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Travel, Teach, Live in China

How to Travel Eco-Friendly in China
By:Sarah Dray

China is a vast country full of opportunities for green, Earth-friendly travel. Because of its large size (3,704,427 square miles), the People's Republic of China offers lots of open spaces, ranging from the impressive mountain ranges and alluvial plains to extensive desserts, rivers and farmlands. Traveling eco-friendly in China is mostly a personal journey, as there are few structures in place to cater to specialty tourists.

Take the train as often as possible. Not only is this a good idea because of the large distances to cover, but it’s also the cleanest, greenest choice all around. The Chinese Railway consists of over half a million wagons and twenty eight major network lines that reach almost every single corner of the country. The Beijing-Tianjin high-speed rail, opened in August 2008, has been named “the greenest train in the world.”

Stay out of the cities as much as possible. Not only are they heavily populated, but they are also less conductive to eco-traveling. For example, taking taxis, eating in fast-food restaurants and buying disposable items is a lot easier in large cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin. Instead, head to smaller, greener destinations such as Ma Duo, on the banks of the Yellow River, and Tu Lu Fan, famous for Flame Mount and for resembling the Grand Canyon.

Resist the urge to over-shop. China is well-known for its low prices, and many visitors succumb to the temptation of overstuffing their bags with things to bring back home. While this is ok if you actually plan on using these items, make sure you are buying good-quality products that will actually stand the test of time. Cheap items that break faster are actually bad for the environment, as they end up in landfills quicker.

Backpack if you can. Backpacking is one of the best forms of eco-travel because it involves little to no use of technology and infrastructure. Backpacking is especially attractive in China because it allows to explore back roads that may not be accessible through public transportation and organized tours. If you plan on covering large distances, consider renting, or even buying, a bicycle. It’s cheaper in the long run than taking the bus everywhere.

Buy from the locals. Rather than paying for something made especially for tourists or sponsored by a foreign company, use your money to support the local economy. Shop outside of the large cities, in small towns and villages such as Xia He (high in the mountains), Dali (a main backpacking destination) and Shaoxing (on the Yangtze River Delta).

Stay away from tourist traps as much as possible and instead head to natural attractions such as the South China Botanical Garden and the Chinese National Herbarium. In Hong Kong, visit Hong Kong Wetland Park and the Hong Kong Artifical Reef Project. Because green living is something of a novelty in China, supporting these places will go a long way towards increasing awareness and sustaining the growth of the eco movement.

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