficulty getting in touch with anyone at the consulates as well. It turned out that we had to get 2 tests done from DIFFERENT labs. The first had to be done 2 days before departure, the second 1 day before departure. The problem was that there was only 1 lab in Winnipeg that was in China’s approval list. After some digging, we found out that they were ok with us using labs that weren’t on the list, as long as they were legit and the tests were done in the nose. We found this to be particularly interesting because all the testing we do weekly in China is done in the throat, but rules were rules and we followed them.

Accurate portrail of us trying to figure out exactly what we needed to do to be allowed back into Canada. We researched all this before we left but things change so frequently, we couldn’t keep up.

In total, the testing cost us over $700 Canadian, which was a little crazy given that we get tested multiple times per week in China for free. And if we happen to miss the free testing, it costs less than a dollar to pay to have one done. Of course, China has the infrastructure in place to mass test, whereas Canada relies mostly on at-home antigen tests. Those aren’t accepted in China, so it’s PCR or nothing here.

$700 to have our eyeballs poked through our noses…

I think the biggest stress in that last week, aside from conflicting and missing information, was our fear of catching COVID. If we had, it could have taken months for us to get back to China, and it also would have cost us thousands of dollars. We hand sanitized, masked up and acted like paranoid nuts that last week, but luckily, our families were very understanding and accommodating and we had most of our get togethers and goodbyes outside, where risks were much lower. We never caught COVID, which was a stroke of good luck, supported by careful measures. Our time in China had already normalized a lot of these behaviors, so it was just a matter of switching back into those habits after a very stress-free summer.

We avoided all cash as well, using only cards.

We managed to get through it all and got our green codes to China, and before we knew it, we were off!

One last breath of fresh Canadian Air before we put our masks back on for the next 40 hours or so

Arriving in China

This is where the real “fun” began. I’ll try not to bore you with too much detail, but the moment we arrived back in China, things got a lot more serious. The difference in the way we were treated was obvious. In Canada, COVID is basically treated as ‘no big deal’. In China, we were treated like we had bubonic plague and had the intention of spreading it to the masses.

We were already exhausted after 27 hours of travel at this point, and there was so much yet to come…

The airport was all extremely sterile, with every worker in a full PPE suit, despite the heat. There was a lot of shouting as we were hearded from one line up to the next, walking several kms around the airport for the different parts of re-entry. This is a rough breakdown of the steps.

  1. Recheck the codes that we had needed to board the airplane & sign consent forms for testing to be done (these tests were not optional, so I’m not sure why we needed to sign consent)
  2. COVID testing- the most painful and uncomfortable test of my life. It took the guy 3 tries before he was happy with the results, and the swabs went so deep into my throat that I gagged and heaved the entire time. My throat was sore for hours.
  3. Temperature checks and facial recognition.
  4. Immigration
  5. Baggage claim
  6. Sorting into provinces for the quarantine hotels
  7. Preparation for the hotel quarantine location we’d be staying in and the surrender of our passports
  8. Getting onto the bus that would take us into quarantine
  9. Check in and payment at the quarantine hotel
  10. Preliminary testing at the COVID hotel, including temperature checks (with thermometers that didn’t work), another PCR (nose AND throat… different swabs, don’t worry) and logging in info so that we could be sorted into our next quarantine hotel.

We landed at 6am and it was probably about 1pm by the time we could finally sit back and relax in our quarantine room. None of it was particularly difficult, but the amount of walking we had to do, carrying all our luggage, was exhausting… especially in the heat & N95 masks. I was very glad to have a bottle of water for Dave and I to share, because there was no where to get water on the way. This was probably a good thing because I don’t think we were allowed to use the washrooms either.

Luckily the hotel had 25 liters of water waiting for us in the room. I swear I finished half the first one when we finally arrived

By the end of it, I was jetlagged, sore and emotionally drained. I got yelled at so many times, and there wasn’t a smile to be seen anywhere… Just PPE suits, masks, visors and exhausted and overheating staff at the airport. It wasn’t exactly the nicest welcome back.

Ehhh…not so much…

I have 1 week left of quarantine and plenty that I’m still planning to write about, including an entire post describing our life behind monitored doors, and several posts about Canada…

Stay tuned and feel free to leave your comments below!!

The Self Isolated Canuck

We’re in beautiful Hainan, and although still on holiday, I haven’t written for a while.  There’s actually a pretty good reason for that: China is experiencing an outbreak.  To make matters worse, there was a single sick person in Zhangjiajie while we were there, and the whole country has been put on alert. I figured that might be something worth writing about for my friends back home. 

On our balcony

COVID in China

Of course, COVID is something that the world has been dealing with for nearly two years now.  It began in a Chinese city called Wuhan, and quickly spread across the world.  China failed to contain the virus in early days but became a lot more smart about it very quickly.  Mass lock downs took place in every city across China, and international travel was halted for months.  We were lucky enough to get back into the country before the major lock downs happened, but many people weren’t.  I know so many people who were separated from their spouses for over a year.  Some are still separated. 

I can’t imagine how much harder this time would have been without Dave.  We’re so lucky that we’ve been able to stay together through all this!!

Eventually things got better.  Mass testing and strict regulations brought down the country’s COVID numbers to nearly none.  In the past year, there have been little breakouts here and there, but they’ve been stopped very quickly but locking down affected districts and through mass testing.  Spring Festival saw several small breakouts and the whole country was asked not to travel.  Companies offered incentives for their workers to forgo their trips home, and once more, the virus was put back under control and life continued pretty normally. 

There has been a massive effort to get everyone vaccinated in China.  Dave and I both got our shots and felt confident about traveling within China for the summer. There is still a 4 week quarantine period for anyone coming back into China though, so international travel was off the table yet again.  With only 6 weeks off for summer holiday, I couldn’t face 4 weeks of quarantine here and 2 weeks in Canada.  Still, I was grateful to at least move around China as we have.

The Delta Variant

Months back, a new version of the virus emerged during a massive breakout in India.  That variant has China on high alert because although their vaccine is ok to deal with the original strain, and several others, it isn’t as helpful against this new, more contagious strain.  When several airport workers tested positive in Nanjing in June, once more, the country was on high alert.  Citizens of Nanjing had to go for daily COVID tests and the whole city was put on lockdown.  Unfortunately, cases can go undetected and several sick people left Nanjing, unaware that they were sick. 

They’ve tracked things very closely

The patient who tested positive in Zhangjiajie was in the city at the same time that we visited the park. We were lucky enough to never cross paths with him.  We were never in the city of ZJJ itself, and he was at the park the day that we left the area.  Still, it caused a bit of problems because our 2 week travel history shows Zhangjiajie. 

The text at the bottom of the white part shows all the places I’ve been in the last 2 weeks.  The ones with stars are medium or high risk zones.  Luckily, my code has stayed green, but those stars mean that I need to show negative nucleic acid tests before any city will let me in.

Shortly after we were in Haikou, someone tested positive there too.  Once more, we were never in any of the same places as this patient, but our codes were flagged.  We decided to hunker down a little longer at our hotel on the outskirts of Lingshui.  I’m very happy we had booked here and not in Sanya or Haikou, which are much more popular tourist destinations.  We booked this way specifically to keep away from crowds.  Even though China has remained relatively safe for the past 18 months, we like to be careful. 

This is about as busy as the beach near our hotel gets. 

Being Responsible

We have done our best to be as responsible as possible with all this information.  We got tested right away, and have been avoiding crowds.  We’ve spent most of the last 2 weeks either in our room, or walking in areas that aren’t too populated by people.  We did make a trip into Wanning and Wencheng when our tests came back negative, but the following day we got a call from the district Health Authority asking where we had been in Wanning, because there was a suspected case there.  Once more, we were lucky enough to not have crossed paths with the person (he had been at the testing center, and we had been at the outlet mall) but it was enough of a scare to get us not to travel anywhere else on the island ever since.

Even though this outlet mall is pretty dead, and we wore masks the whole time, I wish we hadn’t risked it. 

The last couple of weeks have been kinda scary.  We got SO many messages from friends back in Suzhou, scared for us because we’d been in Zhangjiajie.  Suzhou itself has gone a little overboard and is forcing anyone who was in ZJJ to do a hotel quarantine, regardless of multiple negative tests. Even though we were never in any of the same places as the ZJJ patient, if we went back to Suzhou now, we would be put in 2 separate hotel rooms and stuck there until we’d been away from Zhangjiajie for 2 full weeks. Even if we had multiple negative tests. 

Articles like this pop up in my feed every single day, and they often have information about all the places that a COVID positive person may have been.  They list any trains (and the seat numbers) that these people took, and any areas where the person went
  This is why I can say, with confidence, that we never crossed paths with these people. 

This is part of why I find it so strange that people think that wearing a mask in public is such an infringement of rights.  China has taken much further measures tracking and posting positive patients’ whereabouts and enforcing mass quarantines and testing. We honestly don’t even mind going along with most of it, because we’ve seen first hand the effect these measures have had on reducing the number of cases here in China.

By comparison, America has had over 36 million cases, and Canada has had about 1.5 million.  Given that China has a HUGE population, I’d say 93,000 cases is pretty good!!!

Suzhou itself is a bit of an extreme case.  Events are forbidden there right now, and bars have been closed.  Many buisnesses are only allowed 1/2 capacity.  Schools are even shut down for all of August, which will affect me at the end of the month.  There’s mass testing happening right now in Suzhou, and I have several friends in quarantine hotels at the moment.  Suzhou hasn’t had a single case of community transmission, so it feels like an over reaction, but at the same time, these measures might be why there hasn’t been a single community spread there since May 2020.

Community transmission is much better controlled if mass testing takes place.

By contrast, we didn’t have to quarantine in Lingshui.  We chose to, until our tests came back negative, but it wasn’t forced.  When someone tested positive in Haikou, Hainan’s capital, things did tighten up.  Masks were enforced and temperature checks came up again, but other than that, it’s been business as usual.  So far, everyone who was near the Haikou patient has tested negative, and Hainan province is still only showing up with 1 case in all the news reports.  This is a relief and probably due to all the calls made by the Health Authority to anyone who came into contact with the positive patient.  It was nipped in the bud, and stopped before it could spread. 

This looks scary at a glance, but you can see that most of these places only have a few cases.  It’s so closely monitored and updates like this come out every single day. 

So that’s been our last couple of weeks in Lingshui. We’ve mostly be working and catching up on some reading.  Of course, we’ve made full use of our balcony tub as well.  When we have gone out, it’s been to places with few people, and always outdoors.  Our trip to the outlet mall in Wanning was a lesson and we didn’t need to learn it twice. 

I’ll be back soon with some backlogged posts about our time in Hainan last Christmas.  I never got around to finishing those posts thanks to some nasty food poisoning, followed by a very busy January full of exams. 

An edited photo of a water lily on one of our Christmas hikes. More on that soon!!

Are you living in China right now?  What have your experiences been this summer?  If you’re not in China, what is your perspective on the way the virus has been handled here?  I’d love to hear your comments! 

Zhangjiajie: The Avatar Mountains

China has such a variety of geological landscapes.  From the deserts of Gansu, to the karst mountains of Guangxi, there is an abundance of beauty here.  Mount Everest, Yellow Mountain, and Mount Emei are some of China’s most famous peaks, and the Yangtze and Yellow rivers are equally famous vast bodies of water.  China has a lot to offer tourists, although many skip these natural beauties, visit the Wall, The Warriors and The Bund, then peace out.  They don’t know what they’re missing. 

Admittedly, when I first moved to Xiamen in 2005, I didn’t realize how much China had to offer either, but through the years, I’ve come to appreciate the variety of landscapes the Middle Kingdom offers.  These past 2 years have been especially eye opening to me, because I haven’t been able to go home.  My summers are usually spent with family and friends in Canada, but with that being impossible for 2 summers in a row, Dave and I have opted to travel China, rather than to sit and sulk in Suzhou. 

There is one place though, that Dave and I have always wanted to visit, but always put off, mostly because of the crowds.  Zhangjiajie is located in Hunan Province, and although many foreigners haven’t heard of it, local Chinese tourists have.  It’s the busiest place we’ve been all summer, and it’s very easy to see why. 

Now, I had never heard of these mountains until a coworker of mine visited in 2015 (when we were living in Guiyang).  But although I had never heard of them, I HAD seen them, and just not realized it.  They’re featured in the movie Avatar. 

Spoiler: they don’t actually float in real life, but it can look like they do when fog sets in. 

There are a few things you should know, if you’re thinking of traveling to Zhangjiajie.  First of all, flights can be a bit tricky.  Unless you’re flying from a major city, you’ll have to have a layover in Changsha or Xian.  You can take the train as well, but once more, it’s a bit of a long trek unless you’re already living in Changsha.  That being said, it IS worth the trip.

Our train back to Changsha was mostly standing room only.  It’s a 3 hour ride so you’ll want to make sure to book early and get a seat. 

Another thing to consider is that it’s almost always crowded, especially during holidays (most people in China all get their holidays at the same time).  We went during summer, which was probably the least crowded of all the regular holiday seasons, but it was still crowded.  We got to the park before 8:30am, thinking we would be ahead of most of the crowds, but it was already packed by then. 

Lots of tour guides in that line, each with a stack of passports to get through. 

We also found Zhangjiajie to be a bit xenophobic at the moment.  The woman who looked at our documents at the train station didn’t want to let us through despite the fact that we are vaccinated, have a clean travel history and haven’t left China in a year and a half.  We also had COVID tests done 3 weeks prior, but she wanted much more recent ones.  She did let us in, in the end, but for anyone reading this and planning a trip to Zhangjiajie this summer, you might want to get a test done a few days before. 

This app tracks all the places I’ve been in the previous 2 weeks.  If I have been in any medium or high risk areas, it turns yellow or red.  It’s all tracked by my phone’s GPS.  I have 4 different versions of these apps and they ALL show green. We showed her the 2 most commonly known ones and she still wasn’t happy.  Most places are happy with the green code and vaccination record.  Not Zhangjiajie though!!

However, no matter how many little inconveniences we faced, I would still recommend Zhangjiajie to anyone who has a little patience and perseverance.  It’s really an out of this world kind of place to visit, and here’s why:

The Park is HUGE!

To counter my complaint about the crowds, I must also mention the size of Zhangjiajie.  If you take any of the hiking trails, you’ll be able to avoid most the crowds.  We spent a good portion of our day on the Golden Whip Trail.  A lot of it is flat so even if you aren’t super fit, you’ll be ok. 

The trail is about 7km long and follows a beautiful little river the whole way. You can get some really nice views of the mountains from below. The water is cold too, so if you start to overheat, you can dip your feet in to cool down. Golden Whip Trail was actually my favorite part of Zhangjiajie, and we did it twice. We went up and also down the river, rather than racing the crowds.

This isn’t the only way to get around, of course. There are buses that take you from scenic spot to scenic spot once you’re up in the mountains. They were making me really car sick though, so we avoided them when we could. There are also cable cars and elevators to get you up to the peak and most scenic spots, but there are often 2 hour lines to get into them. We took the stairs instead.

There were a lot of them, but we took it slow and stopped often for water, and it was fine.

The Scenery

We only really had time for 1 scenic spot, so we chose the Avatar Mountains. Also called Yuanjiajie mountains, these peaks were stunning. My favorite view of them was our first… Right when we made it to the peak, but before we met up with the swarms of tourists that had taken the cable cars up.

Not only was it stunning, it was also peaceful.

Once we were back in the crowds, the most scenic spots were all around, but it was hard for me to enjoy them with all the selfies and shouting and vendors trying to sell things. It was still beautiful, of course, but I would definitely have enjoyed it more if there had been fewer people in that small location.

For the next couple of hours, we moseyed along the park, hopping on and off buses to see the sights. Nothing we saw compared to the Avatar Mountains, but if we had scheduled another day at Zhangjiajie, we would have explored some of the more famous areas of the park.

It’s disappointing how commercialized this place has become. They have KFC, McDonald’s and so many shops and stalls… It just seems weird to me, given how beautiful of a place we were at.

We timed things well, and took the cable cars down one section of the mountain. At around 3pm, most of the tourists are seeing the major sights, so that’s when we booked our tickets down. The views were SPECTACULAR!

Once we were back down to the main level of the park, we decided to take the Golden Whip Trail back, rather than take a bus or a taxi (there were some there, which surprised me, but they were charging WAY too much).

As the sun started to go down, the trail was even prettier.

The Wildlife

Another thing worth noting is the wildlife at Zhangjiajie. There are countless macaques that will steal your food, and chase you if you get too close.

We’d only been at the park for about 10 minutes when we watched a mother with a baby hanging onto her back lunge at a tourist, stealing their snack and running off with it. It was pretty funny to be a spectator, but given how aggressive these monkeys can be, I’m glad I wasn’t the one holding the food!!

Other notable wildlife were the birds and insects in the park. There were cicada-type insects buzzing up a storm, and in the silence, I find the sound to be calming. It reminds me that I’m in nature, and that makes me happy!

This little creature can make a LOT of noise!!

Zhangjiajie is really an incredible place. There are plenty of great lodgings to be found in the areas just outside the park. We stayed at the Forest Glass Inn and loved it. There were about 700 stairs to climb to get there, but the view was spectacular and the hotel was lovely.

I’m very happy we went, and I would encourage anyone to go!

With views like this, who wouldn’t want to go here!?

Our next stop on our trip is a 10 day stay in Hainan! We loved it so much at Christmas that we decided to come back. I’ll also be able to finish some of my posts that I never had a chance to finish then! (Food poisoning affected our last few days there).

I’ll finally get to finish my post with all my best photos!

I’ll be back soon!!

Gorgeous Guangxi – Yangshuo

The very first place Dave and I traveled together once we moved to China was Guilin. We visited a beautiful cave, took a Cruise down the Li River and climbed up to the top of the Longji Rice terraces. It was an epic 4 days and I often think back to them fondly. There was one place in the area though, that we didn’t get to see properly: Yangshuo.

We loved the area on our last trip, but we were disappointed that we only got to spend a few hours in Yangshuo. This summer, with so much time to travel, we decided to fix that and spend a few nights there! Here’s how we spent our time….

Seeing The Countryside

A lot of our time was spent cruising around on our ebikes, checking out the sights and stopping whenever we saw something interesting. I think that is my favourite way to see a new place, but it’s not something we can easily do in China, where international drivers’ licenses aren’t recognized. Luckily, in Yangshuo, you can rent ebikes anyway.

The man we rented them from charged them for us every night too! For only 60rmb per day, it was a great way to get around!

There are several old bridges and ancient towns where you can stop in. Fuli Ancient Town was one of our stops. They are famous there for making hand painted fans. In the heat of the day, it seemed like most of the shops were closed, but a few were open for business and it looked like they offer painting classes as well.

Another benefit of driving around on your own is that you can stop and enjoy the scenery whenever you want, and you can stop and eat at little roadside restaurants. We enjoyed some bamboo rice, beerfish (both local specialties) and a sunset on our last night.

With plenty of small roads to explore, you can easily spend a day driving around, stopping for a swim or a plate of watermelon if you get too hot or hungry. The roads aren’t too crazy. Just be sure to be vigilant, and to not drive too aggressively, and you should be fine. Of course, Yangshuo City is a little crazier of a place to be driving.

Yangshuo City

We didn’t spend a lot of time in Yangshuo itself. Something tells me that a few years ago, it would have been a quaint place to visit, but nowadays, it feels a bit like a party town. You can find KFC, McDonald’s, Starbucks and all the usual western chains in the city, and there are plenty of places to stop for food too.

During the day, you get a lot of people shopping for souvenirs, at the end of their Li River Cruises. Down by the water, you can see the men who fish with birds, and even take a dip in the river (it moves pretty quickly though, so you’ll want to be careful).

Night life in Yangshuo involves loud music, dancers, club antics and people trying to pull you into their bars or stores. I’m sure it’s a lot of fun for people in their early 20s, but we weren’t feeling much like parting, so we didn’t spend a lot of time in Yangshuo.

Ruyifeng Cable Car

Our trip to Ruyifeng Cable Car was actually the highlight of my time in Yangshuo this time around. Not only was the cable car ride itself spectacular, but there is tons to see once you’re up there too. We did the full circuit, seeing the suspension bridge and both glass bridges and it took us over 2 hours to explore it all.

It was quite hot up there, so the climb was a bit rough, but we took it slow, stopped for lots of water (and ice cream!) and got to see so many incredible views of the surrounding area. It was well worth the 200rmb each that we paid.

The suspension bridge was sturdier than many I’ve been on in China. There were red ribbons tied along a lot of it, making it really stand out against all the green. I think I like this better than the locks that are often put on bridges like this.

This picture turned out a lot cooler than I thought it was going to!

There are 2 glass bridges as well. I don’t typically bother with them because I usually find them overpriced, plus I’m dubious of their safety, but these ones were included in the price, and seemed to be well maintained. You need to rent 5rmb booties to cover your shoes, so the glass isn’t scratched up. It was actually pretty cool to see! My legs hardly shook at all!!

I was really impressed with this part of our trip. The whole area was well maintained and staff were there cleaning up any litter left behind by inconsiderate guests. Things weren’t priced too high, and overall, it was just a really nice experience.

If you get your tickets right at the site, they are 260rmb each, but our hotel was able to save us some money and we only paid 200 (around 40 dollars Canadian). We spent about 3 hours there in total and got to see the countryside from a stunning vantage point. I’d recommend it to anyone, honestly, even if you don’t do the big walk around.

Other Things to Do

There were a few things that we had wanted to do but couldn’t, like rafting down the Yulong River, or seeing the Yangshuo evening show. Both would have been nice, but funds and time were an issue, so we had to skip them this time around.

We did year from many people that the night show is spectacular, but we really enjoyed hiking and taking in the natural beauty of Guanxi, so I can’t say we made a bad choice.

With so much beauty to be seen, I wanted to spend as much time outside as possible!

Our next stop on this journey was to the world famous park: Zhangjiajie!!! Thanks to the areas otherworldly landscapes, the movie Avatar was filmed there. We had a great time and I’ll be back to write about it soon!!

Guiyang: Day trips

Guizhou might be poorer than other Chinese provinces, but what it lacks in financial wealth, it makes up for with rugged beauty. The province boasts plenty of natural wonders, such as caves and China’s tallest waterfall, and it is also culturally relevant as well, with its many minority villages.  If you head out to this part of China, and visit only Guiyang City, you’ll be missing out on a lot!  Let’s take a look. 

Day Trips

Our day trip gang

There are plenty of short trips you can take and still be back in time for hot pot in Guiyang City.  On this last trip, we had plans to visit China’s tallest waterfall, Huangguoshu, but there was a mix up with our driver and he thought we wanted to go to a waterfall that was much closer to the city.  We stayed flexible and decided to make 2 stops closer by instead.  Here’s what we did.


I had never heard of Tianhetan when we lived in Guiyang, and it is all in very good shape, so I think it might be a new attraction, built quite recently. Our plan was to go to Huangguoshu, but our driver wasn’t actually prepared to go that far for the 500rmb we had negotiated. Instead, we agreed to pay him 80rmb and he dropped us off at the park and went on his merry way. I’m still not entirely sure if he just genuinely misunderstood us, or if he was trying to make an easy buck on (what he thought were) some dumb foreigners, but either way, I didn’t want to be in a car with him all day, so I was happy with the solution.

We hiked around for a little bit and enjoyed the scenery. There was a coffee shop that made pretty awful sour coffee and poor Kim ended up with an insect in hers, but at least coffee was available! Guizhou has come a long way!

We didn’t really have a specific plan of what we wanted to see in Tianhetan, because we’d only learned about it that morning, but we moseyed around and eventually came upon signs for a cave. Caves are one of Guizhou’s specialties. On we went!

The boatride into the cave was a bit cheesy but honestly quite enjoyable. The cave itself was very well lit up, and there were plenty of beautiful areas. It went on for much longer than I expected it to! Of course, there are people snapping your photo along the way and you can buy them a little further down the cave for an inflated price. It’s a nice momento if you happen to look good in the picture (I almost never do).

We were actually trying to find the waterfall, but weren’t too tenacious about it. We kept enjoying the paths and eventually found our way out of the park and onto the next leg of our journey.

Qingyan Ancient Town

I’ve actually been to Qingyan Ancient Town 3 times now, and each time it was pleasant in its own way. Like many ancient towns, there are shops galore where you can buy silver jewelry and plenty of Guizhou specialty snacks.

There are plenty of restaurants where you can sit down and have some lunch as well. Make sure to try the Yang Yu Ba (potato patties). They are stellar! Pigs feet are also always on the menu in this ancient town.

We didn’t stay for long on this trip, because we’d spent so much time in Tianhetan, and we ended up in a Guizhou-style thunderstorm, so we headed back before I’d really wanted to. If you’re looking for a chill way to spend some time, Qingyan Ancient Town is a great way to achieve that goal. You can easily pair this trip with a visit to Tianhetan as well, because both are easily accessible by Didi.

Weekend Trips

There are honestly so many different places where you can take weekend Trips in Guizhou. For this post, I’m only writing about the places that I have personally been. The two trips that Dave and I took while living in Guiyang are still some of my favorite memories of living out that way. Zhenyuan Ancient Town and Xijiang Minority Village are definitely worth the trip!

Xinjiang Minority Village

The view from a rice Paddy

Xijiang and Kaili were actually one of our last stops when we lived in Guiyang. Looking back, I really wish we had done more traveling out there, but we were pretty overwhelmed at the time and I worked quite a bit. I am glad that we at least made time for Xijiang though.

Dave in Xijiang, 2016

Minority villages are everywhere in China, but the closest we’ve come to feeling like one was authentic was in Guizhou. You’ll see traditional architecture in these towns and people will often be in traditional costumes as well. There are always trinkets and souvenirs to buy and local food to taste. When we lived in Guizhou, I took this a bit for granted. I found Xijiang to feel a lot more authentic than Tongli, in Suzhou.

People still live in these towns, and although it isn’t 100% authentically traditional, they are still farming with hand ploughs and there are beautiful rice paddies all around. It’s peaceful.

To get to Xijiang, you can take a bus or a slow train to Kaili. We actually went after classes one Sunday night, and got to Kaili at around 11pm. Getting a taxi was rough (it would be easier now with Didi), and when we got to our hotel, they didn’t want to take us, because we are foreigners.

**Pro China Tip** I strongly suggest booking with Trip.com if you are staying in more remote places. We’ve had a few bad experiences in the past where we’ve arrived at the hotel, only to find out that they can’t take foreigners. If this happens when you booked with Booking.com, you aren’t going to get much support. If you go with Trip.com, however, they’ll find you a new room. They offer much better support in that regard.

Zhenyuan Ancient Town

Of all our weekend trips during our time in Guizhou, my favorite was definitely Zhenyuan. We went there in an attempt to escape the noise and pollution of the city. We needed to unwind and Zhenyuan was perfect for that.

This clean and peaceful river was soothing to my culture shocked soul.

I wrote a couple of posts about our time in Zhenyuan, and they are actually 2 of my most viewed posts of all time. Not many people visit that little gem of a town, so they don’t realize that they’re missing out. Zhenyuan was the first little Guizhou adventure Dave and I took in that first year living in China, so it will always have a special place in my heart.

If you want to read more about our trip to Zhenyuan, you can click here or here! There are lots of pictures and tips of what you can do and see there!

6 years later and I’m still proud of this picture!!

Other Options

Of course, these are just the places we ended up going, but there are plenty of other places you can visit within a day as well. Huangguoshu Waterfall along with the beautiful scenery nearby is an excellent option. Dragon Palace is nearby too, where you can see over 90 karst caves. Guizhou is full of natural beauty that you can see on a day trip outside of Guiyang.

If you have a bit more time, there are some incredible options to see other ancient towns, hike Mount Fanjing, or even visit Zunyi, home of China’s most famous brand of alcohol: Moutai.

With Guizhou’s milder climate and natural beauty, I really don’t think you can go wrong visiting this beautiful province. I may be a little biased because I called this place home for a year, but I think that as long as you have a sense of adventure Guiyang is a must see if you live in China!!

There is a higher ratio of squatter toilets in Guizhou, and your bed may not be as soft as you’re used to, but those are minor inconveniences in return for all this province has to offer!

The next stop on this epic 2021 Summer trip is the city of Yangshuo, in Guanxi Province!! We were there once before, but this trip was just as epic (and full of totally new experiences!!)

Spoiler: It was Beautiful!!!

Hot but beautiful!! Stay tuned!

Guiyang City

To some, Guiyang might seem like a pretty mundane place.  It doesn’t have Pandas, like Chengdu, or Gardens, like Suzhou.   It doesn’t have the glitz of Shanghai or the history of Beijing.  But that certainly doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth visiting, and here’s why…

Abundant Beauty


Now, I know that there are certainly some run-down areas of Guiyang, but it’s undeniably pretty too!  Downtown, by the river, is always a lovely place to take a walk. 

Day or night

The limestone mountains in the area also make the city beautiful. I’ve been going through a lot of my old blog posts recently, and found a great video in one of my last posts before we left Guiyang. You can watch it here.

The view from our old apartment

There are a few things you can do in Guiyang too, like visiting the minority museum or popping by a Temple near the river.

Dave circa 2015, “holding up” the minority museum
We only stumbled upon this temple in our 2021 trip. We lived in Guiyang for a year without every seeing it!

The thing I find most beautiful about Guiyang isn’t its pagodas or temples though. What I love most is the abundance of trees in Guiyang. It’s the greenest city I’ve seen in China. I really hope this doesn’t change as it continues to develop.


My favorite breakfast noodles!

For me, Guiyang is all about food! Hot pot, disc barbecue, street food, spices, fresh herbs…. Guizhou has it all! There are more varieties of hot pot than anywhere else I know of in China. Hot and Sour fish hot pot, fermented soybean Hotpot, creamy kidney bean hot pot…I cannot get enough of it!

And hot pot isn’t where it ends! One of the things that I love about Guiyang’s food scene is that there are still so many Mom and Pop type places all over the city. We never had to go to a single franchise restaurant the whole time we were there. In fact, we hardly see them! Great little craft beer places and independent coffee shops have opened in recent years too!

And of course, there’s street food! Glorious, delicious street food! It can’t all be trusted to be clean, admittedly, but generally, if there is a line up, it’s safe!!

Rotisserie wings and drums!!!! The stuff of legends!!!

Monkey Park (Qinglingshan)

On this last trip to Guiyang, we didn’t make it to Qinglingshan, but we’ve been there many times in the past, so I thought I should include it in this post. Qinglingshan is home to hundreds of cheeky macaques who will steal your food, drink your water and try to take off with your bag.

It is a lovely place to spend a day visiting though, and you won’t regret making the trip, even if your water does get stolen.

On our last trip, actually, the bigger problem was the people, not the monkeys. For some reason, people seemed to think it was ok to throw garbage at the macaques. I told off two different people who were doing this and encouraging their kids to join in too.

Don’t be cheeky to them and they might not be cheeky with you!

The park is huge, so you can easily spend a day there. Honestly, I have been there half a dozen times and still haven’t seen it all! There are plenty of trails to follow, and all over the park you’ll find people dancing, playing traditional instrument’s, spinning tops, or maybe even fighting off a monkey. There’s never a dull moment!

If you’re looking for beauty, great food, and a laid back place to spend a few days, Guiyang is a great spot for you! The weather is comfortable and the cuisine is to die for… Make your way to Guiyang soon!

It’s a great place to see, either solo, or with a group of friends!

I’ll be back soon with some ideas for day trips in Guizhou province and even some suggestions for weekend getaways! Check back soon!!

Guiyang: Then & Now

My relationship with Guiyang City has always been complicated. I spent my year there trying to be positive, when I was working at a school that treated me quite poorly. Culture Shock was hard on me, and I found myself extremely homesick. Making that big of a move can be difficult for even the strongest relationships. I had a lot going on when I lived in Guiyang in 2014 and 2015.

Dave and I enjoying some Douchi, a fermented soybean Hotpot.

Since then, of course, I’ve changed. I’ve adapted pretty well to life in China, I’ve become more self sufficient here and learned quite a bit more of the language. I’ve also “found myself”. In Guiyang, I was trying to figure out who I was outside of my 8 years in sales. Who was I, if I wasn’t living in small town Canada? Now I know who I am. I’m a musician. I’m an animal rescue. I’m a blogger. I’ve accomplished things that I never imagined, like creating a Merchandise Line to raise money for animal rescue. I also weigh 10kg less than I did when I lived in Guiyang. I’m more comfortable in my own skin, and more confident in what I’m capable of.

All this is to say that going back to Guiyang these last 2 summers has been eye opening.  So many of the grudges I’d held in my 5 years away are gone.  I don’t feel small and shy, the way I did 6 years ago.  I have since surrounded myself with people and peers who treat me like I am enough.  I am adequate.  I went from being on the brink of walking out of my job in Guiyang, to being put in charge of an entire English Program in the school where I’m teaching now.

Guiyang has developed so much in the past 6 years. There is a metro here now, and the city is much better connected with the high speed rail. Traffic has improved as a result of the metro, and with Didis being available now, transportation above ground has become easier too.

Hunter Mall got a lot nicer. It also got a pet Alpaca…

Of course, some things still haven’t changed. Many of our favorite restaurants are still there. The city still has a great street food scene, and all our favorite treats. On the other hand, Guiyang got its very first McDonald’s while we lived there, and now there are many all around the city. Starbucks has popped up everywhere as well.

The scenery around Guiyang is still as beautiful as ever as well. I haven’t seen a city in China as green as Guiyang.

Qinglingshan Park is gorgeous and it’s right in the middle of the city!

Surprisingly, some of the closest friends we made in Guiyang have still been around over the last few years we’ve visited. Catching up with them was fantastic. Some of my students also got in touch with me to meet up. Seeing these people 5-6 years later reminded me that although we didn’t have many friends in Guiyang, we did have a couple of really great ones.

Going through all of these old photos got me thinking of all the incredible kids I got to teach, of course, and although my place of employment back then wasn’t ideal, the job itself is what kept me going. There are kids there that I will never forget.

Of course, visiting Guiyang is very different from living there again, but these last two trips have been so great, I can’t help but consider the idea of us ending back there for a year or two. Suzhou is beautiful and comfortable, but the food and excitement of Guiyang can’t be beat. I also can’t help but wonder whether things would have been very different for us if we had been there after we’d already been in China for a few years first.

And if I’d worked somewhere where we are actually taken seriously as teachers. Sure, it was fun, but it wasn’t really a school.

I suppose this post is more of a reflection on how places and people change over time. When we left Guiyang in July of 2015, I could never have imagined I would end up loving the city so much just a few years later! Traveling really does shift perspectives, and I think there’s a lot of that happening here.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Especially in the case of food!!!

I have 2 posts planned for Guiyang. One to give people an idea of what can be done in the city, and the other with ideas of things you can do as a day or weekend trip if you come to Guizhou Province.

Stay Tuned!!!