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Trip Report China Trip - 2 Cities + Lakes, Rivers, and Rice Terraces!

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On our list of places to visit, China was definitely in the bottom third. We love Europe and have traveled there almost every year. Non-western trips include India and Sri Lanka with a glorious week in Hong Kong when it was still under British control. But when friends from London announced that they would be living in Shanghai for a year, a trip to China suddenly became our top priority. Several months of reading and planning lead us to decide to do part of the trip on our own - our airport cities of Shanghai and Beijing- and the middle part would be private tours and transfers to Suzhou, Hangzhou, Longsheng Rice Terraces, Guilin, and Yangshuo. We arranged the private tour package through a friend we had met on the Rick Steve's travel boards. Ron helped us select China Advocates as our China travel agency and we were more than pleased with the plan they put together. Further reading (including many posts here), meant we were ready for hard beds, pushy crowds, and a more Westernized feel. Traveling in late June would also promise bad air quality and/or monsoon weather. Combined with a general indifference for Chinese food we thought our expectations were low enough to be realistic. We were ready for everything except for what really happened - we fell in love with China.

Flight to Shanghai-
Our son recently moved to Seattle so when I saw that Delta was beginning a new non-stop from Sea-Tac to Pudong Airport, I jumped on tickets for the first day on the schedule. 3 days of glorious weather and Washington wine tasting helped bring us a few hours closer to Shanghai time and an easy flight deposited us into a VERY hot, very smoggy city. Our friends picked us up so we didn't get to ride the maglev train but we welcomed the a/c in the car. After dropping bags at their apartment in the Pudong area we took the subway to the office building where our friend works and had a great meal at a branch of Din Tai Fun, the well known Taiwanese dumpling restaurant. It was a perfect introduction to "real" Chinese food and we started to think maybe we wouldn't fare so badly eating-wise after all!

With our friends off to work, we were on our own to explore the city. The day started off hot and got hotter and wetter. We walked around People's Park but quickly sought refuge in the Shanghai Urban Planning museum. We are real estate developers so maybe this held our interest more than the average visitor, but we loved reading about the history of the city's development and seeing the large scale model of Shanghai. With the heat still very oppressive, we decided to continue our indoor touring with the Shanghai Musuem nearby. This was a highlight for us-the beautifully arranged collection of paintings, jade, sculptures and ethnic costumes took us 2 hours to see and we still missed a great deal. With the heat and lingering effects of travel upon us, we started back home walking along the Bund and then took the "tourist ride" under the river. The psychedelic light show was hilarious though we're still not sure we got the point of it! Dinner was at M on the Bund-an incredible Mediterranean/European restaurant with a rooftop bar that gave us great views of the neon skyline of Pudong.

Shanghai -French Concession
The next day was cooler and more overcast with better overall air quality-actually felt pretty good-so we decided to visit the French concession area. We walked through Xintiandi, the newly redone shopping area, and went into the Museum at the site of the first meeting of the communist party of china. We saw gardens, the Bird and Insect market, and had our first bargaining experience buying "silk" scarves and a Mao statue (can't believe my husband carried this around for the next 10 days!). We liked the more Chinese feel of the streets and just enjoyed walking and looking at everything. Dinner was at a restaurant that served Szechuan cuisine with our friends and some of his colleagues. It also featured a "Changing Faces" show (look for this on YouTube-we thought it was amazing!). In general we found Shanghai to be an exciting, vibrant mix of old and new. Lots of young people, lots of "foreigners", lots of English signage, great subway system. All in all an easy way to be introduced to China.

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    It is fantastic you fell in love with China! Delighted to hear you did the "exciting, vibrant" Shanghai on your own, I think you covered all the major sights/sites and smart to visit the two museums in the nasty heat (my sister says it has been 39 degrees in the past 3 days). Btw, the GTG we organized in May was at Ding Tai Fung and glad you enjoyed it. The subway is so clean, fast and user-friendly, I wish our US ones are like those. I am guessing your Szechuan dinner was at Southern Beauty, right?

    Patiently waiting to hear more!

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    The restaurant in shanghai was Ba Guo Bu Yi. The Changing Faces show was pretty amazing-we were right up front and even when we realized what to look for we couldn't exactly see how it was done! And yes, we were pretty impressed by the subway in both Shanghai and in Beijing. We had expected it to be a little harder to get around the cities but the maps and station announcements in the subways were very clear and easy to understand, street signs were all in "English", and any wandering we did was on purpose and eventually got us to where we wanted to go.

    And I can't say enough about China Advocates-they really put together a plan that combined what we thought we wanted with things we didn't know we'd love (Longsheng, Guilin). Their part of our trip comes up next.

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    Our tour through China Advocates began with a guide and driver picking us up at our friends' apartment in Shanghai and taking us to the train station. They gave us a cellphone with all the guide's numbers in it to use for the trip but we only used it a few times. Nice idea though. The high speed train to Suzhou took about 30-40 minutes and we were met by Janet at the other end. Each of our guides had an English name and we enjoyed hearing how/why they selected their particular name. We immediately went to the canals and had a boat ride and for the first time felt the "exoticness" of our location. Both lunch and dinner in Suzhou were included in our package and we were sent to two restaurants that served regional specialties. We continued to find the food just amazing. We especially liked the eggplant and green bean or "long bean" preparations. We saw two gardens including the Humble Administrators Garden and had one visit to an obvious shopping destination (this was not on our original itinerary so I assume Janet added it). We went to the Suzhou Museum and liked the outside (I.M. Pei) more than the inside - nice, but we had just seen and loved the Shanghai Museum. We skipped walking around after dinner- we were just too tired and so turned in early. One negative to any kind of escorted trip is not having a feel for the layout of a city. I assume that is why we felt that of all the places we went, Suzhou would have been the more difficult to do on our own. It seemed like we did a lot of driving for what I thought was a small town.

    I am usually the one to research hotels, restaurants, etc. so it was very different to have that all done for us. We certainly ended up traveling "above our station" and the Pan Pacific hotel in Suzhou was fabulous. The room (and bed) was very comfortable, there was a nice pool that my husband used and we loved the first of several incredible breakfast buffets. When faced with the choice of Asian, American, and European breakfast items I did the sensible thing and had all three. Great coffee throughout our trip as well - a plus for both of us!

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    The Chinese towns and cities are way larger than US ones and the population is usually 5 fold. The I.M. Pei Museum received mixed reviews from the locals. Were you taken to the silk factory for shopping?

    Simple recipe for the veggie dishes: When the oil gets hot in the wok, throw in some minced garlic and ginger, after 2-3 seconds, add the cut up beans or eggplants, stir continuously till it gets to the level you prefer (some like it crisp, others wilted), add salt or soy sauce and a pinch of sugar to taste (plus chili paste if you like it hot), enjoy with hot rice.

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    Our "unplanned" stop was a shopping tour of double sided pictures - pictures painted so that on one side their would be, for example, a white cat and on the other side a tan cat. Not exactly our cup of tea. The Silk factory was actually on the itinerary but we did ask to skip it.

    And thank you for the veggie recipe!! As I said before I didn't think I liked Chinese food and of all the vegetables I think green beans the most boring, but I took to referring to them as the "Crack Green Beans" - they were so good they must have added something to make me crave them! What kind of oil would you use - should I start with something like peanut oil and then maybe add a little sesame oil?

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    I use 1/2 organic vegetable oil and 1/2 very mild olive oil. Sesame oil is not suitable for cooking. For its aroma, after you turn off the flame and before you plate the food, drizzle a little sesame oil in it and gently stir, it also gives the food a sheen without looking oily.

    There is no beating around the bush about it, the majority of restaurant food in China has MSG in it to enhance the flavor.
    What did you like most about the beans and why? The taste, the texture or something else? Was it just beans or another noticeable minced ingredient, or perhaps the flavor of the sauce? I am intrigued.

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    Shanghainese-it was partly the texture of the green beans - as if they had been roasted, but not dry. Just not as bland and starchy tasting as regular green beans. So what does MSG do exactly? I think some people don't like it because they have a bad reaction to it? One other thing I noticed is that most of the food we had were separate items - not a stir fry where you mix everything together, so maybe I was just appreciating the individual flavors more. Regardless, I now really am ruined for Chinese food here!

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    After the wonderful breakfast at Pan Pacific, Janet and our driver picked us up to take us to the train station for our next destination-the lovely city of Hangzhou. Another wonderfully fast and comfortable ride brought us to Ben-our favorite guide in a wonderful city! Our two days in Hangzhou consisted of another boat ride (on the beautiful West Lake), more gardens, more good food, another great hotel - The Shangri-La. We really liked Hangzhou - a "resort" city with everyone there for the same thing - to be outside, enjoying the lake. Favorite things were:

    - Running & Cycling around the lake - we thought we'd have the place to ourselves by getting up early. Not exactly the case but it was much less crowded and many were doing the same thing we were doing.

    - Joining the rest of the photographers, both professional and amateur, in trying to get the perfect picture of the blooming Lotus flowers.

    - Lunch at a Tea Farmer's house. Apparently the tea farmers do this during the slow season (tea was picked in spring) to raise extra cash. We had "country cooking" that again was far superior to anything I've had in North America. We were seated between two tables and my husband decided to join them in a toast (they were from the same factory and on a "team building" trip). They seemed to enjoy his enthusiasm so we bought some beer for the tables. This was greeted with delight and next thing we know one of the men came over with a jar of clear liquid that they poured for my husband and indicated he should drink it. He did, I did, we all did - our guide thought it was homemade corn liquor. We had a great time though we spoke no common language!

    -Seeing the performance of Impression West Lake. This was fabulous! We would see another Impression show later in Yangshuo that we thought was even more spectacular, but since this was our first one we were really blown away by the staging. Ben had told us the story so we followed it very easily. The only strange thing for us was that there was no "big finale" as there are in American productions. We didn't really understand that the show was over till halfway through what we came to realize was the curtain call. This is either a cultural difference or an artistic choice as the same thing happened in Yangshuo. I'd be interested in whether anyone has some insight on this.

    - Our favorite restaurant - Lonjing #7 Garden Restaurant. Many of the other restaurants so far had been large places with large tables, lots of families, etc. This had a more "elegant" feel, more modern - it was the kind of place you'd want to go for date night -small tables, quiet atmosphere, low lighting. Don't get me wrong - we really loved the other places as well, but this one stands out for the quality of food & presentation.

    -Talking with our guide, Ben, about a variety of things - his family, his hometown, China's one child policy, his outlook on China for the future. He was our favorite guide and we'd definitely go back to Hangzhou and we'd definitely use him again.

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    I topped my Topic on China emergency phone # and MSG for you. In the US, some Chinese restaurants have signs posted in the window -- No MSG used.

    The green beans you had were not stir fried, they were flash fried. When 1/2 wok of veg oil gets very very hot, gently lower in the beans, stir with extra long cooking chopsticks for 1 minute and scoop out with a spider. Sprinkle with seasonings to taste. One has to be deft to make it, we usually go to a restaurant to enjoy it.

    Chinese stir fry uses one main item altho mushrooms, tofu, wood ear fungus, pickles and chiles can be added. The mix- everything-together stir fry didn't originate from China, it was invented in the US by Chinese immigrants and is called chop suey.
    Does your markets have long eggplants? I have a simple recipe that doesn't require stir fry. Cut both ends off the eggplants, then cut each in 1/2, steam till soft. Use chopsticks to tear lengthwise into pieces, drizzle with sesame oil and soy sauce, gently toss and eat warm or cold.

    My interpretation of the lack of "finale" in Chinese productions is that's cultural, each act of the show is already marvelous, how do you take it further? The director is the same one who oversaw the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics, we also saw the "Impressions Lijiang" on the slopes of the Jade Snow Mountain, it depicted how the minorities folks including Tibetans live harmoniously together. We sat on tree trunk stools with cushions so we could turn around when 50 horsemen galloped from behind us onto the huge stage, it was a rare treat. Also many Chinese plays, operas and movies, like European works, end in tragedy.

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    Shanghainense-thank you so much for all the great info on cooking! We can get the long eggplants so I'm happy to get your recipe.

    Impressions Liiang sounds even better than the two we saw! Now, when we return to china, well have to be sure to add that one to our list.

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    Longsheng Rice Terraces

    We reluctantly left Hangzhou early in the morning to take our flight to Guilin. Loved both our flights in China in terms of efficiency, easy flight and most of all seat comfort - lots of room in economy! We were fed lunch though I didn't eat most of it - the only bad food we had on the trip was the airline food , pretty awful. We arrived in Guilin and were met by David and our driver. We would sleep in three different places the next three nights - not the way we usually do things, but each hotel was different from the other and we actually had a good bit of downtime so we didn't really feel rushed. Guess this is part of letting someone else do all the planning, driving, etc.

    It was a two hour drive to the Longsheng area. I don't know how you would get here without a driver - I did see large buses but they had to park at the lower parking lot and then take a smaller shuttle up the mountain. It seems many travelers come here just for the day. We would stay the night at the Li An Lodge - a lovely small hotel (16 rooms - and we were the only ones there at the time) whose owner has published photos of the area in National Geographic. Getting to the lodge involved a 1/2 mile walk up through the village where inhabitants carry everything from groceries to building materials either on their backs or the backs of mules. Our luggage was toted by two women from the Zuhang minority and seeing these people and those of the Yao ethnic group is part of what brings tourists to the area. The red Yao women do not cut their hair and we were invited to take pictures (for a small tip) with the women as they unwrapped their hair. We spent the afternoon settling into the inn, hiking a small bit of the rice terraces and taking about a hundred pictures. It was SUCH a beautiful area. Dinner was with David sitting outside enjoying the views of the mountains and the village. It was lovely to wander back to the Lodge on our own, taking in the sights of the night with so few people about. After a good sleep and a good breakfast, we did another hike on our own, spending a few hours walking up to a viewpoint and then wandering back through the trees. It was a welcome rest from the museums and cultivated gardens of the cities we had been in previously. After lunch we walked back down to the village parking lot and set off for Guilin.

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    We arrived at our hotel - another Shangri La property that is a little outside the downtown area of Guilin, but right along the river. It was a beautiful property, though they were still working on the grounds. Incredible outdoor and indoor pool. We were apparently booked as "club lounge" members and when I looked into the lounge and saw the beautiful view of the karst formations against the river I got my husband and we enjoyed a real glass of wine (Australian) while looking over the scenery. It was lovely. David took us to the downtown and brought us to our dinner place by walking through the "food court" area that looked like it was selling amazing food on a stick, scallion pancakes, all kinds of noodles and yummy stuff. It was packed with people and I would have enjoyed trying some of the food, but we were booked at a restaurant and ate there. After dinner we decided to walk the couple of miles back along the 4 lakes and eventually onto the river. Guilin at night was beautiful - everything was lit that could possible hold a light - trees, pagodas, bridges built to represent the Golden Gate, Rialto, etc. It is probably thought to be terribly tacky by many but we loved it. People were out strolling along the lakes, dancing, listening to music. It was very romantic! We encountered several groups of women - mostly older women, who were dancing to boomboxes in some sort of a planned choreography. The few hours we had in Guilin were not enough. In hindsight we would have ditched Suzhou for another night in Guilin - but we had specifically asked to see Suzhou so we don't blame China Advocates for not realizing we would have loved more Guilin!

    We had a lovely breakfast in the Club Lounge again in the morning, took a last look at the view from the window and headed to the port for our day cruise down the Li River.

    Li River and Yangshuo

    When China Advocates suggested a Li River cruise as part of our itinerary, I didn't think it would be a good idea because of the time of year-beginning of monsoon. We were assured that any inclement weather would only add to the "ambiance" of the scenery. The day was overcast so again it felt pretty good. We sat at a table with some folks from London and a couple from Hong Kong. It was the first time in that area for all of us and we enjoyed talking about our china travels. When a short rainstorm sent passengers inside, the 6 of us were left outside to enjoy the solitude. The scenery was truly gorgeous-this was the only time when my pictures didn't do the area justice. I liked this much more than I thought I would and I credit China Advocates with understanding the importance of providing a variety of experiences. After Shanghai and Suzhou, the feeling of being more "in the countryside" was a nice one. With our European travels I always make a point of booking very small town/outdoorsy stuff in the middle but hadn't made this a priority for this trip-I'm glad they convinced me to see these places.
    We docked in Yangshuo and walked through the busy market street. This was definitely the most "touristy" area we saw, there were hoards of tour groups everywhere and shopping was the thing to do. The one stop we made along the way was to have the "kissing fish pedicure". You have to picture my husband- a big (6' 2") engineer from Canada who has never had a real manicure or pedicure in his life, deciding this would be a fun thing to do-love how traveling turns you into a different person! Our hotel for the night was the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat-a more rustic Eco-lodge right along the river where we could watch the bamboo rafts holding lifejacket-clad tourists who waved at us as they went by. Dinner at the lodge was great with the highlight being a young mother who upon seeing us, thrust her 2 year old into my arms to take a picture. The boy started to cry and went back to mom who then produced a small gift of tea in an orange rind and told her son to give it to us and say "Welcome to China!". More pictures and talking ensued and we left for our evening event with a warm feeling.

    Yangshuo scenery makes an incredible backdrop for another Impressions show. They light the mountains behind the river and 600 people - apparently many of them young students and/or locals do a "song and dance" on the river - complete with water buffalo, fishing boats, and fairy princesses. We found this to be an even more spectacular show than the one in Hangzhou and the full blown downpour that greeted us as we walked in and were given ponchos did nothing to diminish our enjoyment. I HIGHLY recommend this for anyone who visits this area.

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    Yangshuo to Beijing

    My husband is a cyclist and one thing we specifically asked for was a cycling opportunity so David showed up early to guide us on 2 wheels down the road where we saw many other cyclists - both individuals using bikes to commute and also larger groups of tourists out for the day. Our destination was a 300 year old farm house with a family who had lived there during the Cultural Revolution (we could see the painted slogans on the wall outside). David told us a little about the family and the farmer showed us around the old house and then asked if we had any questions we wanted to ask. My husband was very eager to talk to an "older fellow" and thus we heard how he had been a high village official during the Mao years and had housed some students who had been sent to the country for reeducation. He told us about the transition to communal living, other changes in the village, and about people who died from hunger during that time. This little chat was definitely one of my husband's favorite things.

    We ate on the main street in Yangshuo and gave a last look at the people who were just beginning to make it to the top of the street from the river cruise boats down below. We drove back to Guilin airport, again had an easy flight and arrived late in the evening in Beijing. Our new guide, Sean, met us and transported us to our final lodging - the Raffles Beijing Hotel, about 1/2 mile from Tienanmen square. We were actually a little embarrassed to walk into this lovely classic space with our sweaty travel clothes but we were greeted very warmly and taken to our room. This turned out to be a big surprise for us as our friend Ron had managed an upgrade for us to one of 9 Personality Suites. The room was enormous - it had two bathrooms (because you need one for all the guests you will entertain...)! Other perks included two lovely scarves and a chit for dinner at their restaurant. Eventually we would add 1 room service dinner and 1 dry cleaning to the tab - and all for less than I'd pay per night in New York. We tumbled into bed without any dinner as there was also a lovely fruit plate and instantly fell asleep.

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    Your TR writing is lovely, honest with just the right amount of your personal feelings, and makes us want to go back to Yangshuo. 15 years ago we spent 15 minutes there after the boat ride, no street, no lodging, only a hut with earthy squat toilets. Afterwards we took the bus back to Guilin.

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    Thanks Shanghainese. It's hard to write about well known spots. I have gotten so much from many of the trip reports I read here, though I don't always comment on them. And even when we talk to people "in person" about our trip, we have had a hard time truly expressing the feeling of the area as opposed to the things we saw. When someone asks what we liked about our trip I sum it up by saying "the people, the food, The Great Wall, the people"...

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    Great Wall & Summer Palace

    Our final tour with China Advocates was a day out of Beijing to see the Great Wall and Summer Palace. We drove to the Mutianyu section and spent a few hours. It was one of those experiences that I'll never forget. Though the day was fairly hazy there was no mistaking that magnificent snaking structure. It's like seeing Venice for the first time or the Eiffel Tower - our pictures show that we can be no where but the Great Wall. We also spent a good bit of time wandering around the Summer Palace - going onto the lake, walking down the painted corridor. I don't think I can add to what so many others have already written about these two sites except to say that they were as spectacular (to us) as promised. Returning after a long hot day, we welcomed the chance to sit in the Raffles bar and have a lovely bottle of wine. I was too tired to go out - the heat really took it's toll - and we had had an enormous and wonderful Chinese lunch, so we ordered a light snack from room service and had a somewhat early night.

    Beijing - Day 1

    The next 2 1/2 days we would be on our own. We started by walking the short distance to Tienanmen Square where we had read in at least one guidebook (maybe fodors?) to expect to spend only 15 minutes looking around as there wasn't all that much there. This was not the case for us - we LOVED just walking around the square. This was one place where we really did feel like a "celebrity". We were asked many times to have our picture taken and we learned quickly how to say "one two three" in Mandarin so we could also take pictures. Saying "Ni hao" to the Chinese tourists who stared at us caused them to laugh in surprise. I really did feel ashamed that my total of 6 Mandarin words was greeted with such delight when there were so many, especially younger people, who could speak at least some English. But this was where we really felt the warm and welcoming attitude of the people who, like us, were in Beijing to see the sights. The sheer number of people in the square, the lineups to see Mao's tomb, the huge video displays showing magnificent scenes of China - all of this was as interesting to us as seeing museums or historical buildings. We were there for well over an hour before finally heading for the Forbidden City.

    Between our guide the day before and everything else we had read, we had a pretty good idea of the significance of the Forbidden City. What astounded us was the size of the property. We were asked many times if we wanted an English speaking guide but we decided to just do this ourselves so I know we didn't see all the important buildings but enjoyed just wandering among the buildings, peering inside at the throne room, looking at the gardens, and promising that when we got home we'd watch The Last Emperor - the first feature film shot inside the Forbidden City. For anyone going to China or missing China, I highly suggest it. Exiting to the North we decided to walk to and through Baihai Park so continued our day's plan of just taking it all in. We walked back to the hotel down Wangfujing Street and laughed at the young American men who were announcing to everyone that the scorpions & seahorses on a stick didn't really taste all that bad. We decided to have our complimentary hotel dinner that night which turned out to be an Italian buffet with all the wine (also Italian) we could drink. Though I was definitely a convert to the Chinese cuisine, I had missed good wine so really enjoyed having it at Raffles for a second night.

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    Beijing - Day 2

    The next morning we headed to the Temple of Heaven. Again we enjoyed people watching more than anything - the couples ballroom dancing in the park, singers, and both kids and adults playing with the ribbon toys. Our celebrity status was eclipsed however by the two year old girl with beautiful blond curls who took in stride the crowds that surrounded her, taking her picture, asking to hold her. We also saw families of Americans with their Chinese-born daughters. We had spoken to a few families like these in Yangshuo and I thought it was an interesting theme - to go where your daughter was born, including their home province. The rest of the day we visited the Panjiayuan market which I enjoyed and the Pearl Market, which I did not. Again, we're really not shoppers so the low key atmosphere at Panjiayuan was more to my liking. Dinner that night was with friends of friends - a young couple who met while studying at University of Georgia and had been living in Beijing for several years. They insisted that no visit to Beijing was complete without eating Peking Duck so we met them for dinner at Made in China. Maybe others have mentioned this, but my favorite part of the Peking Duck was the very thing crispy skin that we dipped in sugar - instant food rush!

    Our final morning we decided to walk through the Houhai hutongs. We wandered along the lake, took any side street that looked interesting, paid to see the inside of one of the larger courtyard house and generally enjoyed our last bit of time in the city. A quick trip to the airport, another good but long flight, and suddenly we were home.

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    General Impressions

    What we liked about traveling to China:
    1) The people - SOOOO friendly, so excited that we were there. This was mostly in Beijing as we were told that the people flocking to Tiananmen Square were also tourists, not from Beijing - therefore lots of requests to have our picture made with their mother!

    2) The food - NOTHING like Chinese food I have here. So much better.

    3) The sights - I really couldn't believe I was on the Great Wall. It was one of those "oooh ahhh moments".

    4) The ability to travel above our station - see our comments on hotels, etc.

    5) Guided/Not Guided tour - we definitely enjoyed having a little of both. And we highly recommend China Advocates for those looking to have a personalized tour.

    6) The cleanliness & safety - the city's were CLEAN (except for the air...). I have no idea where they put their garbage - don't ask don't tell? And everywhere we went we felt incredibly safe.

    7) Seeing a country in transition - we may be odd, but we don't need to see everything be old, quaint, original, etc. Some call it Disneyfication - I call it moving toward the future in a realistic manner and taking advantage of tourism as a means to do that! Therefore we loved seeing the modern buildings in Shanghai, the GREAT subway systems in the cities, the huge new airport in Hangzhou, the vast number of young people learning English and anxious to say "Hello! How are you" - and their funny reactions when we replied "Ni hao!".

    What we didn't like:

    1) The weather - it was hot and humid. Let me say it again but imagine me saying it with greater emphasis - HOT AND HUMID! We chose this time as it suited our friends better - when we go back it will hopefully be fall or spring. But we've also been to Italy only in the summer and what's true there is true here - August in Italy is better than no Italy at all. And we actually didn't suffer as much as we thought. If our only time to go back turned out to be monsoon season we'd still rather go than not go.

    2) The air quality in Beijing and Shanghai. One very nice person at Raffles asked us to come back in 5-10 years because "we are working toward a scientific solution to the bad air quality".

    3) Coming home.

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    I am not even sure how I got to this trip report, but I am so glad that I did. A wonderful take on a country that I have not really wanted to Visit but this report may change my mind! Great descriptive writing. Fantastic.

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    lolazahra, I am glad you found this trip report. Beautiful. Descriptive writing! I have been to many of these places in China, and really enjoyed reading her trip report. We will be in China, but different places, in 2 weeks. Can/t wait!

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    So happy to hear that you fell in love with the food. And, yes, it is miles better than Chinese-American food, which amounts to defamation of character.

    In some US cities, you can get real Chinese food - sometimes made with good wok skills, but I am skeptical about Atlanta.

    Although MSG (mono sodium glutamate) has a bad rap dating from the 70s, it is a natural flavor enhancer and glutamates are considerd to provide the fifth taste, umami. (salty, sour, bitter, and sweet being the four primary tastes) It is naturally found in soy sauce, for example. The idea that it causes headaches or other medical problems is now considered bogus, though that belief remains a common myth.

    China is vast and contains so many ighlights that are not on the radar of the mass tourism industry. Even a minor sight completely neglected by Westerners might be a highlight if transported to a more convenient spot.

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    So I looked up what you have access to in the Atlanta area:

    I see that Northern Chinese Eatery in Doraville, GA looks promising. Especially the jian bing (crepe with crullers), green beans with onion, lamb noodle soup, pork and fennel dumplings, the #3 special griddle cooked spicy fish or the fish with corn bread and tofu, green beans with onions, cabbage with egg yolk, mandarin meat pie..... Though I have never been there, they are at least serious.

    Looks like they make quite a variety of foods there, but the wheat-based foods like the handmade noodles, biscuits, crepes, buns, corn bread and dumplings are going to be particularly northern chinese.

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    How nice to see that my old trip report has been recently read. It's funny to read what I said about "having low expectations for China and maybe that is why we enjoyed it so much". We are currently in Japan, somewhere we've always wanted to visit. In this case, hoping and expecting more has not proved disappointing!

    Lolazahra-I hope you do consider China for a trip and will report back.

    KarenWoo-enjoy your trip - which places are you visiting?

    Shelemm-thanks for the info on the restaurant in Doraville - we will be sure to check that out when we return home!

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    KarenWoo -- safe and wonderful travels. Let is know what you discover and uncover this time around!

    AtlTravelr -- we have been to Japan and enjoyed it immensely. Of course, one trip is not enough so we will plan a return trip at some point. And I am indeed inspired to begin researching China -- excited in fact. Continue to enjoy Japan.

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    Yes, I will write a trip report. Although we are usually independent travelers, we are using a travel agent for this trip. There will be only 4 of us: me, my husband, our daughter, and son-in-law. The trip is customized for us. We will have 2 free days to do what we want, and the other days we will have a tour guide and driver.
    Our trip is for 2 weeks, and we felt using a travel agent is the best way to see what we want to see in 2 weeks.

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