More than once we were told, “If you want to see China today visit Beijing, if you want to see ancient China visit Xian and if you want to see China of the future visit Shanghai.”
Our second stop was Xian in central China. Xian was one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world when China dominated the silk trade, and it is best known as the home of over 8,000 Terra Cotta Warriors. Unbelievably, each soldier has a different face. The life-sized Warriors and Horses guard the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor China in the second century. I was surprised to learn that NONE of the statues were found intact. When they were accidentally discovered by local farmers, Xian, a university town, had no archeologists; now it is a world center for archeology. There are other known burial sites awaiting excavation until they develop the necessary technology to preserve the archeological treasure troves. We viewed several additional burial sites with amazing armies of smaller warriors that you rarely hear about.
We also visited one of the most famous and impressive Buddhist temples in the world, the Wild Goose Pagoda. Then we wove our way through the maze-like market streets to Xian’s Islamic Mosque. It was like visiting a foreign country within a foreign country. Amidst all these impressive cultural attractions, one of our favorite China memories was the foot massage “ceremony” in the grand ballroom of the Shangri-La Hotel where we sipped tea and nibbled nuts and dried fruit while our entire tour group was given “synchronized” massages. Talk about luxury!
Our final China stop was Shanghai- China of the future on steroids. You can still visit Old Town, the Yu Garden and the “water village” of Zhujiajiao which are old and quaint and charming; but that is not the essence of Shanghai. Shanghai is big, modern, young, prosperous and growing so fast you can practically see it changing in front of your eyes. According to our tour guide, Shanghai has grown from a provincial city into an international metropolis on a par with New York and Paris in just ten years. Over 300 of the world's top 500 enterprises have opened branches in Shanghai. The skyline of Shanghai is like looking at something in a futuristic movie. I have never seen so many outstanding skyscrapers at once. We went to the top of the Park Hyatt Hotel for a drink and view of the city at night, but we were so high above the clouds we couldn’t see and had to come down to the 93rd floor for our sightseeing.
Shanghai has a modern metro system, but truthfully taxis are so reasonable you might want to check with your hotel front desk to see which will be easier. But like Lou told you, don’t venture out on your own without your destinations written in Chinese and English. We were disappointed that we left too early in the morning to take the bullet train to the very modern airport.
Shanghai is a city I definitely want to visit again; three days were not enough for me. My favorite attractions were Xin Tian Di, several blocks of pedestrian streets full of charming cafes, restaurants and clubs, the Shanghai Museum with its famous bronzes, and the truly amazing Shanghai Acrobat Show which I had mistakenly thought would be too touristy. Shanghai is preparing for a spectacular world's fair next year, Expo 2010. The world famous shopping street the Bund was all torn up and being redone in preparation for the big event. The Expo site is at the waterfront on both sides of the Huangpu River. The Expo will “explore the full potential of urban life in the 21st century.” This would be a great time to visit China!
If you want to see the rickshaw, bang-bang-stick man, bicycle riding China, you better hurry.
Ann and I arrived in Beijing China at a very modern large new airport. We had heard about the government concern about people entering who may be ill. As you pass through the immigration and customs area you also pass through what looks like a security gate, but it really is taking your temperature. You hardly notice it but they verify every person entering the country. You have to be impressed with how quickly you are through their entrance process if you have all your paperwork in order.
The best advice I can give every traveler to China is talk to the person at the front desk in your hotel and request a list of the places you want to visit on your own, written in English and Chinese. While most people in the hotels do speak English and most street signs are in Chinese and English, most of the people on the street don’t speak English and it is very rare that a taxi driver understands any English. With your handy list and a card from your hotel also in English and Chinese, you are free to
go everywhere on your list and be able to get back to your hotel. The other advice I would like to share with potential China travelers is to travel with the highest quality tour company you can afford.
This once-in-a-lifetime trip can be less than you may expect if you are in hotels that are not convenient or if the food doesn’t agree with you. Ladies, it is true, you do need to take tissues for possible use in the bathrooms. Speaking of bathrooms… in almost every location there are what we call foot print restrooms. Many locations do have our style of toilet but you may need to look for them in the handicap bathroom stall. Before you go make a list/chart of what the current exchange is, such as
100 Yuan is $15 US so you will know that 300 Yuan is $45 or a taxi of 40 Yuan is $6. This little list will make it so much easier when you are there.
I had always seen on TV the Beijing with thousands of people on bicycles. All of this changed when
this country was exposed to the Olympics. They now have 1000 new cars a day on their highways. The changes are continuing at such a pace that if you want to see the old China that you have in your mind, you must go soon. Beijing is a major world city in transition. For those of us who love history Beijing has much to offer- the intriguing Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and Confucius’ Palace and of course the not far away Great Wall of China. The size of the Forbidden City is amazing, and it is interesting to learn about the thousands who lived there in the service of one Emperor and all the protocol and symbols involved. On tours you learn important details such as the number of little ceramic characters sitting on the edge of the roof line indicate the importance of the building.
Our first night we walked a few blocks from our very centrally located hotel to a pedestrian shopping street and the most unusual nightly food market you have ever seen. For two or three city blocks little booths sell “foods”. Anything you can imagine will be deep fried for you. One kind vendor poked a SNAKE on a stick in my direction saying, “Lady I cook for you?” Most of the children were walking around with beautiful crystallized fruit on a stick like a kabob dipped in a sugar glaze. Others had small
dishes boiled “delicacies” consisting of the insides of an animal that probably should have been thrown away.
The Great Wall of China is worth the whole trip and should never be missed. There are several places to go to see the Great Wall. Luckily for us we were traveling with Abercrombie and Kent, one of the finest luxury operators, and they took us to part of the Wall not visited by most tourists. It was a bit of a drive, and when we arrived we had to walk (as with all trips to the Great Wall) what seems like straight up hill on a cobble path between many vendor booths selling all kinds of tourist items. Of course I stopped and bought a tee shirt that says something about “I climbed the Wall”. Ann was smarter than the rest of us and hired a rickshaw to take her up to the lift. The lift is a gondola that takes you up the last and very steepest portion of the trip to the top. Once you arrive, you are impressed with view of the near by mountains (they are not real high, more like our Smoky Mountains, but without as many trees). As you look both ways, you see how the Great Wall twists and curves along the mountain tops for as far as you can see. Later we learned that the twists and turns were by design because the original builders believed evil spirits could only travel in straight lines. It was built by different groups without any real single design and later put together to make one wall that spanned China for about 4,000 miles. Of all the places I have visited around the world, this was one of the most extraordinary things I have ever experienced.
On our trip we also took a 3 day Yangzi River Cruise through the Three Gorges. Unlike European river cruise boats these boats are six levels high and much larger. Most of them look pretty rough on the outside. Because of runoff, the water in the river during the summer is very brown, they call it the chocolate season, and it seems to have lot debris floating by. When you arrive at the river to board your boat, it can be very confusing as the buses can’t drive right up to the entrance area. You need to make your way through about a crowded block, then you enter a large platform that lowers to the river level and then you walk along the port docks to your boat. The cabins on these vessels can be much larger than normal cruise boats of any kind. The food and service are excellent. You will see some very new cities along the shore as beneath your boat are the original towns that were flooded to damn this river to protect the area from huge floods. The people in these old towns were moved to these new cities or to one quarter acre of farm land. At one point we left the main river and took small sampan like boats with boatmen using poles and paddles to move us down a smaller river. The views on this cruise are beautiful. We learned that while we think of China as being very large with many forests, in reality they have very few trees. It is against the law to cut down any tree in China because there was no reforestation until Mao started a program. There is green ground cover, but very few big trees.
Again I encourage you to travel soon if you have China on your list of places to visit as it is changing quickly and you may enjoy the feel of old China. We also are seeing very good airline deals going to China and dollar to Yuan is very good at the time of writing this report.
Please read Ann’s trip report for the rest of our trip to China. Ask us about our shopping trip in China.