While professional tour guides and Lonely Planets can help you get to grips with a place, on a return trip to China, featured contributor Leon McCarron finds that, sometimes, all you need to do is enlist the help of a local.

I wasn’t quite sure why we’d been invited to the party. But there we were, in a ballroom in the Chinese city of Guangzhou with members of the American Chamber of Commerce; a mixture of Chinese and international investors, bonding at small tables to the sound of smooth jazz.

We felt and were out of place. My friend Rob and I were near the end of a six-month, 3,000-mile long walk from the Gobi Desert to the South China Sea and, although we’d scrubbed up, our matted hair and tangled beards betrayed us.

We’d been invited by chance after someone heard about our journey. The whole affair would probably have faded from memory, were it not for a young local man called Dennis Hu. He worked in marketing for a company that made folding bikes, and we talked at length about adventures we’d been on, or wanted to go on. And a friendship was born.