Sunday, January 24, 2016

Fifteen days in China, fifteen (+) unforgettable experiences!

Fifteen days in China, fifteen (+) unforgettable experiences!

The Middle Kingdom, so named because in ancient times, it was considered the middle of the universe. China has the world's largest population of any country (currently 1.4 billion), a language/ dialect (Mandarin) with more speakers than any other and the world's largest economy as of 2014, an economy that has grown faster than any other in the last twenty years.  The Chinese culture/civilization is considered to be the oldest in the world; they have 3500 years of written history, and their culture may go back 8000 years. Hong Kong has more skyscrapers than any other city. Chinese invented paper, the printing press, plows, cast iron, porcelain (china!), gunpowder, the magnetic compass and so much more. WOW. So, with all these superlatives, how did I know so little about China, other than limited knowledge of the Great Wall, egg rolls and fortune cookies? I had heard of Jackie Chan and knew a couple Chinese folks in Chicago, but I was really looking forward to meeting these people, and um, maybe photo-stalking them while they danced in the parks or prepared yummy or weird street foods. 

My total ignorance of China changed in August of 2015 when youngest daughter, Jackie, announced that she was going to live in China for a year-- to teach three and four-year-olds in Zhengzhou, China through a Canadian company called Teachaway. With the travel lust that you all know I possess, and a thirst for knowledge of faraway places and unique cultures, I dove into learning about China. Needless to say, a trip to China was planned. We could visit Jackie and experience a country we had never dreamed of visiting. The more I read and searched online, the more excited I got. Fascinating landscapes, rich history, crazy cultural differences, unique architecture, flora and fauna--China has em all in gobs. Let me at it!! So, the main reason for visiting China is to see Jackie and to check out this life and place she has been living, but once there, I want to really feel this country and this culture. 

We would mostly travel independently, but three guided tours were on the agenda. On our first day, we were getting picked up by a local who would take us to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, then explore the Summer Palace before returning back to our little Chinese home at the Red Wall hotel. The rest of Beijing would be DIY, using our feet and the metro, that is supposedly incredible and has English listings. (Thank goodness we don't speak a less common language like Dutch!) The second guided tour would be with a local guide named Timothy who would take us round-trip from Zhengzhou to Dengfeng, then accompany us on a steep hike on Song Shan mountain, and explore the area. This would be our least touristy activity and a chance to check out one of China's five sacred mountains, with a cool Buddhist temple that clings to the craggy cliffs at the end.  The last guided tour was a bonus--we booked a driver to take us from Yangshuo to the Longji rice terraces, and were told that he would personally guide us as well, since he would be staying overnight before he drove us to the airport the next day. Price was right, too, and he speaks English. Perfect!!

We would start and end the 15 day China trip in big cities (Beijing and Shanghai ), then sandwich in some gorgeous countryside and historical antiquities such as the Longmen (Buddhist) Grottoes in Luoyang.  We would be experiencing super G fast trains, a sleeper train, planes, taxis, subway and maybe even a rickshaw. 

Our itinerary for this trip would start in Chicago in late March via Aircanada flight with plane change in Toronto, then land us the next afternoon in Beijing. Jackie would meet us there at our cozy boutique hotel, Red Wall Garden Hotel, located in the Shijia hutong (old neighborhood, traditional central courtyard house) within walking distance of the Forbidden City and subway stops, and just outside the first "ring." The Forbidden City is considered the centre of this huge metropolis, then areas move out in concentric rings. So, our location is grand for a tourist, with one of the best Beijing duck restaurants just outside our little alley neighborhood (hutong). 

General overview:

Beijing--3 nights at Red Wall Garden Hotel
Zhengzhou--3 nights at Novotel Convention Center (near Jackie's apartment)
One overnight on a soft-sleeper train
Yangshou Mountain Retreat (3 nights)
Baike Hotel (Ping'An, Longsheng Rice Terraces, 1 night)
Shanghai (Narada Yu Gardens hotel)--3 nights


  1. Looking forward to hearing of your adventures!

  2. Sounds like an awesome trip. BTW, fortune cookies are an American invention. They don't have/serve fortune cookies in China.

  3. Haha yes. American Chinese food is like Mexican American food...lots has no resemblance to the original. We loved most of the Chinese food we tried. Except for chicken feet in our food, LOL. But it was a funny memory!

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  5. How did you find your guides for the trip? I am planning a solo trip to Hong Kong, Beijing, Xian, Hangzhou and Shanghai in October.

  6. Mostly by recommendations on TripAdvisor. You are going to popular places where there are many available guides. Do a search in the forums or activities section. I also really appreciated the help from in booking trains and finding out how to get around. Trains and subways were quite easy to use. Guides were nice to have someone who could point out interesting things and chat about life in China.

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