My name is Marc Nouss – a French photographer born and raised in Paris. I was recently invited by Air China to discover the Chinese cities of Beijing, Guilin and Chengdu in around 7 days. It was hard to say no. China, the country with 1.4 billion people, was quite the culture shock. But since I love discovering new countries and new cultures, I knew I was in for a treat.
Everything started with an incredible business class flight from Paris to Beijing on a brand-new Boeing 777-3000. What an experience to be able to sleep in a bed and have that level of service in the air! We arrived at 2pm on our first day and went straight for a visit to the Hutongs of Beijing, those tiny narrow streets which are over 800 years old.
It’s typical of Beijing but, as we got closer to the center of town, the crowd gets more and more noticeable! It’s the first of many culture shocks. The amount of people, the constant noise and the endless car horns (as you will often find in Asia). After a nice dinner and a nice sleep, I was ready for the second day of our 7 days in China.
Beautiful Sunsets Over the Great Wall of China
Since no trip ever happens as planned, this one also had its share of surprises because of its timing around May 1st. It was the only bank holiday in China which meant that for 3 to 4 days everyone was on holiday and enjoying the celebrations. It also meant that the roads were jammed and that our trip to the Forbidden City unfortunately had to be cancelled.
We then went directly to the Summer Palace built by Empress Cixi in 1886, close to the Old Summer Palace which was burnt down in 1860. In December 1998, UNESCO included the Summer Palace in its World Heritage List. UNESCO qualifies it as an “exceptional expression of the creative art of Chinese landscape gardening, including human and natural realisations in a harmonious whole”.
After this lovely visit, it was time for the visit. The place I had dreamt of seeing forever: The Great Wall of China! That meant a 2 hour 30-minute car trip toward Jinshanling to escape the crowds and find ourselves almost alone on this section of the Great Wall. I maybe met 10 people in all of 4 hours. It was incredible! We were lucky to get a beautiful clear sky which gave me one of my most beautiful sunsets ever.
Exploring the Heavenly Landscapes of Guilin
After a magical sunset on the Great Wall, it was time to get back and rest before the next day’s adventure in Guilin. Guilin is 2000 km south of Beijing. If the landscapes remind you of a movie, it’s no surprise. It inspired the movie Avatar. As soon as I reached Bayan Tree Yangshuo on the third day, I was overwhelmed by the endless incredible sights! A succession of hills – I don’t remember ever seeing something like this.
Guilin is much more calm and quiet than Beijing. The people are also very kind and relaxed. After a gorgeous day trekking around the Yangshuo Hills, the follow-up on the fourth day would be just as wonderful. We then headed to Longshen to discover the incredible Longji Rice Terrace. I had already seen many rice terraces before but this was particularly impressive!
To reach the incredible Longji Rice Terraces we had to travel through the beautiful typical Chinese village of Ping’an. Once we finally reached the summit of the rice terraces, we were greeted with astonishing views! Our two days in Guilin came to end with these endless sights still in our eyes.
Hanging Out with the Sleepy Pandas of China
Next was Chengdu! Chengdu is the capital of the Sichuan province about 1000 km northeast of Guilin. The history of the city goes back to at least the 4th century B.C. The city is also home to the Giant Panda Research Center of Chengdu, where visitors can see this vulnerable species live in its natural habitat, and where our fifth day and stay in this city would start.
To be honest, apart from eating and sleeping, pandas don’t seem to do much. But aren’t they cute! Next, we walked around the older part of town which was tourist-friendly and very nice if you wanted to try the local street food. Sichuan is famous for its pepper – watch out for some spicy stuff!
Discovering the Sacred Mountains and Giant Buddhas of Sichuan
After a sumptuous dinner at The Bridge, we went on a night walk around the famous bridge – a very photogenic part of town. Then it was onto our sixth and final day. How time really flies! We were off to Mount Emei, one of the four sacred buddhist mountains of China. There, we visited the Baguo Temple, built under the Hun Dynasty of the East (25-220).
This temple is the largest and most impressive historical site in the region. The day continued with the Giant Buddha of Leshan. It is indeed gigantic which I was not expecting. Built into Mount Lingyun’s cliffside between 713-803, it’s the largest Buddha built before the 20th century. It stands at an impressive 71m tall! We enjoyed a short walk around Leshan for this final evening.
And there we were. At the end of our 7 days in China. It was truly incredible and impressive! We discovered many things and met some lovely people as well. And it really feels like a special trip because from its history, its culture, its people – China really makes for a different trip. I am very pleased to have done it because I loved it so much!
I was expecting to discover a new culture, different to our Western culture. I’m happy that China was different in so many ways. Also, it was nice not to cross by too many Westerners. China is definitely not a destination where a lot of Western people visit. They are wrong not to visit because this country really is beautiful and has so much to offer!