While we were still young with few responsibilities, we decided we should experience Asia. It is a continent that has so much culture and many monuments explaining large parts of Asian history. Not to mention home of one of the 7 wonders of the world! So we booked a trip from March 1-11th, 2017 to experience another world.
I didn’t know much about China other than it was really large, home of the Great Wall, and that it housed millions and millions of people. The travel itself was very long from Alabama. Basically a full 24 hours of constant travel. So plan for that time when scheduling a trip. Also prepare for the major jet lag once you arrive because they are basically a day ahead. Nights and days will be backwards for probably 2-3 days. For us being from Alabama, the time difference was 14 hours ahead.
We chose to work with a touring company, Gate 1 Travel. This was our first time to pay a touring company to guide our trip, and I am so glad we did. Most countries we travel to, we enjoy exploring on our own. But since we were very unfamiliar with China, the languages, and what exactly to see, hiring a touring company was a great way to go.
We began our trip strong in Beijing by shopping for jade and visiting the Great Wall of China! China is well known for their history with producing jade and creating beautiful jewelry from it. We were brought to a jade jewelry store for a lesson on how to tell jade from a fake. Especially when shopping in markets and passing street vendors. Of course I was more than happy to shop 🙂
Our next stop after jade shopping was to see the Great Wall. This was the most amazing experience I’ve had traveling. The Great Wall is only something I’ve seen pictures of. It is very steep, so be sure to practice climbing stairs before this trip. All the Great Wall is, is stairs. Those quads and calves will be feeling the burn!
You’ll also notice the smog in the background. This is not from it being a cloudy day. This is pollution. I do recommend bringing a scarf to wear to assist in filtering out some of the pollution as you walk through towns or climb this amazing piece of history.
(I just love this photo above. My husband is quite the photographer. )
The stairs are also very uneven, so you must watch closely as you climb. Pieces could be missing, some stairs are 1 foot tall, others could be almost 2 feet tall. Utilize the hand railings when they are available. Keeping all of this in mind, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of water, hand sanitizer, and sunscreen.
Hand sanitizer will be your best friend since there are so many people around you all the time. And you’ll begin to notice that hygiene is not a priority in this country. The sunscreen is also important because even though you are surrounded by clouds of smog, UV rays penetrate that smog and can still cause quite the burn. So take a seat every few hours and reapply your sun protection!
Be sure to pack comfortable walking shoes and a wind breaker. I chose to wear active gear the whole trip since we were always on the go and it was lightweight. This helped keep more space in my suitcase for souvenirs 🙂
About packing light, I HIGHLY recommend it. My husband and I have learned to travel with a carry on for any trip. This is the best tip I could give anyone traveling through Asia. We had to carry our bags through many cities over the course of our 10 day excursion. With that being said, keeping up with more than one bag is a pain. There are lots of stairs you carry your bag up and down. Trust me when I say, only bring your essentials and keep it light.
Ming tombs are very interesting to see. Within these Ming tombs, silk, pearls, and jade were displayed because they were valued highly during this era. And they continue to value these commodities today.
The architecture is so interesting the way the corners of all the roofs point upwards. Building materials are carved and painted with so much detail.
The food is very interesting. I’ll be honest, my husband is much more adventurous than I am. Our Chinese guide made a joke. “We eat anything with four legs that isn’t a table!” And he wasn’t kidding! Foods range from a Peking Duck gourmet meal to a pig organ soup with the an almost congealed broth. The variety is VAST! And if you’re American, when you order chicken in a restaurant, you can expect it will be white breast meat or dark meat. When you order a meal with chicken in China, you may get any part of that chicken in your meal. Could be organs, joints, or meat you are used to. So be mindful of that when you’re ordering meals. Don’t hesitate to ask what parts of the animal it includes if you’re particular.
Sickness for Americans is common when visiting Asia. This is for many reasons. Our tap water is drinking water. Whereas in China, you CANNOT drink from the tap. You MUST drink bottled water. This country is still developing and the water is not quite there yet. They can also tolerate microbes in their water that you definitely cannot. Raw fruits and vegetables washed with water prior to serving? Do not eat them. Ice, do not drink with it. Brushing your teeth, use bottled water. These little things we do out of habit can force you to wind up with a nasty 24 hour GI bug in a heartbeat. I would know, I had it twice. And I am VERY careful to watch for these things since we travel often. But your American ways make it very easy to forget.
If you’re a coffee drinker, this trip will be tough for you! You can find it- mostly instant coffee. In bigger cities like Beijing and Shanghai you may come across a Starbucks, but that’s about it. However, tea is available in abundance so take advantage of all the different teas. We really enjoyed that part.
While we were still in Beijing, we did visit Tiananmen Square. It was very high security and we were not to discuss the history that some may know. The famous video of the Chinese man standing up to the tank is not to be mentioned. Remember, China is a communist country and the people seem to really fear their government. We were not able to access YouTube, Google, Facebook and many other sites while we were there unless it was through our phones utilizing our American data plan.
After leaving the square, we went to the Summer Palace to see more historical monuments.
Emperors used to create large displays to show wealth and abundance of materials. As you can see this marble boat below could never be utilized as a boat. Because it’s marble. This was the first time I realized that I had come across water in Beijing.
Here I got my first dose of the squatty potty! I had never used a toilet that was not westernized. If you’re wondering what I mean by this, a westernized toilet is a sitting toilet. An eastern toilet is a porcelain hole in the ground that you hang over. It definitely took some getting used to. So if you’re planning a trip, get to strengthening those quads for hanging!
While walking the Summer Palace, I began realizing that most of the tourists we were seeing were from different parts of Asia. We RARELY ran into other Americans. So this made you the highlighter in a box of pencils. Our tour group of 6 people got SO many stares and requests for pictures. Most of the locals wouldn’t ask us for permission which eventually got a little difficult to tolerate. Mainly because you could be washing your hands after using the bathroom while someone was trying to take your picture. But I now understand how exotic I must have looked to be fair skinned, tall, with light brown hair.
We were able to stop at a panda zoo, but it was nothing like I expected. It was mostly cement with little space for the bears.
Visiting old Beijing was really interesting. We got to see how people live, how they craft to make money, and more of the local cuisine. It truly is wild how much property costs in old Beijing due to the amount of people in the city. Beijing is home to a little over 22 million people. And that’s just Beijing!
We traveled within China by plane and it wasn’t as difficult as I expected air travel to be. We were flying to our river boat for a 3 day cruise on the Yangtzee River. This was a great way to see ancient China. We made stops along the river to different towns that looked so tiny, but housed millions of people. We got to see ancient coffins buried in the side of mountains as we cruised down the river. And we also got to stop and explore more architecture, street vendors, and view different types of landscape.
If you are expecting extreme luxury, a trip to Asia may not be the trip for you. Remember, China is still a developing country. This was our river boat. Each room did have a balcony door, a bathroom, and two twin beds. All overnight accommodations will provide two twin size beds. If you are asthmatic, China is not the place for you. Between the smog and the cigarette smoke, you may not be able breathe well.
We visited a food bazaar which was really neat since I’ve only seen them on The Travel Channel. They sure do have some of the most interesting things for sale. This is a showcase of many different parts of a duck for sale. Marinated and prepared of course. Most of the cases offered things like insects, organ meats, etc.
This is a view from the back of our river boat cruising. Still very mountainous terrain. It was very beautiful scenery at times.
As surprising as it may sound, areas like the one shown above could be home to more than 1 million people. It looks like you may only have a few thousand. We continued to pass towns like this only to hear the captain mention how many millions of people inhabit the area.
One of our stops was to visit the Red Bagoda. It was quite interesting since it was built without any nails and built into the side of a mountain.
We would pass more intricate artwork along the way. We thought this yin and yang was really cool.
We also learned that the Chinese people that are native to their area will wear clothing to represent their culture. Here is a photo below.
After our cruise was finished, we ended in Chongqing. This is one of the largest cities in China housing close to 28 million people. We traveled to Shanghai next to experience futuristic China.
I’m so glad we got to experience Shanghai last. It was as close as we had gotten in the 10 day trip to having westernized culture again. The toilets, the hotel rooms, etc. The one thing that stands out the most about Shanghai was The Bund. It is the “Wall Street of China”. You must see it at night. It is breathtaking at night vs. daytime.
Here are some shots in the daytime.
They even have a Wall Street bull!
These buildings in the background are exhilarating at night.
And here is The Bund at night viewing the Chinese architecture.
And here is a photo of the British side of the Bund. Clearly showing British architecture. They even have a “Big Ben”.
This was where our trip came to an end. We took a flight out of Shanghai and made our long and exhausting trek back home over a long 24 hours. If I have any advice about the trek back home, make sure you have a day or so for recovery. You have to adjust again to that huge time difference. That takes quite a toll on your body. Especially if you’re planning to go back to work.
I hope this post has been informative about what to see and do in China. Or at least provided some helpful travel tips. This was an experience I’ll never forget and I learned so much. It really made me grateful to be an American. I appreciate my freedom to speak my mind, my freedom to utilize the internet without bans, to take deep breaths outside without fear of inhaling pollutants, and to drink fresh water from any tap in my country.
Thank you for reading and please leave any questions you may have the comment box below!