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Chasing China - A Trip Report By Andre
Chasing China - A Trip Report By Andre
Posted at: 5:02pm , 11 Sep 2017 By Andre Ashford

Chasing China - A Trip Report By Andre

Andre shares his journal from a recent trip to China, where he covered a large portion of the country, from Shanghai to Beijing and the Great Wall to Tiananmen Square.

Tour Op Cosmos Tourama are a specialist Coach Tour company offering both European and Long Haul Escorted  tours, along with Small Group and Private Tours. They also arrange a good range of Cruise Holidays, generally as part of the tour.  They have over 400 holiday options covering 80 countries.

I flew with Etihad from London Heathrow via Abu Dhabi. 6.5 hrs to Abu Dhabi on their A380 and then onto Shanghai 7.5 hrs on a Dream Liner. Very comfortable flights with a good choice of inflight entertainment and food.

On arrival into Shanghai the first thing that strikes you is the sheer size of the city - it has a population of 24 million (almost three times more  than London!). Hotels are good 4 star and very western in style. Must sees in Shanghai include:

  • Shanghai Museum with its Museum of Chinese Art and collection of cultural items including ancient Chinese bronze, ceramics, painting and calligraphy. We spent a couple of hours there and just wasn’t enough time before  we  had fun negotiating the Shanghai underground (don't worry, there are plenty of English signs so it's  easy to navigate).

  • We also spent a morning at the river walking along The Bund. On one side there are the old colonial style buildings, and you could easily think you were walking through any number of European cities. Whilst across the river you gaze at modern Shanghai with its high-rise skyscrapers, many of which would rival New York.

  • The  wonderful Oriental Pearl Tower: in the evening, we went on a river cruise, at which time the buildings come alive with a lights show.

  • During the afternoon we visited the Yu Gardens which offer peace and tranquillity in this busy environment. Constructed over 400 years ago during the Ming Dynasty.

Day three we flew from Shanghai to Xi’an with China Eastern. Flight time just about 2 hours. Xi’an is a city with a population of 9 million, which surprised me as I thought it was a small rural city. The old part of the city is enclosed within the city wall which runs for about 14 km, and a popular activity is to cycle around the wall. Sadly we only had time for a brief visit before attending a Cultural Show with a Dumpling feast.

The highlight of Xi’an is the visit to the Terracotta warriors which we did the next morning. Early start for the one hour drive to the site. Listed by UNESCO in 1987 as a world heritage site. Often described as the eighth wonder of the world, and discovered in 1974 when a local farmer was digging a well, it is now home to 8000 warriors, but this is only a small part of the site, and the excavation will probably be ongoiing for many decades to come. It is a shame that we only had the one day here as the local guide was saying that there are over 1000 places within Xi’an of historical interest. Most tours would allow more time here and spend 2 days / nights.

After our morning visit to the warriors, and then a quick lunch, it was off to the Train Station to catch the Bullet Train to Beijing 6 hours away - hugey comfortable, we cruised at a steady 300 kph!

Beijing highlights: 

  • Great Wall, which was around 1.5 hrs drive from Beijing

  • Tiananmen Square combined with the Forbidden City

  • Temple of Heaven

  • Summer Palace - most tours will spend 3 full days here, and you do need to be part of a tour , to get all the necessary permits to visit the main sites.

The Great Wall was my personal highlight. It stretches around 5,500 miles but only parts of it are open. We went by cable car to a height of around 600m and then climbed a similar height again. You do need to a level of fitness to walk any distance on the wall. Most tours would allow you to spend 2 – 3 hours on the wall.

Tiananmen Square (the largest in the world) is in the centre of Beijing and is the home of the annual parade. At sunrise and sunset there is a ceremony to raise and lower the China National Flag.

Forbidden City. Accessed through Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City was built in the early 1400’s and has since been destroyed several times. What people see now is from the 18th century. Consisting of 9,000 rooms spread over 250 acres you can only hope to see parts of it during your visit with your guide.

Summer Palace. As the largest royal garden in China, Beijing's Summer Palace is actually a park-like imperial retreat spread out over 10 square miles. The Summer Palace in northwest suburban Beijing is the largest and most complete imperial garden existing in China. Once a summer retreat for emperors, this 290-acre park is still a retreat for the tourists who can relax or walk around ancient pavilions, mansions, temples, bridges and huge lake.

Temple of Heaven. Located in the southern part of Beijing, the Temple of Heaven has been one of the most holy places for the whole country for more than five centuries. It's used as a complex of sacrificial buildings for the Ming and Qing emperors and is the largest one in Beijing.

Most tours to China last around ten days (so, not quite as hectic as we experienced!). The hotels are a good standard, as was the food, which was predominantly Chinese but western style dishes can be arranged. Drinks were generally not included, but could be purchased everywhere for around £1 for a soft drink and £2 - £3 for a beer. In the hotel bars you would pay more.

A tour can be the ideal way to see the country, but there is a lot of walking, so may not be suitable for all, as you will need a level of fitness.

Finally, note that you do need a Visa to visit China, which costs around £85.

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