Yoga Song, 26, a 26-year-old glamping enthusiast, says that every grassland is covered by tents on weekends.
Glamping is a combination of "glamor"and "camping," and it's the latest trend among young Chinese.
Song claims that she has been on more than 10 glamping tours in China over the past year. She went to both urban and rural areas.
In April 2021, she embarked on her first trip glamping, heading towards Zhongwei (also known as the "eastern Morocco").
Zhongwei, located in northern China's deserted Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, is home to the Yellow River and portions of the Great Wall. It also contains deserts, wetlands, and ancient villages.
The city was already full of boutique hotels and homestays when she arrived. Song decided to go with something different and set up a tent.
Song says that five tents were located just 10 meters from the Yellow River. Song also saw the Gobi Desert, the sixth-largest desert in the world, on the other side.
It didn't go as planned. It was extremely windy in Zhongwei and sent sand and gravel flying. All tourist attractions were therefore closed.
She recalls, "That night people at the glamping site called me out to see the stars." "All the clouds that had covered the sky dispersed when I stepped out from the tent. The sky was huge, full of starlight, all I can imagine. And the silence was complete."
Travelers are exposed to a contemporary, authentic northwest China, without the bustle and hustle of urban life. Song suggests that glamping in this area, surrounded by farms, pastures and forests, gives travelers the opportunity to harvest, sow and taste local dates and grapes. Sometimes, sheep, goats, and yaks stop by the tents.
Comfort over Nature
The world's largest country can be characterized by intense mountain and desert hikes, light picnics on the grassy green of a park, or relaxing drives to the outskirts.
Young urbanites are drawn to nature and fresh air, but many won't give up creature comforts such as soft mattresses.
Xiaohongshu is the most prominent lifestyle website in China. It's a key driver of the holiday craze as stylish camping-inspired posts flood mobile feeds.
Glamping is a popular activity among young Chinese. It's a great way to get their daka list done.
The Chinese internet is dominated by detailed lists of glamping items, easy-to-prepare recipes and recommendations for glamping locations across the country.
Song recalled seeing a Marshall speaker inside her tent in Zhongwei.
Natural Camp, site operator, proudly announced on its official Xiaohongshu account (a Chinese social media platform): "We keep a fine selection of outdoor brands, both national and international."
These mattresses include King Koil mattresses, which are equally likely to be found in five-star hotel rooms.
Song estimates that a one-night stay will cost around 1,000 Yuan ($148).
This trend isn’t limited to mainland China.
Wade Cheung is the marketing manager for Saiyuen. This glamping and adventure park is located on an island off Hong Kong. More than 10% of visitors return after their first stay.
Cheung says that the lingering pandemic inspired Hong Kongers to discover the amazing home-grown experiences within the city.
On the island of Cheung Chau, there are many accommodation options. The most unique is Sunset Vista, a 300-square foot domed tent that sits in its own 2,000-square feet area with private grassland.
The dome can hold four people and has a private bathroom and toilet. It also includes a hammock, barbecue stove and other amenities.
Sunset Vista is a popular spot for influencers and bloggers in Hong Kong. It has a bay window that overlooks the ocean, and is ideal for stargazing.
A night in a tent can cost from $3,500 HKD ($446) up to $4,800 HKD (611) - the same as a night at a luxury hotel in Hong Kong.
Glamping sites are dominated by guests who value comfort over nature.
Cheung said that the types of visitors they get have changed since the outbreak. Visitors used to love camping, hiking, and the natural world. They were impressed by the AC units in their tents. AC is now a necessity for guests.
He says, "For instance, if a frog is sitting in front the tent, previous visitors will likely squat down to take a photograph with it. But for visitors today, it might become something they need to adjust to."
Since Covid-19's first appearance, Glamping has seen a surge in popularity. According to a report by CTrip, Chinese travel operator CTrip, searches for camping activities increased eightfold between 2021 and 2021.
Qunar reports that during the Labor Day holiday, May 2022, ticket sales for parks that permit camping in China rose by more than 50% compared to the same period last years.
According to Tujia, homestays offering camping-related services like RVs and tents have quadrupled their bookings in the country over the last year.
Covid-19 certainly plays a part in this renewed enthusiasm for outdoor luxury experiences.
China's initial 2020 outbreak sealed China's borders and kept Chinese tourists home. Recent Covid-19 epidemics have reduced domestic travel by over half. People are now spending more time at home as travel has potential consequences that range from being locked out in China to being locked out of your home town.
China is doubling down on its controversial zero-Covid policy and has been imposing severe measures, including lockdowns as well as repeated rounds of mass testing in an effort to eradicate the latest clusters.
Shanghai, a mega-city, just came out of a nine-week lockdown that barred residents from their homes. Millions of Beijing residents were asked to work remotely after a three-week-plus "soft" lockdown.
There are also echoes from previous epidemics in Hong Kong.
Cheung was nearly 20 years old when the SARS epidemic struck. He went on his first camping and hiking trips in the area. He discovered that Hong Kong was a great place to explore.
The wild call
Song believes that Covid-19 restrictions are responsible for glamping's growth. However, there is more to it than that. Song refers to the idea of "living wild".
"Many lifestyles we see on social networks are too glamorous. For example, the Shanghai coffee culture is quite glamorous. They set an example for how we should live, think and act.
People are beginning to realize that these lifestyles lack something, Song says. Picnicking was a popular pastime before glamping became a fad. But it doesn't satisfy the desire to connect with nature.
She does however cautionly draw a distinction between "living wild" and "living in nature."
"Some of my friends can go camping on any mountain without a backpack. This is just too much for me. She says that basic living conditions and sanitary standards should not be compromised.
Glamping is a popular way to spend time in the wild, and it is likely to remain so. However, travel restrictions will be lifted soon and glamping is expected to decline "to a steady level", notes Cheung.
Around 60% of those who visit Saiyuen are families. They will "still love their children to a little island in adventure locally" on weekends, he says.