Holidays are supposed to be fun and relaxing, but for many mainlanders the "golden week" holiday that ended yesterday turned out to be just the opposite: chaotic and frustrating.
As in previous years, mainland media and internet users are urging the government to rethink the mandated seven-day holiday, in which hundreds of millions of tourists head to the same attractions at the same time.
They want to replace it with a flexible annual leave system so the demand for travel would be spread out and the break made more enjoyable.
The number of golden week travellers this year set a record, the National Tourism Administration said yesterday.
But internet users were calling the holidays a "golden mess" - a pun on mess and week, which sound the same in Putonghua.
Video: Heavy smog blocks people’s way home in Tianjin as holiday ends
The overwhelming coverage in mainland media about the golden week seemed to be negative, with endless complaints ranging from traffic jams, bad service, overcharging at parks and resorts, thuggish rogue tour guides, and tourists misbehaving at home and abroad.
"Golden week is not a good thing for either consumers or the tourism sector," said Professor Song Haiyan, of Hong Kong Polytechnic University's school of hotel and tourism management. "Every year it creates problems. This year, overcrowding was a particular issue."
In Song's view, the solution would be to implement a paid leave system.
"It is not a priority in the government's agenda yet, but I think it will be in three to five years," he said.
Du Yi, an expert on consumer behaviour at Nankai University in Tianjin , agreed, telling the Yangtze Evening Post too much demand for transport in the enormous country was concentrated over just several days, "making the quality of recreation an uncertainty".
On October 1, the first day of the National Day holidays, high-speed trains between Beijing and Tianjin transported 804,000 visitors, according to Xinhua.
On the same day, more than 98,000 people poured into the Summer Palace in Beijing.
The next day, 40,000 tourists "occupied" Jiuzhaigou National Park, which was accused of selling far more tickets to visitors than it could accommodate.
As a result, 4,000 tourists were left stranded for up to 10 hours and forced to walk several kilometres in the dark to catch buses out of the world-famous valley in Sichuan province.
From October 2 to 5, Dujiangyan Irrigation System in Sichuan province accepted 244,900 tourists, about 20 per cent more than last year.
The Forbidden City in Beijing received 170,000 visitors on October 2 - double the expected turnout. On the same day, Hangzhou's scenic West Lake was visited by more than a million visitors, the first time it had exceeded that number.
Over the seven days, millions of visitors thronged to Shanghai's Nanjing Road Pedestrian Mall and along The Bund, the city's iconic waterfront.
Clogged roads and public transport, crowded attractions and shops meant much of people's time was spent waiting in queues.
And higher prices on just about everything made many wish they had stayed at home.
Dai Bin , director of the China Tourism Academy, said the chaos showed that mainland tourism was in the "traditional, sightseeing stage - but not yet in a recreational stage".
Video: Chinese netizen rails against Beijing's smog with a tune