Pingyao County

top 5 unexpected travel gems

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With the New Year almost a week in, we are back to regular blogging again. We had a festive/silly season break and it feels good to be back.

Towards the end of last year, we wrote a piece about our most disappointing travel sites and to introduce this year, we are sharing our top 5 unexpected travel highlights – places which we fell in love but hadn’t expected to.

In a world where information is so readily at our fingertips and the internet can reveal so much about a place – we avoid “researching” too much into a place we want to visit. We look for inspiration, we read about safety and basic introductory information, but we don’t read or look at everything we can about the place because we find that creates expectation and takes away some of the “unknown”. We tend to like the element of surprise.  And these are our top 5 unexpected travel gems.

(5) Pingyao

Enter through the gates of Pingyao and we were transported back to centuries ago. There are no cars inside, it is all pedestrian and bicycles.  Chinese history is oozing out of the walls and rooftops of this city and we LOVED it. It was our most favourite city during our time in China. As we walk along the alleyways and admire the well-preserved architecture, the only giveaway that we are in the 21st Century are the tourist shops.


(4) Lyon

Before arriving in Lyon, we did little research as we were using it more as a stopover before we headed into Switzerland, not expecting to be so blown away by it. The history and its Roman past had us fascinated for hours. We have written only about a couple of the places we visited in Lyon; the Museum of Miniatures and Cinema and the street murals. There is so much there to see and still more we are yet to share about our time in Lyon. Do yourself a favour and add it to your list for next time you are in France.


(3) Pergamum

When it comes to anything history, we love it! Visiting ancient ruins is one of our favourite things to do when travelling. Whilst travelling through Turkey, there are a LOT of ancient ruins to the point of possibly being fatigued by them. But there is no fatigue when it comes to riding a cable car and then exploring the ruins of Pergamum. The views from the top are just unbelievable across the countryside. What we found to be the biggest treat was walking amongst the columns and stones and remnants of life from thousands of years ago.


(2) Tasmania

Often left off maps and forgotten as belonging to Australia, it is one of the places in the world where we want to come back to as soon as we have left. There is just something about it that makes us just want more. There is delicious, fresh local food! There is jaw-dropping stunning scenery. There is an abundance of wildlife and there is a touch of history. Whoever comes to Australia and doesn’t put Tassie on their list is crazy!!


(1) Weliczka Salt Mines

Hands up if you thought “salt mines? – how special can they be?” We knew they were UNESCO Heritage, we knew they were important and a must-see. We knew about the history behind it but we were NOT by any means expecting to see what we saw. Climbing into a 3-storey shaft lift was only the beginning of one of THE MOST incredible places we have visited. An underground city, quite literally, that was carved out of salt.


We love having these surprises so we try not to look at too many photos of a place just before we visit!

Now it’s your turn! We would love to hear about places that you didn’t expect to be so AWESOME 🙂



have no expectations

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One post ago, we mentioned anticlimactic holiday experiences and now we can actually describe one of them: the Terracotta Warriors. There was no wow factor, there were no goosebumps and all we saw was everything we have seen in documentaries and pictures previously. There had been an exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW, in 2010/2011, of the Warriors that we went to see and were so utterly fascinated and impressed that we would imagine seeing hundreds and thousands of them lined side by side would be mind-blowing. It partly made us more keen to visit China! But it wasn’t to be…

Warriors in the pit
Warriors in the pit

It probably didn’t help that we were in a warehouse, walking with hordes of other people around the “pit” where all the warriors stood! We won’t deny what incredible workmanship went into carving and painting each warrior: individual features, expressions and even sizes! The level of detail and thought put in is unbelievable however the ambience did not lend itself to allow a sense of wonder! So another lesson we learnt through our travels: Do not have any expectations and then you will NOT get disappointed. We actually thought we had come with little expectations but obviously we still had some!

To be fair though, the other things we experienced in China seemed more exciting possibly because we didn’t know what to expect. For example, we visited Ping Yao which we had never even heard of.

Streets of Ping Yap
Streets of Ping Yao

To visit Ping Yao is to visit an ancient Chinese city. It is so well preserved and still a walled city. Upon entering the gates, it seriously feels like we have stepped back in time. A time where kung fu happened on the streets and ninjas are running across roof tops – there is a strong possibility that image was heavily influenced by Hollywood and Chinese Kung Fu movies! Here we visited China’s first private bank and a Taoist temple, walked the city wall and watched artists in the lacquer museum. We even stayed at a hotel that was, although modern and comfortable, completely decked out to appear authentic. The decor and courtyards set the mood.

The hotel courtyard
The hotel courtyard

And another example was visiting the Wild Goose Pagoda where Tripitaka resided after returning from India and bringing Buddhism to China. Having grown up watching Monkey Magic, this seemed like a very awesome thing to see for ourselves.

So it’s no wonder that the Warriors didn’t stand a chance amongst the other things that we saw in China.

Wild Goose Pagoda
Wild Goose Pagoda