Our adventure through China was an absolute whirlwind that covered almost 3,000 miles in 10 days. To see China in that amount of time is like taking a 10 day trip to see New York, D.C., LA, and Seattle. It was absolutely insane.
But we had a good reason for the quickness—Blakely’s family came to join us and they only had a small window. We enjoyed the company (and the upgrade in accommodations!).
We started in Hong Kong, which is a great gateway into China since it is much more connected to the outside world. Reminder: the Chinese government significantly limits news flow of its citizens, and this makes them culturally cut off from the rest of society. While Hong Kong technically falls under Chinese jurisdiction, it was a British colony until 1997 when the Brits returned it to China. Hong Kong maintains a separate political and economic system from China, but the mainland significantly influences the legislation. China continues to broker more influence, and unfortunately protests don’t make much difference despite making international news.
Blakely and Ryan arrived 2 days earlier than the rest of the group, which was best as we were VERY dusty from our time in Nepal. We stayed at the Kowloon Shangri-la Hotel, which, as could be expected, were MUCH better accommodations than our norm.
We enjoyed the hotel then headed to explore the city. Of course, a highlight for us was the spectacular architecture. As city folk we really appreciate a good skyscraper, and Hong Kong has plenty of those! Hong Kong has a gorgeous skyline, with more skyscrapers than anywhere in the world, and Victoria Harbor elevates the view further. Ryan’s favorites were the HSBC Building, International Commerce Center, and Bank of China Tower. Then we went to Man Mo temple, which is dedicated to the gods of literature and war. The incense and atmosphere make it a calm and gorgeous stop.
That night, we headed to the fabulous SoHo neighborhood (not to be confused with the SoHo in NYC, this stands for South of Hollywood Road) which has one of our favorite features: escalator sidewalks. First we hit a wine and cheese bar, and then one of our favorite restaurants Little Bao. So fun, so delicious, and everything we needed.
Finally, the rest of the group arrived. We didn’t pause long before taking them on a walking tour the neighborhood. Then for dinner, we headed to the world renowned Din Tai Fung restaurant for delicious dumplings and noodles. Finally, we headed to Temple Street Night Market for a bit of chaos and shopping! Unfortunately the market is MUCH more glitz than glamor, and as many things in China, focused on the shiny quantity over quality!
The next day was a big one. We started on a tram up to Victoria Peak to see the sights. Due to the crazy fog, the view half-way up was better. Then we took a boat tour to see the floating village of Aberdeen and the temples there. Afterwards, a little tea time at the Peninsula hotel, then cocktails while watching the harbor light show.
Next, we jetted off to Guilin and immediately went to the gorgeous Reed Flute cave. In case the natural structure isn’t enough, the gorgeous light displays make the cave even more mystical and impressive (though a few thought they were tacky and preferred the natural landscape!). In Guilin, we stayed at the beautiful Guilin Shangri-la Hotel.
Next on the itinerary was a drive out to Longji, with hiking to see the gorgeous rice paddies. Absolutely worth the hike (to say nothing of needing to work off those dumplings!), this was a trip highlight for all of us.
That night we took a light cruise around the lakes of Guilin. The Chinese LOVE a light show, and we were pretty impressed ourselves!
The next day was a highlight: A boat cruise along the Li River. This site has inspired painters and artists for centuries, and it inspired the artwork on the 20 yuan note today. Blakely couldn’t resist the beauty recreated by a local artist on rice paper, which is now hanging in our house!
After the day’s craziness, we took a flight to Xian and settled into the Wyndham Grand Xian hotel, another fabulous place!
Xian attracts visitors from all over the world with the incredible Terracotta Warriors. Even with all of the hype, they do NOT disappoint. Here’s the skinny:
When the first Emperor of China Qin Shi Huang died around 210 BC, he was buried with an army he commissioned to protect him in the afterlife. There are approximately 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses. Additionally, there are officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians. All of the statues are life sized, uniquely carved and painted, and buried in different sized pits. The largest of the pits is housed in the museum for viewing. It is INSANE to see.
Even cooler: the army is just a portion of the remains left to be discovered. Excavation is ongoing, but ground-penetrating radar detects a larger city resembling the emperor’s imperial palace and court. Next we gobbled down some delicious beef noodle soup!
The next day we had a gorgeous bike ride around Xian’s ancient city walls, which were built in the 14th Century and form one of the best-preserved fortresses in the world. After earning our treat, we had a walk through the Great Tang All Day Mall and celebrated with Popsicles and BBQ. This is a market of which we all approved!
After Xian we flew to Shanghai and got to visit the historic and beautiful Zhujiajiao village. We felt like we stepped back in time! We had a canal cruise, did a little shopping (of course) and went to see a historic mansion with traditional Chinese gardens.
Shanghai was absolutely our favorite city in mainland China, with a gorgeous skyline and metropolitan atmosphere. As discussed, we love cities. We walked along the river and had a fabulous dinner before enjoying one of THE most bizarre and fantastic shows we’d ever seen: The Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai. We will never be able to see another acrobat show again.
The following day the boys and girls separated, and the boys took a tour of the mind blowing Shanghai port. Afterwards we all flew to our last stop (WHEW) Beijing.
The next day was a highlight and it started with Tian’anmen Square. According to our official guide it is “the largest city square in the world” (it is actually only one of the top 10) “and the spiritual heart of China, where the national flag is raised exactly at sunrise every day.” Of course, what isn’t mentioned in the paraphernalia is that this square is infamous for the horrendous massacre of protestors in 1989. Troops with automatic rifles and tanks killed hundreds of demonstrators who were trying to block the military’s advance to the square (where a student protest was happening).
Today, Tian’anmen is a heavily regulated area and indicative of Chinese policy in general. Before entry, visitors and their belongings are searched and IDs checked. Protests are strictly forbidden, and discussion of the massacre nonexistent. Furthermore, in the 70s the square held ginormous portraits of 6 dictators (including Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and Joseph Stalin), but upon the death of Mao Sedong (founding father of the People’s Republic of China) the other portraits were removed and only his remains. Don’t worry, the other portraits are still brought out in a parade around the square on Labor Day and National Day.
For all its dark past, Tian’anmen Square allows entrance to one of the coolest places in China: The Forbidden City. The Forbidden City is a palace complex in Central Beijing and housed the imperial palace from 1420-1912. Now, it is a Palace Museum and provides an excellent snapshot of gorgeous Chinese architecture, artwork, and artefacts. Our personal favorite was the Hall of Clocks, a display of 200 clocks and watches from the imperial collection.
Last stop for the day, we visited the Temple of Heaven, a complex of religious buildings that was visited yearly by emperors to ensure a good harvest.
Ok. Now for the part we’ve all been waiting for. The famous symbol of China, an architectural wonder of the world, stretching 6,700 km and over 2,000 years old: The Great Wall of China.
The wall was constructed over many different dynasties to protect the ever-changing empire borders. The most extensive and modern construction occurred as recently as the 14th Century. Effectiveness of the wall varied, and our guide informed us that bribery decreased the walls success. Unfortunately, with the invention of air invasion, the wall was largely unproductive in modern era. That said, it is magnificent to see.
Though it can’t be seen from the moon (common misconception), it can be seen from space at a low orbit when the conditions are right.
Maybe one of our favorite parts was the ride down. Take a look.
To get to the wall we enjoyed the Sacred Path, which is lined with animals, mystical beasts and officials who serve the emperor in his afterlife. Sitting emperors perform rituals there for the ancestors once a year.
Our last stop in China was one of our favorites: The Summer Palace. This was an imperial summer resort of the Qing Dynasty and it has gorgeous grounds that are the recognized as the most splendid classical gardens of China. The incredible decoration on the buildings made us constantly look up, and we loved finishing our trip with such a gorgeous example of Chinese art. Our only complaint was that we visited on a holiday so we felt like all of China was there with us! One thing is for sure: China has a LOT of people!
So ended our blitz through China, and if you’re tired from reading it you can imagine how tired we were for doing it! The only answer: a blissful vacation to Bali.