Studying in China for the autumn semester, we really only get one week's proper holiday - October's National Day, a nationwide week-long holiday that sees a rush of local Chinese tourists to all the top spots in the country. The advice given to international travellers for this week of the year is normally along the following lines:
a) don't visit China;
b) if you're in China, leave; or
c) stay at home in your expat haven-enclave.
I've only got six months here so I wanted to use the time to travel... so I threw caution to the wind (kind of) and organised a trip.
Let me tell you, the crowds I saw at Hangzhou's West Lake were enough to confirm why it's recommended to avoid China's tourist traps during the National Day, or 'Golden Week' holiday. As the idiom goes, 人山人海 “People Mountain, People Sea" - there were people everywhere.
However, one thing I've learned about China is that it's not hard to escape these crowds - so I gathered my #squad and ventured a little way off the beaten path and headed to the Huihang Trail outside of Hangzhou for two days of light hiking. It was great! Our efforts were rewarded with blue skies, sparkling waterholes, beautiful mountains and fresh air. There were some crowds (much more than any other week, I'd expect) but it was still wonderfully serene and a great way to escape the city and the tourist hordes. It was very inexpensive and incredibly beautiful.
My tips for travel during Golden Week:
1) Go off the beaten track
The Huihang trail is top of the list of a few 'off the beaten track' articles around the Internet, so it's really not that obscure, just a little less obvious than the Great Wall - do not go to the Great Wall during Golden Week (at least not the touristy sections). Do some research and figure out what your options are. As a friend said, if it's all Chinese tourists, every place can't be crowded - the same number of people are still in the country!
Having some Chinese proficiency helped me to use Wechat messaging to organise our drivers and accommodation for the trip but you could do without! Rope in a Chinese speaking friend to help you or just rely on the friendliness of the people where you're going.
2) Travel by train, and book everything in advance
While Golden Week means air prices skyrocket, trains remain the same price - they're just busier. Book and pick up your tickets in advance, so that you can just walk into the station, onto your train and sit in your assigned seat. If you travel relatively local you won't be stuck on a cramped train for too long.
3) Leave plenty of time for everything
We *almost* missed our trains back from our trip because although we'd bargained enough time, every little thing took a little longer than expected and there was increased road traffic due to the holiday. Thankfully we made it in the end but it's something to watch out for.
Don't be boring, #DoTravelGoldenWeek. If you keep calm and plan properly, Golden Week travel is easy, worthwhile and rewarding (you get to appreciate a clear mountain sunset while others are cheek-by-jowl at the West Lake... you will feel pretty great about your decisions).
Happy travelling and wish me luck for my next peak-time-tourism-adventure during Chinese New Year in 2017!
(If anyone reads this and wants to actually travel the Huihang Trail, contact me and I'll tell you how we did it!)