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Cookies' China Trip Report - including Victoria Yangtze River Cruise and Shanghai/Beijing notes

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Hi Everyone,

I have just returned from a fabulous month in China.
Rather than do a detailed trip report, I will do some trip notes –in order of the places we visited, and then some general notes at the end.

Thanks a lot to all the people who answered any questions I had when planning, and also to those who posted previous trip reports. I can’t remember all your names but I hope that you recognise your suggestions or recommendations in our trip.

Our itinerary was:
Fly into Beijing (one night)
Overnight train to Xi’an (3 nights)
Fly to Yichang to catch Victoria Cruise ship (4 nights)
Fly from Chongqing to Guangzhou (6 nights)
Fly to Shanghai (7 nights)
Fly to Beijing (7 nghts)
Fly home

Overnight train from Beijing to Xi’an.
Lots of fun. An enjoyable experience. We booked soft sleeper (4 to a room). The little room is very clean and comfortable. 2 beds either side with clean blanket and pillow. They provide hot water, but nothing else (though there is a buffet car and local people walk on the train selling food at some stations). Make sure you take toilet paper (actually always carry some tissues in China) and soap or waterless hand sanitising stuff as the bathroom got pretty gross by the end of the trip.

Attractions we visited: Drum Tower, Bell Tower, Little Goose Pagoda, Muslim Quarter. The Muslim Quarter was definitely our favourite thing in Xi’an (explore the area around Nanyuan Men). The street is very interesting, and there are lots of Muslim men selling food from their street carts. The food is very very good and very cheap (Xian probably had the best street food out of any place we visited). There is also a bazaar that sells tourist things – knock offs and kitschy souvenirs. From memory, the prices were cheaper than in Beijing.

Terracotta Warriors: We arranged a tour to see the Warriors through our hostel. From what we could work out, generally the tours to the Warriors are arranged into Eastern Tours or Western Tours. The Western tour is longer and includes the Xianyang City and some less popular tourist sites. The Eastern tour sticks to the more popular tourist sites (Warriors, Huangqing Pool etc.) and is the more popular of the two. We took an Eastern tour. It included the Warriors, Huangqing pool, a Terracotta Warriors factory, the Qing tomb and a stop for lunch. We paid 220 RMB each and this included everything (entrance fees, tour guide, bus) except lunch. It was definitely worth it. We had a great day. The Warriors are amazing, though I must admit I found them a bit too touristy (they are housed in a big building and attached is a movie theatre and a gallery and a shop).

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    Victoria Cruise:
    We took the 4 nights, 5 day cruise ship – Yichang to Chongqing. There were 115 staff on board, and only 15 passengers!! The boat was very nice, the food good (buffets for breakfast and lunch and then banquet style at dinner, a mix of both Western and Chinese), the staff very attentive (perhaps TOO attentive with a ratio of 115:15!) and the onshore excursions were well organised and interesting. The best onshore excursion is to the 3 Little Gorges.

    The shore excursions (there is one each day) are in the morning and then you come back on the boat and the afternoon is free. There are organised activities (talks, demonstrations, afternoon tea) that you can go to if you want. Each night there is entertainment put on by the crew, which is pretty funny.

    We definitely enjoyed the cruise, though I think that if we paid full price (we got a half price winter special), I would feel it was overpriced and perhaps not worth it.

    We did not love Guangzhou as much as the other places we visited. We included it in our trip because we were visiting friends.

    Things we did which we enjoyed: Browsing Tian he Bei area (shopping area with big plazas and centres), shopping at Beijing Lu (a large mall), Chimnelong Circus (very good circus but we did not like seeing the way they used animals in the show).

    While we were in Shanghai it was Chinese New Year! We loved Shanghai and had a fabulous time there. We agreed that we could have easily spent an extra couple of days there. It’s a destination city – there’s so much to do and see and LOTS of great food places.

    We stayed at Astor House Hotel, a very nice old hotel (the oldest in Shanghai!) just off the Bund. Very large, spacious rooms and creaky old wooden floors which add character.

    Things we enjoyed:
    Best thing we did was stroll around the French Concession area, getting lost in the backstreets (Maoming, Changle). We also liked the Xintiandi area, an area that has been done up and reminded me of Covent Garden, Yuyuan Gardens (very pretty) and the adjacent bazaar and old town which was a lot of fun to walk around for a few hours. Walking along the Bund at night (and the river area opposite – Hongpa?) is a really pleasant thing to do.

    Good food places we ate at:
    dinner at 1221 was our best meal. It has excellent food, great service and it is very reasonably priced. The menu is extensive and it is difficult to know what to choose. We had amazing pork pancakes, similar to Peking duck but it was finely chopped pork wrapped in the pancakes – sensational! We also had some nice shengjian (fried dumplings), and a twice fried smoked duck dish served with steamed buns which was nice but very rich. We also had another nice dinner at M on the Bund. The other great food place we discovered was a fabulous local dumpling place. I cannot rave about this place enough – the nicest dumplings we had ever had and they only cost about 3 yuan for a plate of 4 (that’s $A.50). It is called Fengyu Shengjian (though the name is not well sign posted) and is on the corner of Ruijin Erlu and Nanchang Lu. It is right on the corner and there is a big window where you can see the chefs make the dumplings.

    Other food places we tried:
    Din Tai Fung at Xintiandi – we were a bit disappointed considering the hype we had heard about this place (The original restaurant in Taiwan made the New York times list of 10 best restaurants in the world, 20 years ago, and since then has expanded into a chain). High Tea at the Hyatt on Sunday afternoon – nice cakes and other nibbles (all you can eat!) and good view. We only had the High Tea because the Hyatt is in Jinmao tower (Pearl Tower) and there is a great view over Shanghai. The High Tea costs only a little bit more than what it would cost to get to the top of the TV tower for a similar view. We also lined up for over an hour to get dumplings from Nanxiang in Yuyuan gardens. They were very nice, though after eating at Fengyu Shengjian, we are not sure if they were worth the hours’ wait! Oh well, it was a fun thing to do. Charmant at 1414 Huai hai Xilu (Huai hai West) – food quite nice but they charged me $12 for a single cup of oolong tea for some reason which they could not explain to us!?

    Drinking places/cafes we liked:
    I love Shanghai bar (on the Bund), Blue Frog bar/bistro (We tried the Maoming branch), Oscars Pub (in the French Concession) and Check, a very small cosy café in the backstreets of the French Concession. (I have just misplaced the address but I will post it if I find it). Visage a very chic coffee and pastry shop in Xintiandi. Delicious food but a bit pricey. Another place that looked great, but was unfortunately closed for CNY, was Whisk – a café at 1250 Huai Hai Zhonglu (Huai Hai middle rd).

    There is very good shopping in Shanghai. French Concession area is best, and has some fabulous boutiques. Nanjingdonglu (the large pedestrian mall) is alright, but we did not think there was anything very unique about it (it could have been a mall in any city we thought). There are also some recommended markets that unfortunately we did not get to.

    Getting around: We got around by walking, catching the metro (very easy, but note that zhong is middle; xi is west, dong is east and lu is road. So a stop in English might be Nanjing Donglu, and this is Nanjing East Rd) and catching taxis which is easy and cheap, but ALWAYS have your destination and hotel name written in characters.

    A really good magazine to get is City Weekend (free at hotels/tourist sites etc.). It has listings of upcoming events and interesting bars and things. However the best thing about it is that it has a lot of restaurants, sights and places (including a lot of the ones I have wrote about) written in characters so it is useful for showing the taxi drivers. We used City Weekend a lot.

    I will post my Beijing notes and some general notes soon. Any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask!

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    Thank you for your report. I learned alot from your experiences.

    I believe I read on an earlier thread that you used Toby at Uniquely China. Is this correct? I sent him an email last night (EST). I would like to know how you liked him and/ or his company.



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    I just read your posting in response to the question about the train tickets. Toby seems to be the person to contact...

    Btw, what hostel did you stay at in Xian?


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    Cookie-really interesting report. Good to know you had a fabulous time.
    Please do mention what kind of shopping you did in Shanghai and Beijing. I have heard you can buyunique items at attractive prices.
    Also where Olympic souvenirs easily available everywhere or you saw them only in Beijing.
    Planning a trip in the near future and thus collecting notes. Thanks, Waiting for your next report.

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    Thanks for the responses.

    TraceyLyn: Re Toby - He is very efficient and very good at responding to emails. We liked him. We were a bit worried when we sent him the money and THEN he said that it would take an additional two or three weeks to confirm our tickets. But our worries were completely unfounded.

    The only other thing that we did not like was that our Yangtze River Cruise departure dock changed at the last minute due to snow. Toby did not contact us and tell us this and it caused a lot of stress and hassle because we ended up at the wrong dock. He told us that he was only told the afternoon of departure that the cruise dock had changed, and that as we had not left him a phone number he couldnt contact us. However we had ONLY had contact with him via email, and he did not even try to contact us via email to tell us of this very important change.

    Generally though, we were very happy. He is efficient and knowledgeable.

    The hostel we stayed at in Xi'an was an International Youth hostel called Ludao Bingyuan. It is near the train station. The twin rooms were nice and clean and only slightly more than a dorm (though we were offered a special rate because it was winter). In addition though, Ludao Bingyuan has a 'sister' hostel. We never went there, but from the map it looks like it was in a better location - closer to downtown (near the Drum Tower).

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    Ileen. Things we bought: some kitschy mao stuff (which we were sort of reluctant to buy because of the cultural revolution but it is EVERYWHERE), some knock off shoes - the Chinese are really into cool sneakers and they copy Converse, Adidas (very good looking fakes too!) as well as have some unique designs of their own. Other shoes are cheap too. Perhaps $40USD for heels. We bought some tea and teapots (Teamarket in Beijing has much better prices than little tea shops in the street) and some pirated DVDS (we used a shop in the corner of the 2nd floor of Yashou (sp.?) market in Beijing. Very good quality, better than any dvds I have from SEAsia). Jade is cheap (try Dirt market but be wary of quality) if you like that.

    In the Shanghai French Concession area there are some really nice clothes in the boutiques (head to the back streets e.g. Maoming Lu, Changle Lu). Up and coming designers (Western designs) are very reasonably priced. The female Asian style of clothing (e.g. lace, bows, frills) is VERY VERY cheap. My traveling companion really got stuck into that. Not sure about the quality but when you are paying $2.50 for a jumper, it's almost like disposable clothing!

    You can really buy almost anything you want. We bought heaps and had to cart it all home in a suitcase we bought (fake Samsonite!). The only problems you might have are quality (fakes getting passed off as real perhaps or poorly made goods) and sizing in clothes and shoes.

    There are quite a few Beijing Olympic official stores. In Beijing they were at every big shopping centre we went to, as well as a few tourist sites. There are also touts selling keyrings and caps at big tourist sights (fakes, I'm guessing).

    Hope this helps. Feel free to ask any other questions. It means I can think about China instead of getting stuck into a large 'to do' list.

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    We LOVED Beijing. A lot. We were there a week, and it was a great way to finish our trip. It really surprised us. Whilst there is all the traffic and pollution and people everywhere, we escaped into the backstreets which is where we really fell in love with the city.

    We stayed in a really terrific hostel – Peking Downtown Backpackers. The staff were very helpful and the location was superb – in a great little Hutong not far from the Forbidden City.

    Activities we enjoyed:
    Strolling around HouHai Hutongs and down to the HouHai lake was great.
    Sitting in the terrific little cafes, which are a bit more expensive than local Chinese places, but still cheap by Western standards
    Summer Palace (the Kunming lake was frozen over so we were lazy and walked over the ice instead of all around the lake)
    The Forbidden City and Tiannamen Square (we tried to get into the Mausoleum but the queue was HUGE so either get there early or be prepared to wait for a LONG time)
    Dirt Market – good place for souvenirs but bargain well!
    Yashou Market – good place for knock offs, shoes, Chinese made clothes, DVDS, luggage
    Silk market (similar to Yashou but we thought Yashou was better)
    Lama Temple – one of the nicest temples we visited our whole trip (perhaps because it was more unique than the others)
    Temple of Heaven

    The Great Wall:
    We arranged a tour through our hostel. It cost 220rmb (all inclusive) and took a whole day. We walked Jinshanling to Simitai – a picturesque, less crowded part of the wall. It was amazing. We loved it. The walk was 7km but it took about 3 hours because the trail is steep and stony. The first part was TOUGH. Our guide said that much of this part of the wall had not been done up – the steps are crumbled and some parts are so steep you are practically climbing. We would walk/pant through/climb a section, than get to a tower (the towers are spaced out about every 200-250 metres) and gulp down water and get our breath back and then keep going. It was a great workout - my calves were still sore after 2 days and even though there was ice on the ground, we were HOT! There are hawkers along the way, and some are Mongolian farmers who are in their 80s - pretty impressive!

    The second half was easier. Perhaps we were numb to the pain, but this part I actually enjoyed much more because the steps were in better condition and I could look at the view instead of concentrating on secure footholds.

    The Wall really is stunning, and walking along it was definitely a trip highlight. I would recommend this section of the wall – fabulous views and less populated than others. Wear good walking shoes and take water.

    Places we enjoyed eating at:
    We were very fortunate to be staying in NanLuoGuXiang, a really wonderful hutong that is filled with cafes and bars and little gift shops. We tried a lot of the cafes there: but our favourite was Café Alba. It is a simple café, but it serves terrific food that is all made fresh on the premises – fabulous sandwiches (for which they make their own pesto and pound their own garlic) on home made bread rolls, scones, cakes, small puddings. All the drinks are made fresh too (including ginger ale which had bits of real ginger in it! And peach and yoghurt smoothies which had whole blended peaches in it). There is nothing fancy about this place, but it is a sweet little place in a wonderful location and it is run by a very nice Chinese woman and her daughters who do everything the proper way (no packets, shortcuts or preservatives here!). In fact, all the cafes we visited were very sweet and homely and everything was done by hand (even things like warming milk for hot chocolate in saucepans).

    Other places we tried in our street which we enjoyed: Fish nation (nice fish and great hand cut chips), Xin Xian café which has delicious cheesecake, Salud which is a nice Spanish themed bar, Café Sandglass which had terrific hot chocolate.

    We also tried Quanjude restaurant for Peking Duck. We went to the one off Wangfujing. Very nice duck.

    Xang Wang’s home restaurant which is raved about in Lonely Planet (even appearing in the top 10 list of best restaurants in china) but we found a bit disappointing. We had much nicer meals in other places.

    A fun place we ate at was the Donghuamen Night Market, where they sell skewers of all kinds (starfish, seahorse, beef, chicken, fruit with toffee) and some other interesting things.

    Two other nice bars we went to were No Name bar, overlooking the Houhai lake. Very nice place to soak up the atmosphere. And Bed, Tapas Bar (misplaced address but I will post it if I find it) which was a very cool place, in a hutong, that had nice tapas and sangria.

    Getting around:
    We caught taxis to get around. It is cheap and convenient when not staying on the metro line. We always had our destination written in characters. The drivers are honest and will use the metre. Do not take taxis that are outside big tourist sites and the driver tries to negotiate a price, they will always quote a rate much higher than what the metre would cost. Also be careful about getting into black taxis – they tick over at a much faster rate than the others (I think they are ‘luxury taxis’?).

    Publications we used:
    Lonely Planet China
    Beijing City guide by Time Out – very very informative book. Used it a lot
    Beijing City Weekend. Same deal as Shanghai – places listed in characters, and very up to date with the latest and greatest.

    That is all I can think of for now about Beijing, but please feel free to ask any questions.

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    If you are thinking of visiting China, I would definitely recommend it. We had a great time and are keen to go back to see many other parts we did not have time for (Lhasa, Yunnan province, Haerbin, Guilin). Perhaps it is better to go sooner than later – I read an interesting article that predicted by 2020 China would be the most popular country to visit in the world! Couple this with the 1.3 billion Chinese and that’s a LOT of people!

    It is a wonderful country. Great food, shopping, culture, sights, people. We always felt perfectly safe (though of course we were sensible). The only bad thing was the pollution. I am mildly asthmatic and towards the end of the trip I had to use my puffer quite a few times (I rarely use it at home) – the mix of constant, heavy cigarette smoke and pollution was a bit much.

    While we were there (22 January – 20 February) China had its coldest winter in 50 years! We were very cold in Xi’an – the only place we could find with decent heating was Starbucks! We were also very cold our first day in Beijing (we flew into Beijing, then traveled, then had a week at the end) – the temperature wasn’t too low, but the cold wind just went right through us and it was FREEZING. When we went back to Beijing (13-20February) the weather was beautiful – about 5 degrees (Celsius) and the sun shining.

    Overall China is cheap. We were surprised at how cheap. Food and accommodation are not expensive. At the time of travel the Australian dollar was worth approx. 6 yuan. We withdrew money from ATMs when we needed it. A rough estimate would be that 2000yuan ($320AUD) would last us about 4-5 days and this would include EVERYTHING (accommodation, food, shopping, getting around, entrance fees) and we would be able to live very well.

    We stayed in two hostels (about 75yuan a night, per person twin share private bathroom), and a hotel ($75 altogether per night). Apart from that we stayed with friends or on the cruise boat.

    We tried the whole gamut of food places – from cheap local Chinese street carts (about 3 yuan for a yummy snack) to tourist places to expensive Western places. Generally we found the local places (which are about 10 times cheaper) to be more delicious than any tourist places, and usually more delicious than the big name, raved about restaurants. The only problem is that sometimes there is no English menu so we either had to point to someone else’s table (perfectly acceptable), say the name of a dish we wanted and hope they had it, or take potluck and point to a random character on the menu (an interesting but not very successful technique). A meal in a local place – a meat dish, a vegetable dish, rice and drinks could cost as little as 25yuan. Though most of our meals cost around 50-100 yuan. If you eat non-Chinese food the prices are much higher, example two sangrias and two plates of tapas cost us about 200yuan.

    Entrance fees are not much, examples: 50yuan for Summer Palace.

    Clothing and shoes are cheap, but remember to bargain at markets. Even in smaller shops you can bargain and they will take a bit off the price.

    Getting around in taxis is cheap. Going small distances can cost only 15yuan. I think our most expensive taxi ride was about 80 yuan, and this was going quite far. The metro is also cheap – depends on how far you go but I think it generally cost between 3-5 yuan.

    We planned out our itinerary and then contacted Toby from Uniquely China, who we had heard about on these boards. He arranged all our internal transport, and the Victoria Cruise. We found him to be good (see reply above for more details if interested).

    We were very glad we went independently. It was not difficult at all and it meant we could travel at our own pace and see what we wanted to see. We used Lonely Planet China quite a lot.

    We were in Shanghai for CNY. We did not find that it affected out travel much. We were not able to get onto trains because they were booked out, but this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. As I mentioned, it was the coldest winter in 50 years. This meant it snowed in parts of China where it hasn’t snowed for over a century. The snow caused havoc with the trains – millions of people were stranded at train stations (800 000 people were SLEEPING at Guangzhou train station and a lady got crushed to death) and on highways and in airports.

    Anyway, apart from some places we wanted to eat at being closed, it really did not affect us much. We had pre-booked accommodation and all our transport which was the right thing to do. (We met other travellers who had difficulty getting transport around CNY). Note that the final night of New Year seemed to be bigger than the other nights. We made a mistake and went out New Years eve but not the final night, which turned out to be much bigger.

    CULTURAL things:
    The Chinese stare. A lot. My travelling companion has white blonde hair and copped a lot of stares. Not always rude stares, just inquisitive. She also had random people run up to her and hug her and ask to have their photo taken with her.
    The Chinese also like to spit and snort.
    They do not queue like in a Western country. When they want something they just push their way through.
    Crossing roads can be scary – the cars seem to have priority over pedestrians. If it as a very busy road we would often join a group of locals and cross with them.

    Of course there are lots of others cultural nuances, but these are a couple that we noted in particular. The staring did get a little uncomfortable at times, but we quickly got used to it and embraced it as part of our Chinese trip.

    It was quite surprising, though refreshing, at how few people spoke English (though this is changing because I think most young people learn English at school). It is certainly good to learn a few Chinese words and the numbers up to 10. We found the Lonely Planet pocket sized Mandarin book to be useful. Generally we found that front of house staff, airport staff, and staff in big tourist restaurants would all speak a bit of English. Apart from that, not many people do. Always have destinations written in Mandarin for taxi drivers, and try and learn some basic words and how to order things.

    USEFUL WORDS (phonetic spelling, may not have meaning exactly correct but they worked for us!):
    Ting: Stop (good for taxi drivers)
    Ni hao: hello
    Xie Xie: Thank you
    Mayo: Don’t have
    Jigga: This one
    Nigga: That one
    Dui: Yes
    Zhong: Middle
    Xi: West
    Dong: East
    Lu: Road
    When buying something you can point and say li-an-ge which means 2 or yi-ge (ee-ge) which means 1.
    Wo bu ming bai: I don’t understand
    When asking if a shop/restaurant has something you can say: Yo mayo ________? This means Do you have or don’t have _____?

    Any questions, please don't hesitate to ask!

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    Fabulous report - thanks so much. You mentioned that you'd get 2000 yuan and that lasted for 4-5 days. You said "lasted us" so I wasn't sure if you meant per person or for two?
    Would be interested in additional info on the hostels. Were they noisy (which is how I think of a European hostel)? Was it mostly young backpackers staying there?

    Regarding having Chinese written down to show your taxi driver, how did you do that with restaurants you wanted to go to? And even street names? You said that dumpling place was at an intersection and you gave the street names, but how would you give that to a taxi driver?

    And... not to be overly bold, but do you mind if I ask how old you are? I'm in reasonably good shape (for 51) - but could I do the section of the Great Wall you hiked? My sister's 60 and healthy - walks a fair amount but doesn't do aerobic exercise - what about her? Could she do it do you think? It sounds pretty hard.

    Thanks so much. I may have additional questions (after I reread what you've written!). I'm hoping you'll get to Lhasa and Yunnan province before our trip (2009) so I can get some more great tips!


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    Cookie -- I'm thrilled you had such a great experience. The report is terrific with so much detail and great tips, thanks for taking the time to write it.

    I am annoyed at Charmant in Shanghai for the tea charge, I was the first to recommend it a couple of months ago here. I'll ask my DS to stop by and tell them they'll lose patrons if they continue this poor practice.

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    Wonderful trip report, Cookie! So enjoyed reading it and all your great detail - especially the Beijing section, which brought back such fond (and similar) memories of our trip last August, when you were planning this one.

    So pleased to read you had such a wonderful, unforgettable experience too :)

    Xie xie, Jackie

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    Thanks for all the kind responses everyone.

    Furrytiles we carried a copy of your trip report in amongst all our guide books and things. It was very useful!

    Shanghainese, Yes, we went to Charmant after reading about it in your trip report of Shanghai (which was also very useful!!). We tossed up between Laifu and Charmant but opted for the latter. The food was delicious, despite the $12 tea!

    Sorry for not being clear about the money. My traveling companion and I got money out separately, so it would have been 4000 yuan for both of us for around 4-5 days. Mind you, for this amount we lived VERY well (though we stayed in cheap places). It included a LOT of shopping (i bought 6 pairs of shoes and my friend bought 8!), catching taxis everywhere, eating VERY well (and lots of food). It would be very easy to go for less (more metro trips, less shopping, less gluttony!)

    The two hostels we stayed in were excellent. The Ludao Bingyuan (in Xi'an) was more like a hotel than a hostel (not noisy at all). The twin room was very nice. There was a range of guests.

    The Peking Downtown Backpackers (Beijing) was more like a European hostel for young backpackers. It was noisier (had a smoke filed common room) and I only saw a few people over 30. The best thing about it was its WONDERFUL location. If you are after a cheapish hotel in a hutong in Beijing, I know that furrytiles stayed in one that she liked, and another one that has received good reviews (though I cannot personally say myself) is Lusongyuan.

    For restaurants we wanted to go to, we either looked them up in City Weekend, or asked the hotel staff to write it in characters for us. Same with street names. For the dumpling place at the intersection, we walked there so didnt have the problem of telling a taxi driver - I guess you could ask the hotel to write down corner of Ruijin Erlu and Nanchang Lu?

    I am 20. Whilst I would not call myself fit, I am healthy and not sedentary. I think that as long as you are in good health, have good knees and can walk up steep hills or steps without getting very tired/out of breath you will be alright. I think your sister will be ok too. Perhaps she could do a bit of aerobic exercise before you go - it's not just walking, in some parts the hills are very steep and you have to lift your legs very high and almost climb the steps like a ladder (though this doesnt happen much).

    Go at your own pace (we walked quite quickly and were not give a lot of time to rest in the towers which made it more difficult), wear good shoes, take plenty of water (perhaps some food) and rest at the towers as needed. Take a backpack because you need your hands to be free. The walk is tough, but it is amazing and worth it imho.

    Hope this helps.

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    cookiescompanion, You mentioned a book or guide called Beijing City guide by Time Out. Is that something you got in Beijing? I looked for it on amazon and didn't see it.

    Also, and this may be a silly question but I would like to climb the Great Wall from Jinshanling to Simitai (I really want to do the zipline at the end) but your comment about the height of the steps gave me pause. I'm just over 5 feet tall. Hauling me up steps would probably get old fast for my husband. Just how high are those steps??

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    Toobusytoday: Fear not - I am 5 ft 1 and was alright. Longer legs are certainly an asset - just be prepared to lift your legs high. Good on you for doing the zipline. My friend did it, and enjoyed it, but I was too chicken. - you can buy the Beijing guide here. - might also be useful.

    We actually bought the guide in Shanghai Airport last minute. I am sure most city guides (e.g. Lonely Planet) would be equally as good though.

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    Cookie et al

    I am glad you were lucky on the Victoria pricing. They are known to attempt HUGE RIP OFF pricing if they can. They tried to charge me over 8000 dollars for their quote in yuan...also, weren't you bothered by the major pollution on the river cruise and in Chongqing, the departure city?

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    <Furrytiles we carried a copy of your trip report in amongst all our guide books and things. It was very useful!>

    Cookie, that is soooo cool! Knowing that my 'words' made a second visit to China by proxy - so honoured!

    And envy your whole month of exploring and experiencing this amazing country. :&

    Oh how I wish,

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    Globalvhc we did not spend any time in Chongqing so cannot comment on the pollution. On the river cruise we did not notice the pollution as being worse than any other place we visited. In fact, as we cruised down the Yangtze River, pollution was the last thing on our minds. (except for when we saw the occasional dead animal floating by! yuck!)

    Thanks FUrrytiles!

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    Hello everyone,
    What a great thread this is! We were in the same places last year, Cookie your report brought back such good memories! We traveled with 2 kids and my two 74-year-old parents, so our trip was a bit different! I hope to be able to contribute some to this forum if anyone happens to be traveling with kids and grandparents!

    althom1122 maybe you could do a quick search on YouTube for videos on Jinshanling to Simatai to get an idea of the "roughness" of this part of the wall. Do try to visit Simatai, it's worth it. This time we went to Mutianyu, my parents wouldn't have liked the walk from Jinshanling to Simatai, and I wasn't too sure about the kids 8 and 10, we went in summer, so Mutianyu seemed safer.

    We are planning another trip for 2009 (hopefully), so I will be visiting here a lot!

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    How wonderful that you are going back so soon Miriam. Will parents and kids be in tow?

    Another wonderful thing we did in Beijing, that I forgot to mention, was visit the 798 Art District. This is a huge block of old warehouses that have now been turned into art galleries (and a few cafes). It is massive, there would be quite a lot of independent galleries there, and you just wander around from gallery to gallery. There are also terrific sculptures and graffiti art in the streets. The galleries are mostly modern art galleries but there is some photography and other things. I would certainly recommend a visit - it's a very raw space and the art is fabulous.

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    The galleries sound cool, I admit we didn't have time to look around galleries with the kids!
    I forgot to mention, we are overseas chinese, the kids are learning the language so we want to try to bring them as long as they are still interested and begging to go! My parents would probably go as long as they're able, not a chance of staying behind. I bet next time we are back, everything will have changed, that's the best part about China trips!

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    Thank you for the info. My husband and I are going to be in China later this spring. We are going to many of the same places. We are scheduled on the cruise in the other direction and as well as a visit to Xian, Beijing and Shanghai. Bless you for posting as we are doing much of it on our own.

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    Great report. I remember grabbing my husband's hand and running for dear life to cross the street and that was years ago. Probably much more traffic now! Like you we did a lot of internal flights. What impressed me then was how efficient air travel was in China. Flights always on time. Great service while on the plane. Was it like that for you?

    Few things: the river you mentioned in Shanghai is the Haungpu. If you are by the river walkway you can gaze at the Pudong area where the Jin Mao Tower and Oriental Pearl Tower are located-2 different buildings. Then you turn yourself around and are gazing at the Bund area with lots of interesting buildings influenced by European countries. When you were in Shanghai did you have the opportunity to use their metro/subway system? It's very easy to use.

    Other cities to consider for a visit are Guilin, Yangshuo-very scenic. Side trip north of Guilin to Long Sheng where you can mingle with the minority Yao people and see their amazing rice terraces. If you're into pandas the Chengdu Panda Research Station is a must. China is an amazing country.

    We did a month long trip in 2007 with a Chinese agency. Now my daughter lives and works in China. She's been there for 2 years now-just outside of Hong Kong. She loves China.

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