"A Great Introduction to China" China by Hopkid
China Travel Guide: 29,468 reviews and 82,920 photos
My in-laws were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in December 2008. Frequent travelers to China over the past 15 years (they live in the Los Angeles area), the decided it would be nice to share the experience with the immediate family meaning the families of their two daughters or a total of 9 people including them. By the time we went it had ballooned to a group of 19 including two of Rita's aunts and one of their husbands, her uncle who lives in China, a cousin and his fiancee, our niece's boyfriend, and the 3-person family of a friend of ours from St. Paul, MN. MY FIL planned out the entire trip with a family friend who works for a local travel agent and were set to go in the middle of December for 2 weeks over the Christmas holiday.
Overall the logistics were great as we were always met by a local guide at each airport upon arrival, had a coach to cart us around from site to site, and rooms in 4-star hotels (except in Shanghai where we had apartment suites....see my Shanghai page to read about that). Our guides each spoke English but were also native to each area and provided some nice insight on what each place is like. They were also keen to meet everyone's wishes whether it be a restaurant recommendation, wanting to know where to buy a Beijing opera mask, or arranging for us to get a foot massage. The intinerary went like this:
Beijing (4 nights): Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Qianhai Lake, hutong visit, Silk Street (shopping), swing dancing, Great Wall (at Badaling), jade factory, Olympic Park, Donghuamen Night Market, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, gov't silk store, National Grand Theater, Qianmen and Dashilar Streets, foot massage
Xi'an (2 nights): Wild Big Goose Pagoda and Dacien Temple, Bell Tower, Tang Dynasty show, Terracotta Warriors, tea demo, Huaquing hot springs, foot massage, city walls, Muslim Quarter, Gao Residence, Great Mosque, Tomb of Emperor Jingdi
Kunming (2 nights): Jiuxiang nature area, Stone Forest, crazy dinner show
Lijiang (2 nights): Old Town, Black Dragon Pool Park, Dongba Cultural Museum, Naxi Minority show, Jade Lake Village, Jade River Village, Blue Moon Valley and White Water River near Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, city market
Shanghai (4 nights): Shanghai World Financial Center, Old Town, Flower, Bird, Fish, and Insect Market, Huangpu River cruise, day trip to Hangzhou, East Nanjing Road (shopping), stroll around the Bund and French Concession.
In general Chinese people are foodies. They like good food. So it was extremely disappointing when our first arranged meal, lunch after visiting the Forbidden City, sucked so bad. I mean among the dishes they served, they brought out sweet and sour pork? That's not Chinese! A phone call to the tour agency HQ in Shanghai by Rita's mom straightened that out and our meals thereafter were great! It got to the point where I couldn't believe that we weren't having more just OK meals. No, each meal we had was great!
And what makes it easy to eat Chinese food every day and not get tired of it is that each location has it's own style and specialties. So dishes were often times unique to the area and you wouldn't be served the same thing somewhere else. Lunch was pretty much just brought out to us wihtout ordering. My in-laws, with input from some of the other Chinese speakers in our group, usually ordered for all of us for dinner. And I was not complaining!
Street food was especially fun and so fresh! Fresh noodles in lamb broth in Xi'an, fresh made fried dumplings in Shanghai, late night lamb skewers across the street from our hotel in Xi'an, a Chinese "hamburger" in Lijiang, grilled octopus in Beijing. Our favorite cuisine was that served in Yunnan province, mainly in Lijiang. The trip overall was the equivalent of culinary nirvana.
China didn't seem like a stereotypical communist country. We were free to go anywhere we pleased and except for the police presence in and around Tiananmen Square, you never experienced any special security personnel. The cities we went to (save Lijiang) were huge. Ginormous! So many buildings and I mean large buildings. Xi'an had a forest of construction cranes on its skyline. These multi-million population cities are growing at an alarming rate. Unfortunately a lot of what non-Chinese residents think of as traditional China is disappearing as a result. The old residential neighborhoods: the hutong in Beijing and longtang in Shanghai. Old shopping streets are being renovated and made like new in the vein of Main Street USA at Disneyland or an outdoor shopping mall. And cars are taking up more and more of the streets with less and less bicycles. It's too bad really but then perhaps it's better for the Chinese and an improvement on their way of life.
Memorable experiences that come to mind are:
- A private guzheng (zither) concert in a Shanghai musical instrument store
- Visiting a senior couple in their 150-year old hutong home in Beijing
- Walking through a Naxi village (no tourist shops!) outside of Lijiang
- Observing every day life in the Muslim Quarter in Xi'an
- A tea demonstration at the Terracotta Warrior complex outside of Xi'an
- Haggling for items at the city market on the south end of Lijiang's old town
- The fresh noodles in lamb broth in Xi'an
- Dumplings in Beijing
- A great meal of spicy dishes at dinner at a restaurant in Lijiang
- Walking down busy shopping street Dongdajie late one afternoon in Xi'an
- Having noodles for breakfast almost every day for breakfast
and mostly just hanging out with friends and family who all pretty much stayed mellow during entire trip. Group travel is not our normal cup of tea but this trip went extremely well.
- Pros:No tourists in December, great food, friendly people
- Cons:Cold temps in December
- In a nutshell:Two weeks is not nearly enough time!
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