For about two years, China had been on my list, just because I wanted to go see The Great Wall, the only wonder of the world left on my bucket list! But for some reason or the other, it didn't happen. So when it was time to plan for our next vacation, the decision was simple. We gotta go to China, and any other place would be a bonus. Here is our brief itinerary:
Day 0: Arrive in Beijing
Day 1: Tour of Great Wall of China -> half a day in Beijing
Day 2: Forbidden City -> Train to Xian
Day 3: Xian tour -> Terracotta warriors -> Fly to Shanghai
Day 4: Suzhou day tour
Day 5: Hangzhou day tour
Day 6: Shanghai day tour -> Fly out around midnight
This is a part of a much longer three week itinerary where we traveled to Indonesia, Cambodia and Singapore with a one day stop over at Kuala Lumpur
What to expect:Let us get the expectations right. There are plenty of similarities between India and China, both being overpopulated, modern developing countries. I felt in many ways, China was more developed than India. But here are some observations and pointers to keep in mind:
|Comfortable high speed trains|
- There is no concept of a queue. It is mostly a funnel. After a couple of days, I was in that mode as well, "hum jahan khare hote hain, line wahin se shuru hoti hai". And it took me a while to unwind from that mode after getting back. Glad I grew up in India and knew how to deal with it.
- Hailing a cab is an art. But it isn't important that the person who hailed the cab, would be the one to get in. Person closest to where the cab stops, usually gets in. And the cabs can outrightly refuse to take you.
- Traffic is crazy. But, no matter how crowded it is, honking was way less than what I hear in India, close to nil. I was super impressed.
- Delayed flights are a norm. Be surprised if your flight is on time. And this is in general for east and south east Asia. No one will update the monitors or make announcements about the delay.
- China is surprisingly clean, with no garbage on the roads.
- People do not speak English. Use google translate even for address translations. And carry taxi cards for your cab drivers. they are life savers.
- Always take cabs from taxi queues outside your train stations or airports. Some drivers might offer you out of line service and you may be enticed to skip the queue, but it is not legit and they will ask for twice or thrice the amount. And always go by meter.
- People won't keep their phone on silent. There is no concept of personal space (remember we are in an overpopulated area), so in trains, buses, queues, no one leaves a gap. Just like home, India.
- Carry cash. Credit cards are not widely accepted. People mostly use phones to pay using their Wechat app. And you cannot link your cards to this app, as you don't have Chinese bank accounts. So, this is really tedious for travelers. So always remember to carry cash.
- I was able to use my cell phone through VPN and we had cell reception in most of the places.
- China has their own version of an app for every app in the US. And mostly, its a better version. they have their own, Google (Baidu), Uber, Whatsapp, etc.
- Most resourceful website was: Travel China Guide
When to go:
|Super crowded Forbidden City entrance|
Where to fly:
Transportation between cities:
- Trains are on time, neat and clean. Getting to the station and designated waiting room is pretty straightforward and language isn't an issue. Only thing is that you have to book them in advance through a third party and they need to send you paper tickets. We booked all our tickets from the travel china website and we received them at our hotel. Simple and easy.
- Air tickets can be bought online, but we booked ours through an agent. The main difficulty with the air travel is that all the announcements are in Chinese at the airport. None of the staff speaks English and they do not update the screens with flight changes or gate changes. We were lucky enough to find someone who told us about the gate change and we ran to the right gate. And all the flights are mostly always delayed by an hour or two. Its the widely accepted norm.
Our detailed itinerary
|Hiking the steep section of Great Wall|
|Live scorpions ready to fry|
|Inside the Forbidden City|
|Each warrior looks different from the other|
Eastern airlines. Like any other regular airlines, they were comfortable and we didn't face any issues.
|Shanghai - Across the river from The Bund|
After reaching Hangzhou, we took a cab from the station and headed out to the Lingyin temple. There is a walking path here that takes you around the carved caves. Really well done carvings and makes for some good pictures. From here, we headed out to the famous West Lake. This place is huge and it is unlikely that you will be able to walk around the entire lake in a day. So pick the spots you want to visit. For us, we were headed for lunch first, at Omar, Indian Kitchen. The food was below average. but we somehow ate and headed out to the lake. We took a short stroll and then, I came across this costume shop. Sumit didn't believe that I did want to take a picture in the empress costume. But hell yeah, I did. While clicking pictures, a couple of locals were amused enough to take my pictures and I graciously obliged ;)
We packed our bags and now were ready to head out. Best way to get to the airport, outside of metro hours would be a cab. And always always, go by the meter. So long China, until next time :)
What more to see/do
- Beijing: Temple of Heaven, Other sections of Great Wall
- Xian: Bike on top of the city wall, pagoda temple, Muslim quarters. Going to Terracotta warriors by yourself is totally do-able by bus too, if you have time.
- Shanghai: River cruise at night on the Hangpu river, French concession area and other day trips to canal cities. Zhujiajiao is pretty popular. Take the hop on hop off bus
- Chengdu for Pandas
- Guilian for countryside
- Other national parks