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Two weeks in China Fall 2013

marzNC

Angel Diva
#1
Suspended ski conditioning for a few weeks during a trip to China. But for the walk on the Great Wall, good thing I'm in better shape than last year.

The trip was mostly to visit a few elderly relatives but also went sightseeing in places that are not on any itinerary of packaged tours. Ski buddy Bill went along for an introduction to China, as well as a old friend who has traveled with me in China before. A highlight was hiking a section of the Great Wall called Jinshanling. It's a little farther from Beijing than the usual sections (Badaling, Mutianyu) that I've been to in the past. Much nicer to hike when it's cool, compared to the usual summer heat.

Jinshanling - 1.jpg Jinshanling - 2.jpg Jinshanling - 3.jpg Jinshanling - 4.jpg Jinshanling - 5.jpg Jinshanling - 6.jpg
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
#3
Yep, steep steps. This section had more up and down than the other sections I've been to before. Definitely glad my balance is improved when there wasn't a wall on the side.
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
#4
Here are some random shots from Xi'an, which was the capital of China for a thousand years well before the rise of European powers. That's the city near the First Emperor's terra-cotta warriors.

Bronze statues in the Big Goose Pagoda park. Our hotel was very close by.
XiAn - 1.jpg

Giant ceiling screen with 4 season video. Yes, those are skis and a snowboard. At the new mall near the Big Goose Pagoda.
XiAn - 2.jpg
XiAn - 3.jpg

Gingko forest planted near the Han tombs north of Xi'an
XiAn - 4.jpg

Terra-cotta warriors, Pit 1
XiAn - 5.jpg

Xi'an city wall, the only completely restored city wall in China. Can rent a bike and ride completely around in about an hour. We walked from the north gate to the south gate in the late afternoon.
XiAn - 6.jpg
 

VickiK

Angel Diva
#5
I can see why Xi'an would be an old capital. Smack-dab in the heart of China. How fun to circumnavigate (hope I"m using the word correctly) the city on the wall! Here's a fantasy tourist route I'd build for myself: Hong Kong, Guilin Hills, Xi'an, Beijing, Shanghai, back to Hong Kong. It's a humungous area to cover. Wonder what it would take, in time & money? Amy Tan's new book is out or coming out very soon, by the way. Thanks for sharing your pics, very interesting.
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
#7
Went to a new place this trip. Until the 20th century, Wuhan was three separate towns on the banks of the Yangtze River. Now it's a growing metropolis that is third in the country behind Beijing and Shanghai in terms of the number of students and faculty at universities. Our local host was the relative of a friend, a retired professor. We got to see the 30th annual mum festival in front of the new 1911 Revolution Museum. Also stopped in the Hubei museum (Wuhan is in the province of Hubei). We found the buses less crowded and traffic not quite as bad as in Xi'an and Beijing.

Needless to say, food was a big part of the trip. In Wuhan we ate at a vegetarian restaurant connected to a Daoist temple. The mock duck and mock beef were pretty amazing. A local favorite in an egg crepe filled with friend rice.

Wuhan - 1.jpg
Wuhan - 5.jpg

See the folks seated at the table?
Wuhan - 2.jpg

Better in the sun the next morning.
Wuhan - 3.jpg Wuhan - 4.jpg
 

marzNC

Angel Diva
#9
I can see why Xi'an would be an old capital. Smack-dab in the heart of China. How fun to circumnavigate (hope I"m using the word correctly) the city on the wall! Here's a fantasy tourist route I'd build for myself: Hong Kong, Guilin Hills, Xi'an, Beijing, Shanghai, back to Hong Kong. It's a humungous area to cover. Wonder what it would take, in time & money? Amy Tan's new book is out or coming out very soon, by the way. Thanks for sharing your pics, very interesting.
What I hadn't quite registered in previous visits was that the later city was much larger. When Xi'an was called Chang'an, it was more than twice the size. The new discoveries in the last 10-15 years are starting to be displayed in various museums in and around Xi'an. Even my cousins who live in the city didn't realize how many new exhibits have opened in the last few years. One reason building the subway is taking forever is that often construction is delayed while a site is investigated for artifacts.

Tang Dynasty figures of women. In that era, the women were allowed to do a lot, including riding. The concept of binding feet of women in upper classes came much later. The standing figures are over two feet tall. There were over 100 different hair styles, which signified status.
XiAn B - 1.jpg XiAn B - 2.jpg

Jade pendant found in 2001 from about 2000 years ago.
XiAn B - 3.jpg

Traveling by fast train is the way to move around inside China. The new train stations are easy to understand. Less time waiting around than when dealing with an airport. Trains run on time, unlike planes. Average speed usually close to 300 kmh, or 185 mph.
XiAn B - 4.jpg
 
#10
. . . Here's a fantasy tourist route I'd build for myself: Hong Kong, Guilin Hills, Xi'an, Beijing, Shanghai, back to Hong Kong. It's a humungous area to cover. Wonder what it would take, in time & money? Amy Tan's new book is out or coming out very soon, by the way. Thanks for sharing your pics, very interesting.
That's a lot of places to cover in one trip. Can be done, but then probably only 2-3 days in each city. Consider how hard it would be to see 4 major cities plus a national park in the U.S. on a relatively short trip. Hard to do any tour of China in less than two weeks, especially because it takes 20-24 hours for the flight to/from China door-to-door.

Cost depends on the month and type of travel. Summer when most schools are out and the first half of Oct are peak season. The weather is better in the fall, but the Chinese National Day is Oct. 1 (like July 4th for Americans) and lots of Chinese take vacation trips then. A group tour can save in some ways, but traveling independently is still usually less expensive. Assuming you are willing to take public transportation and do not need to stay in 5-star hotels.

My friends had the benefit of my travel experience and local contacts. My conversational Chinese is good enough to help with asking for directions and such. I can read signs well enough to make sure we get off at the right bus stop. Even so, I find it much easier to travel independently in China now compared to 5-10 years ago. Especially in cities with subway systems.
 
#11
I can see why Xi'an would be an old capital. Smack-dab in the heart of China. How fun to circumnavigate (hope I"m using the word correctly) the city on the wall! Here's a fantasy tourist route I'd build for myself: Hong Kong, Guilin Hills, Xi'an, Beijing, Shanghai, back to Hong Kong. It's a humungous area to cover. Wonder what it would take, in time & money? Amy Tan's new book is out or coming out very soon, by the way. Thanks for sharing your pics, very interesting.
Most people visit China do 3-4 weeks.
The flight is long and expensive ($1000+ eve in off-season), plus jetlag. You're going to feel kind of groggy the first week. So a absolute bare minimum of 2 week but much better if it's 3 or 4.

Cost varies a lot depends on the class of hotel and the mode of transportation. High speed train is fast and reliable but not cheap. Bus is cheap but not neccessarily fast. Flying is sometimes the only way to get from point A to point B, either due to distance involved or lack of roads. In your example itinery, you'll do well flying from one city to the next. (you can do high speed train but they're actually more expensive than flights)

Two friends of mine went 2 years ago, they spend almost 3 months there, 3 or 4 star hotel and private guide with car the entire time. Cost was roughly $10k + air. Compare that with a typical group tour of 10 days to 2 weeks at $3-4000 + air, I think they got a much better value.

You can actually get around surprisingly well speaking only English. Many young people, at least in the big cities, speak English to various degree of procifiency. Signs in Hong Kong and Shanghai are bi-lingual so you can almost get around without help. I bet Beijing should be good on that too. Can't speak for Xi'an or Guilin. As a counter example, I found Guangzhou very unfriendly to non-Chinese speaking visitors. Many landmarks, and cretainly bus stops, are in Chinese only! Considering the city actually has at least 20,000 forigner living there, it's a bit surprising. But there's never a problem finding someone speaking English & Chinese to help translate.
 
#12
I've taken small groups of friends (10-15), with their kids, on China trips that were 13-15 days since 2005. That's what fit in their schedule. Obviously, staying longer has advantages but at the same time many people are ready to come home after a couple weeks. Combination of travel fatigue, smoggy and smoky air, and Chinese food for most meals. Even McDonalds in China is not exactly like home.

Taking a night train (soft sleeper) can be an alternative to flying or a fast train. Means not wasting time during the day traveling, also means not paying for a hotel room that night. For this trip, we took a night train from Beijing to Xi'an (12 hours), fast train from Xi'an to Wuhan (4 hours, 10:00-2:00), and night train from Wuhan back to Beijing (10 hours). The Z trains tend to have fewer stops. The Z19 from Beijing to/from Xi'an is non-stop night train designed for tourists.
 

Tvan

Angel Diva
#16
I agree with abc about being able to get around easily without speaking Chinese. I spent 16 weeks in Shanghai in 2012 knowing only how to say "hello" and "thank you". The metro and airport signage is in English and Mandarin, and most employees in the major hotel chains are bilingual. I also had a really useful iphone app called "Smart Shanghai" which lists restaurants, hotels and major tourist destinations, plots them by metro stop, and gives the option of the address in both English and Mandarin so that you can show it to taxi drivers in order to get where you need to go. In spite of the amount of time I spent there, I had very little time to sight-see, so I never made it out of Shanghai. I'd like to see Bejing someday, but only when the company pays the airfare.
 
#18
Love the pics. I remember seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors in DC a few years back.
That was a very good exhibit.

What's changed in recent years is that the continued excavations and research is being run locally. They have also set up some of the areas in the pits to show more of how things look all broken up. Where the army is located, Pit 1, there is now a research lab set up in a corner where they are putting together individual statues.

BingMaYong - 1.jpg
BingMaYong - 2.jpg
 
#19
I agree with abc about being able to get around easily without speaking Chinese. I spent 16 weeks in Shanghai in 2012 knowing only how to say "hello" and "thank you". The metro and airport signage is in English and Mandarin, and most employees in the major hotel chains are bilingual. I also had a really useful iphone app called "Smart Shanghai" which lists restaurants, hotels and major tourist destinations, plots them by metro stop, and gives the option of the address in both English and Mandarin so that you can show it to taxi drivers in order to get where you need to go. In spite of the amount of time I spent there, I had very little time to sight-see, so I never made it out of Shanghai. I'd like to see Bejing someday, but only when the company pays the airfare.
Certainly relatively easy to get around Beijing and Shanghai with no Chinese. However, it is a bit harder in the interior. We noticed that Wuhan had far fewer signs in either pinyin or English. What was nice is that the newer museums have decent signage in English. That wasn't the case 10-15 years ago.

Even in Beijing, if you are not going to a common destination and don't speak Chinese, just showing a driver an address in Chinese characters may lead to a long ride. Although that can happen with a taxi driver in New York City who isn't a native New Yorker.

What I enjoyed this trip was being with friends who were willing to take public transportation instead of taxis or private vehicles with a tour guide. Not only much cheaper, but got to see more of normal life when walking around. The level of change in the last 10 years is impressive.
 

SkadiSkiGrrl

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#20
Suspended ski conditioning for a few weeks during a trip to China. But for the walk on the Great Wall, good thing I'm in better shape than last year.

The trip was mostly to visit a few elderly relatives but also went sightseeing in places that are not on any itinerary of packaged tours. Ski buddy Bill went along for an introduction to China, as well as a old friend who has traveled with me in China before. A highlight was hiking a section of the Great Wall called Jinshanling. It's a little farther from Beijing than the usual sections (Badaling, Mutianyu) that I've been to in the past. Much nicer to hike when it's cool, compared to the usual summer heat.

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I have a picture hidden away on a disc somewhere of our trip to China in 2009. We toured SE Asia where it was 90 degrees. Then we went to China where it was cold and snowed on the day we went to the Great Wall. I have a picture of a really steep segment covered in slippery wet snow. We were dressed for the tropics, but I insisted on climbing the damned thing. My partner didn't want to, but I said, "Look, when is this opportunity going to come our way again? You stay down here if you want. I'm going up." He was trying to talk me out of it when a cute elderly Chinese couple walked by and bounded up the steps in their Keds and thin jackets with such youthful agility and joyful enthusiasm, he had no choice but to hang is head in shame and follow.
 

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