These are our personal thoughts on our visit. We appreciate that others may feel totally different.
Our first impressions of China were gained in Shanghai. We were amazed by the shear numbers of people. We were well aware that China had the biggest population in Asia but it hadn’t really meant anything to us until we arrived there. We visited China during the low season (at the tail end of the New Year celebrations) but everywhere we went throughout the trip we went with hundreds of others.
We were very impressed by the wide roads and modern buildings and everywhere was very clean. We also found that the standards of hygiene, even in primitive conditions, were quite high. China is obviously taking to heart global warming –the rubbish bins in the streets come in twos – one for re-cycling and one for non-recycling. We also found that the people in the cities were very stylish. We spent a lot of time commenting ‘he/she is wearing a smart jacket/coat’.
24 Feb We started in Shanghai – a very modern and cosmopolitan city – linked to the airport by the magnetic high speed train. Wow – at 430 kms per hour we hardly sat down before we had to get up again – very impressive!
25 Feb We visited the old town and joined the jostling throng of people in the colourful streets. The New Year was still being celebrated and the streets were hung with lanterns and the canal had several tableaux which we viewed from the Zig Zag Bridge. We also paid a brief visit to the Bund, Shanghai’s famous waterfront. It was very cold so after a short walk we went to have tea. The tea ceremony was fascinating. We tried several teas before moving on to the Pearl Tower. In contrast to what we had seen before, this TV tower was very modern and presented all round views of the city. We ended the day at the Shanghai Museum said to be possibly the best in China. It was light and airy and very well presented. We started on the top floor and worked our way down. The ceramics were particularly interesting – some of which was more than 2000 years old! Regrettably we did not have time to explore all of the galleries as the museum was due to close for the day.
26 Feb We left Shanghai by train for our journey to Suzhou. Here we visited two gardens – the Humble Administrator’s Garden (a World Natural Heritage Site) and the Liuyuan Garden. Of the two, we thought that the former was the most appealing although both of them were worth a visit. In between we visited a silk factory where we were due to have lunch and where we were given the opportunity of purchasing various products. Having talked to the guide she took us elsewhere for a very good lunch. Afterwards we visited Cold Mountain Temple – again it was worth the visit – before returning to Shanghai by train.
27 Feb Today we went shopping! If we had had a lot of money to spend we could easily have spent it! As it was we restricted ourselves – after all, we had another 2½ weeks to go!
We were due to travel on the overnight train to Huangshan that night so organised with the guide that we should attend a performance of the Shanghai Aerobatic Show between dinner and reporting to the railway station. This show, which lasted just over an hour, was non stop entertainment of a very high quality. We think that the Shanghai Acrobatic Show should be included as an option when producing an itinerary for Shanghai.
Neither of us can recall visiting the Yuyuan Garden or the Jade Buddha Temple while in Shanghai. Both of these places were listed in the itinerary. We do not think that there was time to visit these places in the time available but feel that, if this was the case, they should not have appeared in the itinerary.
Overnight train – Shanghai – Huangshan
This was overall quite a good experience – but for the fact that one of the other occupants of the carriage started snoring very loudly as soon as his head touched the pillow, and did not stop until we reached our destination. The bedding was clean and the toilet facilities, which included separate wash hand basins, were adequate. The car attendant was very helpful. We were only able to communicate by sign language so he took us to the restaurant car and into the kitchen to find out what we would like to eat for breakfast.
On the advice of the guide we visited Hongcun village immediately after arrival. It was a sunny day and the village, which has a lake in front of it, looked very pretty. It was a very lively village where the people were going about their business making/carving and selling there wares as well as the usual fish/vegetable market. We had a very nice lunch here.
When we arrive at the cable car to transfer to Yellow Mountain we were advised to take only enough clothing for an overnight stay. We had not been advised of this in advance and had to open up our suitcases to get out the necessary clothing. We had already had to cope with the overnight train journey and, had we known, we could have catered for Yellow Mountain as well.
On arriving at the top of the mountain we could see why we needed only an overnight bag. There were steps everywhere. The views were stunning but, to see them, we had to climb hundreds of steps. We visited the many viewing platforms and took photographs of the very beautiful scenery. The hotel here was a very much higher category than we would normally expect on the top of a mountain. However, it was never quite warm enough. The following day we flew to Beijing.
We have mixed feelings about Beijing.
While the Great Wall was impressive it did not give us the sense of history that we had expected but we were impressed with its architecture and length. We were scheduled to visit Mutianyu Great Wall but, on the advice of the guide, we visited Badaling. It was a very warm day and we were dressed for cold weather so we had to strip off. Having walked some of the wall we have great sympathy for the soldiers who originally had to patrol it and especially for those that built it.
We felt that the Badaling part of the Great Wall was over commercialised and there were too many people visiting it.
Although the Ming Tomb was vast it we were not impressed – possibly because artefacts that what we saw were replicas of the originals. The Sacred Road was, we felt, much more impressive.
Beijing itself was ‘just a big city’ without the ‘feel’ of Shanghai. The size of Tian’anmen Square was awesome. As representatives of China’s Provinces were about to have their Annual Congress, the souvenir sellers were considerably depleted which, as it was very damp, gave a sombre air to the Square. The Forbidden City was mainly under wraps – they are doing a lot of restoration work in time for the Olympic games – so we did not see everything. Again, the Forbidden City did not live up to expectations but it was in many respects awe inspiring. The fact that it was pouring with rain did not help.
A visit was made to the Cloissanne factory which was not shown in the Tour Itinerray. This proved to be very interesting and lunch in the showroom restaurant was very good. The old town of Beijing was not worth the bother of a visit. It was nothing like what I expected (something similar to the old town in Shanghai.) It dated from the Middle Ages but hardly looked Chinese at all – again it was in the rain.
Our visit to the Summer Palace the next day was different again. The snow we experienced here added to its beauty.
As an option, we feel that clients should be offered the opportunity of visiting the Beijing Opera.
From here we flew to Xi ‘an. We had learned that a Lantern Festival was due to start and the guide arranged to take us that same night. This took place on the ancient city wall. It was a wonderful sight and there was holiday atmosphere as the local people enjoyed the festival. We saw tableau after tableau depicting mythical figures and traditional stories. We considered ourselves very lucky to have seen this.
The following day we went to see the Terracotta Army. This was ‘mind blowing’. A building has been erected over the actual site so that everything is in situ and you can see that work is still going on to uncover more statues. Hundreds of life size soldiers and every one different. Not only that but each one, after his likeness had been reproduced, was killed in order to travel to the next world with the emperor. This is something that we will always remember.
Hua Qing Hot Spring with its 6000 history of hot springs and the love story of an emperor and his concubine. Here we saw the ancient baths (dug out of the ground). The first bath was for the emperor and from there the water flowed into another bath for a lesser person to enjoy and so on until it drained away. Some of the gardens were blocked off for renovation.
We also visited the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. Again, part of this was blocked off for renovation. The whole of this site had a very tranquil feel. (Although the Bell Tower was mentioned in the itinerary we did not pay it a visit. We only saw it from the road.)
We tried to get tickets to the Shaanxi Grand Operator but it was fully booked. We think this should be included for clients on an optional basis.
From here we went to see the majestic stone pillars known as ‘The Stone Forest’. This is a place which, in our view, should have been left to rely upon its beauty alone. Instead there were walkways built through the ‘forest’ and Chinese characters carved into the rock pointed the way.
Lijiang was our next ort of call. This was right up our street. The town nestled under the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and this region is home to 26 different ethnic minorities. We took a chairlift to Spruce Meadow, a high valley, first of all. It was International Woman’s Day and many ladies of ethnic minorities were out to enjoy themselves. Other ethnic minorities took the opportunity to make money by charging to have their photographs taken. After lunch, we enjoyed a performance of ‘Impressions Lijiang’ – an open air performance by 500 ethic people with the backdrop of the Snow Mountain. It lasted about an hour and was riveting. (We think that this should be included in itineraries visiting Lijiang.) After this, having learnt that it was possible to visit the glacier of the Snow Mountain, our guide very kindly arranged for us to go to the Glacier Park after the performance. We took a cable car to the glacier of the Snow Mountain. Unfortunately we were not able to climb as high as we would have liked because, it was said, that the walkway was dangerous higher up. It was probably just as well because Stuart was feeling the altitude and having to take it very easily.
We had dinner in the town that night and, as the ladies were continuing to enjoy International Woman’s Day, they were in the square, dancing and singing. The atmosphere was tremendous. They were out to enjoy themselves. The following night there were a few singing and dancing but it was for the tourists and did not have the same effect.
The following day we visited Bai Sha village Yufeng Monastery and the Bai Sha Mural Paintings where a festival was taking place. We were able to walk around the market and found that the local people wear ‘traditional’ clothing every day. We then went to attractive village of Shu He which had been restored. The Black Dragon Pond Park was a very beautiful and peaceful park surrounding a lake.
From here we travelled to Shangri-La, which is a Tibetan autonomous region, by car. Stopping at Tiger Leaping Gorge en route we climbed down to the river where it tumbled over the rocks and saw the alleged rock used by the tiger to leap to the other side. Unfortunately we were not taken any higher up the gorge in order to look at it from above. As we had seen this on television in the past we were disappointed.
We are very fond of mountains and, as this area is very high, we had expected the views to be spectacular. Having visited Ladakh, India, where the high mountains soared sharply from the valley floor, we were very disappointed. Shangri-La is higher than Leh but we found rolling hills with the tops of the mountains in the background.
Again we visited Kunming to fill in time between flights. We took a chair lift to the top of the hill and walked back down through the Sanqing Temple complex and the Dragon Gate Grotto. From here we went to the Golden Temple where, if the season had been right, we would have enjoyed some beautiful gardens. We finished up at the Flower Marker. This was vast and we enjoyed our tour around it.
Guilin and Yangshou
Our last port of call was Guilin – a extremely beautiful area of hundreds of very pointy hills and lots of rivers. We first went to the Ling Canal. A canal, joining two of the rivers, which was built more than 2 thousand years ago and was the means for the First Emperor (the one that built the wall and the Terracotta Army) to conquer the area and unite the whole of China. This was an amazing fete of engineering. More than two thousand years ago men built a canal and used locks to control the water – truly amazing. We enjoyed the walk along the banks of the canal to the Water Street.
The following day we enjoyed a very pleasant cruise down the River Li with lunch on board.
On the third day we climbed to the top of the Moon Hill before visiting the Yangshou Old Banyan tree
While we were in Yangshou we attended an outdoor performance of ‘Impressions Yangshou’. This, like the previous performance at Lijiang, was by local ethnic people but on this occasion, as it was dark, the show relied heavily on the skill of the lighting engineer. It was a very memorable performance and, we feel, should be included in itineraries including this part of the world.
Then back to Shanghai for a few hours shopping while we waited for our flight back home.
A memorable trip – here is to the next time.