Young Chinese embrace “Special Forces” style tourism during May Day holiday

Heading off to the train station straight after work on Friday, checking in at a minimum of eight tourism attractions in one day for three consecutive days, hopping on a late-night train and returning to work or lectures at 8 o’clock the next morning – the travel practice of visiting as many sights as possible within the shortest period of time is known as “Special Forces” style tourism. The style has become a popular trend amongst China’s young tourists, allowing them to make the most of their short holiday breaks.

The recently concluded May Day holiday (starting from 29 April to 3 May) witnessed the peak of this intense travel practice, as the number of tourists reached a record high of 200 million. The hashtag “Young people’s Special Forces style tourism during May Day holiday” has gained more than 3.3 million views on China’s largest micro-blogging site Weibo since the start of the holiday.

Many people have flocked to the online space sharing their experiences of “Special Forces” style tourism, including two vloggers who documented their three-day climbing experience of Wuyue (or Wuda Mountain). Wuyue refers to China’s most famous five mountains, including Tai Mountain, Hua Mountain, Heng Mountain (in the south), Song Mountain and Heng Mountain (in the north). During their trip, they covered a distance of 4,600 kilometres with less than 10 hours of sleep. Their post has propelled the hashtag “Climbing Wuyue in three days” to attract over 8 million views on Weibo.

This physically demanding travel trend emerged since China’s three-year COVID closure ended in January. A video posted on Douyin (Chinese TikTok) in February, showing a group of university students travelling to the Tibetan capital Lhasa by an old-fashion train, is believed to have brought this trend to life. Although the entire journey took them 54 hours with only hard seats available, students were seen to be in high spirits chanting “Youth is priceless, and hard seats take us straight to Lhasa!” The video has received over 1.7 million likes.

Since then, more have followed suit and “Special Forces” style travel has become a social media buzzword attracting more than 1.2 billion views on Douyin and over 5 million reads on China’s lifestyle-sharing platform Xiaohongshu. The platform even launched a dedicated page, providing a space for “Special Forces” travellers to share and discuss tips and strategies, effectively turning this travel style into a new trend amongst China’s Gen Z.


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