Faces of WildChina: Mariana Sun 孙旭彤 

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If a destination is an end point, then the journey is the people you encounter along the way. They are what change “good” to “great”, “standard” to “extraordinary”, and “memorable” to “life-changing”.

Behind the smiling profile picture, the corporate email signature, the branded name tag, beats the true heart of WildChina; a vigorous network of personalities, dreams, and experiences driving magic and life through the company veins.

So, meet the fairy godmothers(fathers) who take your China travel dreams, and not only grant them, but sprinkle a dusting of surprise throughout, so that even when you think you know what your Wildest dream looks like, something you didn’t even know existed is waiting to amaze.

Faces of WildChina: Mariana Sun 孙旭彤 

Where are you from, and where do you live now?

I was born and raised in Qinghai, spent four years in Zhejiang for my bachelor’s degree, then two years abroad in Spain for my master’s degree. Now I live in Chengdu, Sichuan.

Mariana Sun
From my childhood in Qinghai

Was there a specific moment in your life when you realized travel is what you wanted to do for work?

There are actually several moments which together led me to a career in travel.

Originally, I decided to follow my mother’s footsteps and major in economic administration. However, I gradually realized that I wasn’t passionate about economic administration, and so sought to seek out what my true passion was. This was when I first turned toward travel. I decided to study it instead of economics and changed my major to tourism management.

After my bachelor’s degree, I had the opportunity to go to Palma de Mallorca, Baleares to study for a master degree in Tourism Economics. While I was studying in Spain, I saw first-hand how much development had gone in to making it the top-tier travel destination it is today. This led me to thinking about my home country, China, and how far it still had to go to match this, especially in regard to sustainability in travel. This was the second point at which I knew I could, and wanted to, devote my career to improving China’s travel industry. I knew my influence would be small, but I still felt this was what I wanted to do.

After graduation, I worked as both a travel consultant and tour leader, taking travelers abroad to Tanzania, Svalbard, and Antarctica, and domestically to provinces inside China. I realized during these travels that this is exactly what I love – traveling, making life-long memories, and enabling others to do the same, all in a sustainable and meaningful way. This is when I knew without a doubt that a career in the travel industry was my true calling.

Mariana Sun
La Palma (Canary Island, Spain)

Through your career, was there one piece of advice you received that really impacted how you do your job?

One piece of advice that I received, that continues to guide me constantly, is the importance of being sincere. Every action should be based on a sincere cause, because this is the only way to put yourself in another’s shoes.

I love travel, and it is important to me that the travelers I work with can feel my passion, feel how important it is to me that their trip is both meaningful and unforgettable. I always return to this guiding principle when creating an itinerary for a traveler, I think about what they want and how to best create that for them in a way that I would enjoy if it were me who was the traveler. Plus, being sincere is also the best way to show people you are a real person and not just a robot.

Mariana Sun
Hiking in Svalbard, Norwegian archipelago

What is the best travel experience you’ve had so far?

Antarctica was the best travel experience I’ve ever had, mainly because of how little human influence exists there; everything in Antarctic is pure, full of vigor and life. The penguins there are not afraid of humans, which allowed me to feel that I was not just seeing a place, but actually a part of that place, at one with the animals who lived there. On top of this, the sunset in Antarctica is truly one of the most magical things I have ever experienced.

Everyone around me was of the same mind, saying “Wow, I can’t believe a sunset this extraordinary exists in this world.” In addition to the natural beauty, the local tour operators also made my experience in Antarctica unforgettable. For example, the day we landed on Antarctica, it was windy, with snow and rain falling as we are approaching.

The local guide was playing a guitar and singing the song, “Have you ever seen the rain…” This is now one of my favorite songs, as it always brings me instantly back to that special moment in my life.

Mariana Sun
The penguins in Antarctica

What is the most memorable trip you’ve planned for a traveler?

I planned a trip for a traveler to go to Bolivia and Peru with his friends. They were so happy that they sent me photos all throughout their trip. It made me feel like I was there with them, and I learned so much about Bolivia and Peru by seeing it through their eyes.

This isn’t to say everything was perfect, though, as anyone in the travel industry will tell you that unforeseen complications are unavoidable. For this trip in particular, the end coincided with the beginning of the COVID pandemic, and their return flight was canceled last-minute. I spent the whole day working to resolve this, searching for alternate return flights and routes, and communicating the changes and options with the travelers.

Being able to fix this problem for them added to my fulfillment in planning and executing their travels. I am really glad that even with this emergency they still enjoyed their trip, and even now we still keep in touch. I hope to plan a trip for them to Antarctica once borders open.

Mariana Sun
Making black pottery in Yunnan

What is the coolest WOW moment you’ve done for a traveler?

When I was a tour leader on the Antarctica trip, we planned a surprise birthday party for one of the travelers. We give him a painting of Antarctica that was hand-painted by an artist of a scene we saw in-person on the trip.

Mariana Sun
Antarctica, 2019

If you had to pick one thing that makes a trip outstanding (not just good, but great), what would it be?

In any given destination, the natural scene will always look the same – someone can look at photos before the trip and see in that photo what they will see with their own eyes when they get there. What makes a trip outstanding, though, is the people.

This may be the people traveling with you, friends or family, or it may be the local people who reside at the destination, or it may be other travelers you meet along the way. As a travel designer, I work to make my traveler’s trips outstanding by giving them an itinerary full of local people and experiences, allowing the travelers to break through the tourist bubble and meet the real people who bring the destination to life.

Mariana Sun
Meeting a Tajik elder on my travels

Tell us three places on your travel bucket list and why:

  1. Central America:
    I read the book 最好金龟换酒, a travel memoir of a young Chinese couple who quit their high-level jobs in the city to travel Central America instead. After reading this, everything in Central America sounds amazing, it’s calling me to explore.
  2. South America:
    On the way to Antarctica, I stopped in Chile, where I met a lot of people who were traveling in South America. After hearing their stories and watching a BBC documentary on Chile, I found that I love the clash of ice and fire; the culture and history there is really interesting to me and the natural scenes make me feel like I’m in a dream.
  3. Inner Mongolia:
    As a native of Qinghai province, my best childhood memories are horseback riding on the grassland, with vistas extending as far as the eyes can see. In Inner Mongolia there are horseback trips which look like a reminiscent experience; something new to try, a new culture to learn, but at the same time a memory of my own youth.
Mariana Sun
Hiking in Paine National Park, Chile

What do you do when you aren’t working?

I love hiking, reading, and listening to music. I also enjoy visiting exhibitions with friends or just spending the whole day with my cats.

Mariana Sun
Enjoying Chongqing‘s old street

What’s a fun fact about you that most people don’t know?

I’m shy when I first meet people, and it takes me a while to feel really comfortable with someone new, but once I do, I’m a very warm, open person, who loves to share ideas and creative dreams.

Mariana Sun
Han dynasty section of The Great Wall in Gansu