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Cultural Experience in China


On my first research trip to China, I had a serious void to fill from my previously self-planned trip to China and a desire to experience China in greater depth.

I wanted to enjoy myself; I wanted to eat the food, conquer the major cities, and even escape the tourist attractions. Traveling with Audley changed my perspective not only on China, but on travel in general. I was able to see parts of Chinese culture that I had missed on previous occasions.

I was fortunate enough to travel west to Yunnan Province to experience minority tribes far from the typical tourist routes. I realized that every detour I took while backpacking could have saved me a few dollars, but it came at a significant sacrifice to the quality of my trip.

I ate delicious food at every meal and most importantly I was relaxed throughout the trip. My guide’s insider knowledge provided a new perspective, as if I had never been to China before. My China study tour gave me insight into the history, culture, and minority tribes and allowed me to truly immerse myself in the country.

The unspoiled side of the Great Wall

No trip to China is complete without a visit to the Great Wall of China, and I was able to visit a quieter and more exciting part of the country than most places. The Great Wall of Jinshanling was once described to me as a “wild wall,” and I didn’t understand why until I hiked through the ruins myself.

As I marveled at the blue sky, the mountains and the breathtaking views of one of the most famous sites in the world, I realized I was the only tourist. Without Audley, I would never have found this place.

Jinshanling Great Wall
Cooking class in YangshuoIn Yangshuo, I had the opportunity to take a cooking class with the locals. My experience in this course was more than just learning some new recipes. The journey started at the local market where I saw where all the ingredients were purchased. I went deeper into the market and found a woman with a goose in her bag, eager to take it home to her family.

While some of what we saw was shocking, it was the first time I felt like an insider in the circle, fully immersed in Chinese culture. We proceeded to prepare some of the most delicious dishes I had ever eaten in China. I took the recipes home with me and use them to this day.

Longji Local Encounter

At Longji, I followed Longji through the Longsheng terraces to the village of Ping’an, which is nestled in the mountains and surrounded by water. On the hike, I met three women wearing red or black scarves who were making handicrafts and enjoying the view. They were Yao people. One of them briefly demonstrated her embroidery skills while the other made flower crowns.

I bought two flower crowns in exchange for a photo and continued my hike. As we passed through another village, I saw two little girls running around and playing. I decided to give them the flower crowns as a gift and they were overjoyed to be crowned. It was these experiences with the locals that really impressed me.

The Tribal Women I Met on Dragon’s Backbone Trek
Dali Ethnic MinoritiesThe Naxi, Mayu, Bai and Yao ethnic minority tribes bring so much life and color to Dali City. In the morning I went to the backyard of a Bai family to watch them make batik fabric. Three generations of women outlined the process of making these beautiful patterns, and we had the opportunity to purchase homemade products in their attic.

These women had different hairstyles: the oldest one wore her hair in a coiffure, indicating she was married, while her daughter and grandchildren both wore single braids, indicating they were unmarried. Being among these women who lead very different lives than I do felt like a privilege not afforded to many other travelers.


Meeting the Monks in Zhongdian

Nakdian took my travels to new heights – literally. I gradually climbed to an altitude of 4,000 meters in the foothills of the Himalayas, acclimating to the highest altitude I had ever experienced. The air was thin and the landscape was preempted by the legendary stories of Shangri-La – a paradise between mountain valleys. Life became easier and I felt immersed in the perfect balance between discovery and relaxation.

Monks taking a break at Songtsamlin MonasteryI climbed 146 steps to the top of Songtsamlin Monastery. I walked through the temple and listened to the hum of hundreds of monks humming scriptures. At noon, the monks were dismissed for the first time in hours. Bells rang and children, teenagers, adults and elderly monks poured out of the main gate to enjoy their noon break. I have never seen so many monks.

I had the privilege of hanging out with a few of the older monks who were taking care of the children. I gave my child a chocolate (with the permission of the older monks) and it made him happy. I will never forget him.


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