Where the experts holiday: Matthew Jaskol, co-founder of travel website Trekiz.com

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Matthew Jaskol, co-founder of Trekiz.com – a Beijing based website which allows you to create the China travel experience you really want – on why he is mad about the Middle Kingdom

What do you like to do on holiday?
I love to explore, especially places with natural scenery and “raw” culture! I particularly like places that are just beginning to open up as tourist areas, so that it’s not too crowded but there are still a few amenities. I enjoy destinations that let me explore my own path.

Where did you last go?
I went with a bunch of students from the Forestry University to camp at Yellow Flower Great Wall, 70km north of Beijing. There’s no way to really describe the feeling of hiking on the un-restored portions of the Great Wall – it’s so massive and imposing, yet all in ruins! It was tiring, but not too strenuous. Chinese trekkers joke about that kind of relaxed hiking with a good barbeque at the end as being “Fubai.” Translated literally, it means “corrupt”, but in this respect it’s the Chinese way of saying that the hike isn’t hardcore!

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Of all the places you’ve been to, what was your favourite and why?
Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan Province – absolutely amazing! I went on a two-day hike through a verdant version of America’s Grand Canyon. The area is full of waterfalls and sheep herders while the local inns halfway through are cozy and serve up the best banana pancakes and muesli to foreign travellers.

Which destination do you wish to travel to, but haven’t yet been?
Xinjiang – aka China’s Wild West – holds a lot of mystery for me. The area boast beautiful deserts and grasslands, but you an also get a dose of Old Silk Road trading towns – the conglomeration of the orient with central Asia and Han Chinese with Uygher Muslims.

In China, what would you recommend tourists see that isn’t in the travel guides?
Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius in Shandong Province, is very underrated.  There is a park there called the Confucian Forest, littered with stone monuments overgrown by the foliage.  At the right time of the evening, the statues and pillars cast mysterious shadows along the forest path creating a haunting effect!  The best way to get there is by train: this brings you into contact with the locals and allows you to have an authentic taste of Qufu. Make sure you get the middle bunk because if you’re on the bottom everyone sits on your bed while the top bunk can be boiling hot in the summer!

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Do you know where you’re going next?
Back to the States. Some angry grandparents are going to be raising Cain if they don’t get to see my seven-month old daughter soon!

How do you plan your holiday?
Honestly planning trips was really arduous, particularly planning for when my family came to China. They like to travel to more than one place and always want to see new things. The complexity of arranging is rather overwhelming and impossible to underestimate. I would start by asking friends for recommendations, then turn to guidebooks, then websites, then back to friends….  Simplifying this so travellers could concentrate on their inspiration, was our motivation for starting this company.

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How often do you go away?
During my first trips to China from 1997 to 2002, I travelled extensively and was always away. Starting a company and having a new family keeps me closer to home, but there are plenty of outstanding weekend excursions near Beijing such as Qinghuangdao. It’s a sand dune-filled island near Shanhaiguan where the Great Wall meets the sea.  It’s beautiful: you can climb the dunes, and nowhere can compete with China when it comes to amazing beach kite flying.

Who do you travel with?
I have friends who run The Red Matchstick – an outdoor equipment store. They organise trips to go camping, rock climbing etc. They’re lovely people who are adventure lovers – we always have a great time together.

Where do you see tourism in China in 10 years time?
I think an ever increasing number of ‘hidden gems’ are going to be opened up to tourism. If the Chinese government recognises the potential sustainable benefits of tourism revenues, it will hopefully acknowledge the merit of preserving these important cultural and natural sites. How many places can boast 5,000 years of rich, recorded history? Improperly managed, tourism can erode the value of these special places. However if developed correctly, it can develop them sustainably, maintaining their magic for everyone who comes to explore them.

Thanks Matthew! To see how easily you can assemble your own highly personalized itinerary covering multiple China destinations check out www.trekiz.com. Integrating 400+ activities with flights and hotels across 26 provinces, there’s a lot to explore!

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