China has definitely been the best trip I have ever taken. The culture and diversity of the land and their people fascinated and excited my senses. To make it easier we travelled using domestic flights to get to the cities but to keep costs down you can use their new bullet trains instead.
We were told to get a guide, as we a) didn’t speak the language and b) we couldn’t read their writing, so as great explorers do, we ignored that advice and went forth and devised our own trip. I had taken a course in Mandarin (ahem! … don’t tell anyone because I haven’t managed to retain any of it!!) but also managed to write down our destinations using Chinese symbols. Clever heh!
This was our route:
- 4 days Beijing
- 3 days Xian
- 2 days Shanghai
- 7 days Yangshou, Guilin
- 4 days Hong Kong (Lantau Island, Macau & Hong Kong)
Arriving in Beijing, we headed to Tiananmen Square. Then into the vast Forbidden City, which once served as the imperial palace for emperors during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It was forbidden to enter without special permission of the emperor! Luckily times have changed and we are now allowed in.
Within the concrete city of Beijing, a gorgeous landscaped Imperial Garden brings harmony to an otherwise sprawling, hectic city, The Summer Palace. With its traditional Chinese architecture and names like the Halls of Happiness in Longevity, and Jade Ripples, the garden and lake inspire and bring a sense of calm.
Day three took us to the Great Wall of China. The lonely planet guide advice is to not get on a tourist bus that diverts as, ‘some tours make detours to Jade factories, gem exhibition halls and Chinese medicine centres (where tourists are diagnosed with bogus ailments that can be cured only with high-priced Chinese remedies, supplied there and then)’.
So, with that phrase in mind, we journeyed through many streets looking for a ‘non-western’ bus to take us there. On what was a fruitless journey we ended back at Beijing bus centre and took the first Chinese tourist bus because we thought that surely the Chinese would not scam their own! We were so wrong and heading towards the Great Wall of China the bus diverted us to an overpriced Jade museum, where we all shunted in, given a very boring tour and aggressively told to buy their Jade, ‘most authentic in all of China!’.
However, all was forgotten when we saw the views and got to climb this most remarkable historic spot of China. Breathtaking in more than one sense of the word! It is super steep and very high. Those with vertigo may want to give it a miss! But it was so worth it …
Our next stop along the silk road, behind the ancient wall is an interesting place called Xi’an. Home to the Terracotta Warriors and the Muslim Quarter. After arriving by taxi from the airport our lungs were hit by heavy pollution. The city has underground subways so you can avoid the polluting air and busy roads.
We jump on a bus and venture to see the Terracotta Warriors army of 8,000 ceramic soldiers built in 210BC to guard Emperor Qin in the afterlife.
Within Xi’an’s city walls is the Muslim Quarter. I fell in love with this place, as it still retains its ancient past into Chinese Muslim culture. The streets are alive with energy. You can buy lamb on a stick, scorpions and noodles, walk through the flower and bird market. On our stroll we came across a gem, Gao’s Grand Courtyard, which in 2008 housed artists in residence. We bought 4 beautiful scroll paintings of the seasons by a local artist, and whilst they were being packaged up we experienced a Chinese tea ceremony. There are quite a few images but hopefully, this gives you an insight into this wonderful area.
Shanghai; elegant, historic, contemporary and vibrant. Nowhere else in China can you see so much history and architectural landmarks. We stayed at The Astor House Hotel, dating back to 1858, a palatial Victorian-style hotel. The old town’s ancient backstreets, the former charming French Concession, all mix harmoniously with art deco and landmarks on the Bund.
There is so much to see along the Bund with its golden dragon boats and kite flying. At night the skyscrapers exotically light up the Huángpǔ River. If you get a chance take the automated train through the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel. It’s an incredibly weird and trippy experience with a visual show of swirling lights and colours.
Our next stop was Guilin, South of China. We stayed at Yangshuo, Guiln, a gorgeous place surrounded by the Karst Mountains and the Li River. When we went it still felt quite undiscovered, at least to Westerners. Whenever the Chinese saw us they seemed to get quite excited and would take pictures of us.
We stayed at Yangshuo Mountain Retreat. From here we cycled through rice paddy fields, passing rural farming villages, water buffalos and winding pathways along the Yulong River. The scenery was astounding and as went for hours, we picnicked along the way.
On one trip we hiked up to Moon Hill passing through Pudi primary school. The children were so delighted to see us and came running out to give us hugs and show us their school. On researching this school, I have since discovered that it is in great poverty and in need of resources.
Whilst in Yangshou, I asked to see an authentic village, so the host arranged for her father to take us to a traditional stone village. He was a great character and couldn’t speak a word of English and argued with everyone wherever we went. Our bamboo raft trip on the Li River, Guilin was treacherous with large Cruise ships passing too close by and causing tidal waves, holding my camera high above my head, I figured I can swim but my camera can’t.
We witnessed spectacular views of the Longji rice terraces around Ping An village in Longsheng. Lastly, we took a bamboo raft to a small village called Xingping. It’s a very traditional, ancient village full of character. Our bus trip back was a hilarious experience, as we boarded we were very pleased with ourselves that we managed to bag the seats at the back. Little did we realise that these seats were directly over the engine and the Chinese know not to sit there, as the bus rumbled up and down the hills back to Yangshuo our whole body and faces shook with the vibrations. The bus broke down once as it chugged up the hill and little old ladies squeezed on holding dead chickens.
On our final night, we took a rickshaw to see the most wondrous light show. Liu Sanjie show created by Zhang Yimou, a show performed on the Li River with the Karst mountains as a backdrop. It was so beautiful and magical.