After 20 years of writing travel for Australian Associated Press, Jim Shrimpton looks back at some magic moments from his dozen trips to China with Helen Wong’s Tours.

When I think back to the itineraries presented during my travels with Helen Wong I think of the best of everything: hotels, restaurants, premier attractions with frequently a surprise around every other corner.

Marco Polo, whose Silk Road trail we followed one time, would have been very envious!

Here’s a list of a few special experiences on that journey:

  • The city of Kashgar in China’s far west. A couple of us left our hotel at 5am to watch and photograph the locals arriving at one of Asia’s most famous produce and livestock markets: It was an exciting scene: the sun rising with bright redness, drivers of their fully-laden carts whipping and yelling at their donkeys to run faster, and the amazing hustle and bustle of the markets crowded with haggling buyers.
  • The western city of Turpan swelters in near 50-degree heat in the summer, and vines form a canopy over the main street to provide some kind of shade. The area was the cradle of China’s wine-growing industry, the vines fed by an irrigation system (we were told) dating back 2000 years, using water from streams in snow-capped mountains on the horizon.
  • Near Dunhuang and the Mogoa Grottos containing a wealth of ancient Buddhist art and manuscripts, we took a dawn camel ride to the Singing Sands, a 40-sq-km area where according to legend, an evil dragon prince used magic to bury alive scores of people who had upset him – their moans can be heard from deep below (although it could just be the wind).
  • Two wonderful cruises down the Yangtze River – one before construction began of the $23 billion Three Gorges Dam, and the other soon after its opening some years later. The differences in the “before and after” scenery after the river’s amazing rise -whole towns were inundated and their people moved to higher ground – were incredible.
  • The many memorable meals at fine restaurants – from munching bravely on a variety of battered insects to a sublime Peking duck at an exclusive Beijing Club.
    Next time you think of China, consider a journey along the Silk Route, especially if you are in search of a few surprises.