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Trip Report No Chinese Food in China

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My husband & I were in China from October 4-24, 2012. This trip was 9 years in the planning so I had plenty of time to scrutinize this talk forum for advice. Thanks to everyone who has posted trip reports and answers to travelers' questions. I found all that information to be very helpful and it encouraged me to plan the trip for independent travel. My husband & I are in our 50's & have traveled independently throughout Europe. In addition, I grew up as an Air Force kid traveling all over the world especially in Europe and Asia. My husband grew up in Ohio and does not have as much experience traveling as I do, but was intrigued by China, having studied Chinese history in college and being a voracious reader of the Economist magazine. The challenge with this trip is that my husband does not eat Chinese food so I knew I would have to plan around that. I had taken a tour of China in 2003 with my mother and so enjoyed it that, on my return home, I took tai chi classes & studied Mandarin off and on for several years through my local university and a Saturday Chinese school in my area.

We booked all hotels through the Internet and used C-trip for our flights within China. Since we both work, we could not spend more than 3 weeks on this trip so we decided to fly between destinations. We chose hotels catering to westerners so that my husband would have western food available for at least breakfast and dinner.

Itinerary:

October 4 - fly from Florida to Chicago & Chicago to Beijing on American Airlines
October 5- arrive Beijing (Orchid Hotel)
October 6- Beijing
October 7- Beijing
October 8- Beijing
October 9- Beijing
October 10- Xi'an (Sofitel Xi'an at Renmin Square)
October 11- Xi'an
October 12- Xi'an
October 13- Xi'an
October 14- Lijiang (Banyan Tree Lijiang)
October 15- Lijiang
October 16- Shanghai (Hotel Indigo on the Bund)
October 17- Shanghai
October 18- Shanghai
October 19- Shanghai
October 20- Yangshuo (Yangshuo Mountain Retreat)
October 21- Yangshuo
October 22- Hong Kong (Hotel ICON)
October 23- Hong Kong
October 24- fly from Hong Kong to Tokyo (JAL) & Tokyo back to Florida through Dallas on American Airlines

Highlights of the trip:

In Beijing we especially enjoyed people watching in Beihai Park and the grounds of the Temple of Heaven. We enjoyed sitting on our rooftop terrace at the Orchid Hotel with a view of the Drum Tower at sunrise and sunset and watching the pigeons flying around the hutong. I got a kick out of being asked to pose for photographs with an entire Chinese family. It made me feel like a celebrity and I thought it was a hoot! My husband wasn't so keen on it.

We enjoyed the city wall in Xi'an and the interesting Beilin Museum in Xi'an, the beautiful Jade Dragon Snow Mountain near Lijiang, the otherworldly karst mountain scenery along the Li and Yulong Rivers in Yangshuo, the impressive collections of exhibits at the Shanghai Museum and the incredible energy of Shanghai and Hong Kong. We thought the Chinese people we met were very friendly and mostly helpful (although we did have problems several times getting a cab to agree to take us back to our hotel.) The trip was so great we plan to go again within the next five years.

More details to come on what we did each day we were in China.....

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    I am most interested in finding out how you managed without Chinese food?
    KFC, McDonalds, Starbucks, Pizza Hut are there, but maybe you discovered some unique places to eat or did you sometimes cook?

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    I will be interested to hear if your husband had the ham & cheese sandwich at the Banyan Tree in Lijiang. That hotel was absolutely gorgeous and the facilities wonderful, but the ham & cheese was foul beyond belief (soggy, Wonder-like bread; velveeta-like cheese). I have no excuses for getting it -- and all of the Chinese food at the BT was terrific -- just looking for some good Western food after having eaten only Chinese for a week.

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    You are bringing back some wonderful memories (wasn't the Beilin Museum great?) - thanks!

    I had to laugh, though - in my 28-day trip, I don't think I ate anything that most people I know would have considered "Chinese food" and nothing I've ever seen on the menu of a "Chinese" restaurant in the U.S. I was in northern China only, and used various sources of information - but especially Frommer's - to identify and order regional specialties. I had some truly delicious meals!

    I'm glad to hear you enjoyed yourselves. Tell use more!

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    Thanks everyone for the encouraging words.

    JPDeM- I agree about 2 nights being enough on a 3-week trip for Xi'an. In fact, we had originally planned only 2 nights in Xi'an & 3 nights in Lijiang but the once daily flight from Xi'an to Lijiang was cancelled before we left Florida so we added a night to Xi'an, then we were to fly from Beijing to Taiyuan & stay a night in Pingyao, but on the day of the flight, the plane was first delayed & then the flight cancelled so we flew to Xi'an a day early. More on this in my trip report on that day.

    Ileen- we managed without Chinese food by eating the usually included western breakfast at our hotel and western dinners at the hotel. I did have chinese food often, but at the hotel restaurant. In Beijing at the Orchid Hotel, a small hotel in the Baochao Hutong, we had breakfast at the hotel, but since they did not serve other meals there, I had to be more creative than in the other cities. The first night in Beijing, I discovered that a local brewery called Great Leap Brewery was having a special burgers and fries night for their 1-year anniversary so we hustled there for my husband to have a burger. It was interesting too because there was a big turnout of western ex-pats in their 20s and 30s there. We also found an Italian restaurant "Mercante" near the hotel which had steaks and had dinner there 2 nights. The one other night in Beijing, around dinner time, we were on Wanfujing Street, where my husband thought there might be western chain restaurants like Hard Rock Cafe or Planet Hollywood. We walked the entire length of the street and did not find any such restaurants, but using my iPhone, I discovered that the Beijing Hotel had an Outback Steakhouse. When we went to the hotel, it turned out that the Outback Steakhouse was gone, replaced by William's Steakhouse which was an adequate alternative.

    DonTopaz- Too bad you had a soggy disappointing ham & cheese at the Banyan Tree. Neither of us tried that. My husband had steaks both nights and I had a delicious Thai red curry chicken & rice one of the nights and a Chinese dish the next night that was also very good. We adored the Banyan Tree with its wonderful personal service and stunning views of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. It is one of the most beautiful hotels we have ever stayed in and an oasis of calm from the hustle and bustle of Lijiang old town!

    Rhkkmk- We did spend a wonderful morning one of our days in Xi'an visiting the warriors and we saw more warriors up close and personal at the Shaanxi Museum back in Xi'an.

    Kja- I so enjoyed reading about your adventures in China & I admire your "go with the flow" spirit as you were traveling all over China on your own.

    I will post separate report of our daily activities in Beijing later today.

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    Hard to believe as Chinese cuisine is considered one of the premier food preparation and presentation methods known in the entire world. To go to China and eat burgers, steaks and tuna fish sandwiches is monstrously ignorant. But of course, maybe he has a GI disorder or lack of palate.

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    Pre-trip planning:

    As I said this trip was 9 years in the planning- in the meantime we were taking trips to Europe and in the US. In those 9 years I devoured every book I could find of travelers adventures in China and novels about China, among them books by Peter Hessler, Betty Bao Lord, Amy Tan, Lisa See, Paul Theroux, and the books titled "Factory Girls", "Lost on Planet China" and just before our trip, I read Deborah Fallowes "Dreaming in Chinese. I read trip reports and other threads on this talk forum, I bought and read something like 15 China guidebooks over the years and "Travelers' Tales China" and "A Traveller's History of China" which I read multiple times. I took Mandarin classes at my local university and the area chinese language school- not that I expected to become fluent but to develop some feel for the culture through some small understanding of the language. While we were in China, I was thrilled to understand a simple word or phrase here and there!

    I also used to watch CCTV-4, the English language version of Chinese television on DirecTV, until the rat finks at DirecTV pulled the plug on that programming. I complained about it to them, but it availed me nothing. Anyway, I used to watch the Chinese lessons by Da Shan-the Canadian host, Mark Rosewell and other China travel and culture programs and the Spring Festival gala every year for Chinese New Year (coming up this year on February 10, 2013). More recently, I have taken to streaming the online version of the shows (particularly the Travelogue shows) from my ipad to my television through my Apple TV. I also watched any travel DVDs I could find on China, including the Samantha Brown DVD on Asia (which includes Hong Kong) and the Globetrekker series (this series is aimed at folks in their 20s and 30s and traveling on a budget.) All this information was grist for the mill.

    I had a pretty good idea of the itinerary I wanted 2 or 3 years ago, but my husband was nervous about independent travel to China so I looked into a private tailored tour through Kensington Tours. I priced the trip this way and, not surprisingly, it was very expensive! But, by 2011, I had convinced my husband that we could do the trip on our own. During our first trip to France together in 2001, I was worried because he was showing signs of being a travel troll, which might crush my dreams of a lifestyle of annual international travel. Happily, he shook that off and I am happy to report that he has taken very well to all this travel!

    I began by using C-trip to help me devise a feasible itinerary, which is actually quite similar to the itinerary of the tour I took with my mother in 2003. I really wanted to include some more off the beaten path destinations to see some of the sacred mountains of China but I decided that with the 3 week time constraint, this was just not feasible. I thought the temperatures in China in October 2003 were very comfortable

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    Thanks for your kind words, AndreaLang! My travels in China were a bit out of my comfort zone (to say the least!), but I ended up with some experiences that I would never otherwise have had.

    So glad you convinced your husband to go to China independently!

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    Sorry, I accidentally hit "submit" before I was done with this post.

    So I decided to go in October right after the National Holiday in 2012. I liked the enormous, over-the-top floral displays everywhere for the holiday. The weather was warmer in October 2012 than in October 2003, but still comfortable. We had no rain on the whole trip except one night in Beijing. More importantly, we had no noticeable air pollution on this trip, although I remember the air being pretty bad in Xi'an in 2003.

    Although I enjoyed my Yangtze River cruise in 2003, I decided to cut that out and instead include Lijiang and the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. I thought about going to Datong, Pingyao and Luoyang, but decided to include only Pingyao on this trip. My plan was to alternate a large city with a more rural environment. The plan was Beijing, Pingyao, Xi'an, Lijiang, Shanghai, Yangshuo & Hong Kong. As I explained earlier in this thread our flight to Taiyuan was cancelled so we sadly had to skip Pingyao.

    We selected our hotels with an eye to a central city location and availability of western food for my husband. We arranged for pick up at the airport as arranged by the hotel in each location except Xi'an and Hong Kong where we took taxis. All these arrangements worked out well. After we made the hotel reservations, we made the international flight reservations on American Airlines because this was the only flight from the US to Beijing & back from Hong Kong that I could find where the seats in Economy class were in a 2-5-2 configuration as opposed to the more common 3-3-3 configuration. As it turned out we were set to fly to China in the middle of the airlines negotiating with the pilots' union and some flights were being cancelled, but luckily, our flights were not affected. After making the flight arrangements, I used mychinavisa.com to obtain our single entry visas from the Houston consulate. Several people in my Chinese class had recommended them to me. This process was very smooth and fast. I was very careful in filling out the applications and reviewed them several times to make sure they were complete because I had seen some horror stories about this process in this talk forum. About a month before our trip, we made the domestic flight reservations through C-trip. Within a week of our trip, our original flight from Xi'an to Lijiang was cancelled so we rebooked for the next day. I loaded up my iPhone with the Pleco Chinese application including the character recognition and handwriting recognition add ons to the basic Chinese dictionary application. These are cool applications that help you translate characters by writing them out on your phone or using the camera function to identify the character (this part is not as easy to use.) Of course, in the hustle and bustle of getting around in China the fact is I really did not use these much, but they are still very cool! I also had the old Google Maps application on my iPhone and purposely did not upgrade to the new operating system, which would have substituted Apple maps for Google until after I returned home from China. I used the Google maps a lot when we were on foot in the various Chinese cities. The Google maps had first gotten us on course to return to our Paris hotel from a Paris Greeters tour on a very cold day after Christmas in 2008 so I am a big fan. Just before we left for China I found myself feeling very impatient with all the preparation and thought we just need to get this party started!

    Since this is the first trip report I have written, I hope I am including the kind of information people are interested in. If not, let me know what other questions you have. I have read lots of reports, but its a lot harder writing this than I would have thought!

    Tomorrow I will start talking about each of our days in China.

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    Congratulations on traveling to China on your own. Your preparation was remarkable - I went on my own with much less! But I do have some sympathy for jobin's post - China with Western food is better than no China, but Chinese food in China is in no way comparable to the "typical" Chinese restaurant in the US. (I say "typical" because I'm fortunate enough to have a local restaurant with a Chinese as well as a western menu.) However, I have read that package Chinese tourists in Europe don't want to eat western food so it goes both ways.

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    Hanging out in the Hutong-Beijing October 5, 2012 (Friday)

    We arrived in Beijing from Chicago at 10 pm on an American Airlines flight which was uneventful- a lot of drama isn't really a good thing when you are flying. Passport control, customs and baggage collection were a breeze. As I said earlier in this thread we arranged with most of our hotels for transportation from the airport to the hotel and we easily found the young guy with our names who took us efficiently to our hotel, the Orchid Hotel in Baochao Hutong. The hotel is located on a narrow little alleyway off the Baochao Hutong and not so easy to find unless you know what to look for. The Orchid is owned by Joel, a Canadian fellow who has mostly young 20 something western women (one woman was Italian and another was Russian from Siberia) working there at the reception desk and serving breakfast. The hotel staff was very helpful and accomodating and we really enjoyed our stay there. We stayed in the Yang room which has a rooftop terrace with a view of the Drum Tower. What with the jet lag and all, we found ourselves getting up quite early so we hung out on the rooftop terrace where I drank the special teas they had in the room before breakfast. We also sat out on the terrace in the evening after the day's sightseeing to enjoy the evening view when the Drum Tower was dramatically lighted up. We were so not in Florida! But, on the first night we got there we naturally just crashed after showering.

    October 6, 2012 (Saturday) Beijing

    We were up early, by 6 am and sat out on the rooftop terrace before breakfast was served at 8 am. In the early morning we could hear the sounds of people getting a start on their day. Every morning we could hear but not see a group performing some kind of martial arts, I think. We also enjoyed the sight and whistling sound of multiple flocks (if that's the right word) of homing pigeons flying around the Hutong. It was very atmospheric. As I said earlier in this thread, we had no rain throughout the trip so there were no weather issues with enjoying the rooftop terrace. On the first morning I realized I was having problems not getting data on my iPhone so I called AT & T and got that straightened out. I really rely on those Google maps when in a city (even in the US).

    After a great breakfast at the hotel we headed out on foot through the maze of hutongs in search of an ATM to get cash first and then to Houhai and Beihai parks. We had some difficulty finding an ATM that would take our American debit cards, but before too long we both had cash and then continued on to Houhai Park. Of course, in our jet lagged state, we were a little dazed and had to remind ourselves to watch out for all manner of vehicular traffic (cars, pedicabs and bicycles). The hutongs are really a beehive of activity! When we got to Houhai Park, it was wall to wall people (Saturday at the end of the National holiday week celebration) so we hustled along to Beihai Park. The pedicab drivers in the Houhai Park area were trying to get us to go with them but we prefer to get our bearings in a new city on foot so I perfected the art of repeating a forceful "bu yao" (don't want). We did not have to purchase a ticket to walk around the lovely Houhai Lake.

    To access Beihai Park and the lake area we did have to purchase tickets. This park was much less crowded. The nine dragon screen there was very beautiful and and it was entertaining watching the Chinese women dressing up in what I thought were probably Qing dynasty costumes and posing for photographs in front of the screen. At a lakeside pavilion we sat on a bench and watched people dancing and struck up conversation with a Chinese family (parents & young daughter) who had lived in California for 20 years and had recently moved back to Beijing. They were very gracious and friendly. We did not go out to the Dagoba on the island in the center of the lake because we wanted to see Jingshan Park.

    After a little rest, we continued around the lake to Jingshan Park and up to the top of the hill to enjoy the great panoramic view of the Forbidden City and Beihai Park. There were red and yellow floral displays in the parks. One display in Jingshan Park was particularly whimsical in that contained life sized figures of ladies decorated with colorful "happy birthday" plates. I loved it.

    We then meandered our way back through the hutongs to our hotel where I saw some information about the nearby Great Leap Brewery having a burger anniversary party so we hustled there so my husband could get a burger for dinner. We enjoyed checking out the ex-pat scene there although we were probably the oldest people there everybody helped us out and made us feel welcome. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a small restaurant in Baochao Hutong where I had a delicious meal of fried rice. When I asked for the check in what I thought was passable Chinese (Mai Dan), the waiter looked puzzled but another customer helpfully repeated it (Mai Dan) and that did the trick. By then we were out of steam for our first day in China so we called it a day.

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    Looking forward to the continuation... 9 years of planning????? We're going in Oct. and just got the plane tickets and is just starting to research for hotels, starting the IT, etc.

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    I'm sorry for the delay in posting the rest of this trip report. Life got in the way. I typed up the rest of Beijing yesterday on a different post No Chinese Food in China part 2, but my MacBook Pro died before I could submit it. Bummer. Anyway, a trip to the Apple store today and my Mac is back in business with a new charging cord. Unfortunately, everything I typed yesterday is gone since I was waiting to finish all of Beijing and start Xian before I submitted the report.

    Anyway, enough of that. Here we go with the rest of the report.

    October 7, 2012 (Sunday)

    We were up early at about 6 am and we sat up on our private rooftop terrace and had tea and enjoyed the early morning sights,sounds and smells of the hutong. We relaxed every morning and evening on the rooftop terrace- it was probably the best amenity for us at the hotel. We had the included western breakfast at the hotel and then waited for our driver who arrived at 9 am to take us for our day's adventures. We arranged for the driver through the hotel and the charge was added to our hotel bill and the driver was paid directly by the hotel. The arrangement worked out very well for us. The drivers arranged through the hotel picked us up and dropped us off on Baochao Hutong right outside the hotel where other drivers were reluctant to drive into Baochao Hutong. The driver did not speak English, but this wasn't a problem because the hotel had told him what our proposed itinerary was for the day. First off, Great Wall at Mutianyu. We arrived there at 10:30 am and the driver helped us purchase the tickets then went back to the car to wait for us. We told him we would be back in 2-3 hours. At Mutianyu there are 2 cable cars to the top of the wall. One at the highest point of the wall is a gondola while the other where we were is a chairlift. You can take either up and or down. I think you can also walk all the way up or down. We took the chairlift up and the toboggan down. From the parking lot to the ticket booth, you pass through a gauntlet of small souvenir shops selling Great Wall and other souvenirs. The owners of these shops aggressively call to you to come buy from them. It adds a nice capitalist spin to the experience, I think. It was a warmer day than I thought it would be based upon my memory of the windy cold day that I was at Badaling in October 2003. I liked Mutianyu better because it seemed a little wilder and was definitely less crowded. There was a little haze in the air which was probably air pollution, but the visibility was excellent nonetheless. We enjoyed the chairlift ride up to the top of the wall. It is a longer ride than you would think. We passed over the toboggan and could hear an obnoxious loudspeaker announcing in Chinese and English that there was no stopping allowed on the toboggan track. At the top, we walked up and down the wall taking in the splendid views and the way the wall snakes up and down the surrounding mountains. Before my first trip to China I thought the wall was flat on top. It is not. There are lots of steps and altitude changes. We did not venture all the way up to the high point where the gondola comes up the wall, but we enjoyed the wonderful view and took our obligatory photos and videos and took the toboggan back down. The toboggan ride was fun, not scary. We were amused to see that there were signs posted warning that people 60 years old and older were not allowed on the toboggan. I was 59 so I was "legal", but I don't get why a 60 year old is too old for this ride! We heard the constant loudspeaker announcements and there were signs posted too about not stopping, but people were stopping anyway. The toboggan ride would have been more enjoyable without this noise pollution! We got back down to the ticket booth area at around 12:30 and wandered through the Subway restaurant on our way back down the hill to the car. We woke the driver and headed off to the Ming Dynasty Yongle Tomb.

    We arrived there at about 2 pm and explored the tomb complex. We thought the Spirit Way was right around the tomb complex but we could not find it. I asked at the ticket booth, but wasn't making my question clear. When we found the driver, I showed him a picture of the Spirit Way on my Iphone and he took us there. It turns out that it is 10 km away. The Spirit Way is a path lined with pairs of stone animal and human figures that are guardians of the tombs. This had been a highlight of my 2003 visit to Beijing and I'm so glad we persevered and got there this time! It is a peaceful parklike atmosphere. The driver dropped us at one end of the Spirit Way and we strolled to the other end where he picked us up. We then drove back to the Orchid Hotel and hung out on the rooftop terrace. I had one of the very friendly English and Chinese speaking girls at the desk of the hotel make a 7 pm reservation for us for dinner at Mercante, a relatively new Italian restaurant in the hutongs. One of the girls had told me about it when I told her I was looking for a western restaurant for my husband. The restaurant was near the Great Leap Brewing Company where my husband had the burger the previous night so we didn't have too much trouble finding it. I used a map of the hutongs the hotel provided and my google maps on my iphone. The meals were good-I had tartaglia bolognaise and a glass of red wine and my husband had beef filet and italian bread and a coke. In the dark, now we returned to the hotel and crashed.

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    October 8, 2012 (Monday)

    We had our usual early start with tea and the sights and sounds of the hutong from the rooftop terrace. We had breakfast and walked to up Baochao Hutong on our way to the subway. We found that throughout China in the cities we visited there was good English signage as well a signage in Chinese characters. There are also examples everywhere of hilarious Chinglish signs which sometimes are impossible to decipher. We walked to the Gulou Dajie Subway Station, where we struggled to use an automatic machine to purchase tickets. We live in suburban Florida so we only use subways when we are in NYC, London, or Paris etc. We aren't so great at figuring it out there either. Ultimately, a subway station employee led us to a the ticket booth and we took it from there. Navigating the subway was quite simple. We took the Blue Line (Line 2) from Gulou Dajie to Chongwenmen and transferred to the purple line (Line 5.)

    We exited at Tiantandongmen (Temple of Heaven east gate). From there we failed to notice that the closest entrance to the Temple of Heaven park was just behind us so we walked north quite a distance to the north entrance to the park. As we walked in the park, we saw people doing tai chi, singing, ballroom dancing and playing hacky-sack. There is lots of activity! People also take their caged birds and hang them in the trees and just enjoy the outdoors. The north entrance to the park was decorated with large freestanding floral displays as well as planted beds of flowers. The predominant color scheme was red and yellow (colors of the Chinese flag). We saw these over the top arrangements everywhere we went in China while we were there. They are special displays for the National Holiday week in early October every year. We moved on to the Temple of Heaven complex of buildings. The most famous building is the 3 gabled blue tile roofed Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests where the emperors prayed for (guess what?) good harvests! Entrance is not permitted to the interior of this building but you can look inside. Other buildings of the complex contain exhibits, the most memorable to me was the striking photograph of Japanese soldiers in the late 1930's occupying the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests with Japanese planes flying overhead. The Chinese government likes to emphasize this national humiliation.

    After touring the Temple of Heaven complex we walked through the park to the east exit and noted that the Hongqiao Market (Pearl Market) was just across the street. We walked through this multi-story building jammed full of small booths with jewelry and other goods for sale. I consider myself an intrepid shopper, but I was frankly a little overwhelmed. Don't worry, I made up for it buying pearls and other jewelry in Shanghai! We had cokes at the McDonalds on the ground floor of the Pearl Market. Then we started the Long March to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. We used a combination of guidebook maps and the Google Maps application on my Iphone to get us there by as direct a route as possible. We stopped again on Qiamen Street at a KFC for my husband to enjoy some chicken nuggets and a coke. We found McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut to be ubiquitous in the big Chinese cities. This was a good thing for my husband who does not have an adventurous palate, but doesn't want that to get in the way of exploring other countries and cultures.

    As we approached Tiananmen Square from the south, we could not readily see how to get across the street to the square. There are stairs down to underground walkways to get to the square. There is also airport level security for bags and people. It is hard to describe the vastness of this square. The square is surrounded by imposing but uninspiring Communist architecture. The floral displays throughout the square do help to soften the gray concrete look. Personally, I prefer Red Square to Tiananmen Square. Moving on, through to the north end, we navigated another underground passage to get to the Tiananmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace) with the famous portrait of Mao.

    On the other side of the gate, we bought tickets for the Forbidden City. I ordered tickets everywhere in China by saying "Liange piao" (two tickets). This was something I had practiced in my Chinese class at home. The Forbidden City is fabulous, with buildings full of beautiful ornately painted ceilings and colorful ceramic tile roofs and scenes embedded in the outside walls and stone carvings. There are also enormous bronze urns and bronze animals, like tortoises and cranes scattered around the grounds. The tortoise and crane are symbols of longevity. The Forbidden City reportedly has some 9,000 rooms so it is a vast complex. Unlike palaces in the west with their large multi-story buildings, Chinese palaces are complexes composed of lots of low one or 2 story buildings. There is not much furniture to see in the buildings but the structures themselves are delightful to see with their use of colorful paint, upturned eaves and ceramic tile. There are two impressive 9 dragon screens in Beijing- one is in the Forbidden City and the other is in Beihai Park. On the north side of the Forbidden City is the Imperial Garden, which is a lovely green space which is a nice balance to the hardscape of the Forbidden City.

    We exited the Forbidden City at its north gate and then walked east to Wangfujing Street. It was dinner time at this point in the day. My husband thought this street would be a place we would find some western chain restaurants, like the Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood. We walked the length of the street and found that the only western restaurants were in western hotels. There is a Hard Rock Cafe in Beijing but it was not close to where we were. Ultimately, we found a steakhouse called "Williams Steakhouse" in the Beijing Hotel where my husband had, of course, a steak and fries and I had a green salad with mustard vinaigrette dressing and shrimp and pasta with alfredo sauce. Across the street from the Beijing Hotel we spotted a line of taxis, showed one of drivers the card from the Orchid Hotel with the name and address in Chinese characters and a map of the location and then off we went. The driver would not tackle driving up Baochao Hutong directly to the hotel, so he left us at the intersection of Baochao Hutong and Guloudajie. Back at the hotel we rested our weary feet after another amazing day in China!

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    October 9, 2012 (Tuesday)

    Our last day in Beijing. We had gotten accustomed to the place and fallen in love with the Orchid Hotel and the Baochao Hutong and we knew we would miss both. We enjoyed a last morning on the rooftop terrace and then after breakfast walked to the Bell Tower, where we purchased combination tickets for both the Bell and Drum Towers. The bells and the drums were used to mark the time of day. First we climbed up the steep stairs of the Bell Tower and enjoyed the views of old Beijing. We saw signs listing a drum show at the Drum Tower so we hustled over and up the steep stairs to watch the show. The two towers are pretty close together. The drums are very large and mounted on stands vertically. The show does not last very long so it's best to be there when the show starts. There are 5 drummers so the sound is pretty impressive. You gotta make a lot of noise for the sound to carry over the hutongs!

    After our stops at the 2 Towers, we walked to the same subway stop as the previous day Guloudajie and took the Line 2 subway Xizhimen and transferred to the Line 4 subway the Beigongmen stop and from there walked to the new Summer Palace (Yiheyuan). Near the subway stop is a building which houses a McDonalds, Dairy Queen and Pizza Hut. We walked to the entrance to the Summer Palace and bought tickets for access to all parts of the palace. The highlights here for me are the Long Corridor, a lovely long open sided walkway along a stretch of Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill with stunning views of Kunming Lake and the palace grounds. You can also see the skyline of Beijing from here. Mostly, we enjoyed just rambling around the grounds and watching Chinese families take in the sights. The famous Marble Boat is here in Kunming Lake. There were wall to wall people here but it was still possible to get away from the crowd.

    After our ramble through the new Summer Palace, we walked back to the subway station stopping for ice cream at DQ. We took the number 4 subway line back 2 stops to Yuanmingyuan (the old Summer Palace). This palace is nowhere nearly as crowded as the new Summer Palace. There are beautiful gardens but no intact buildings. Originally, there were stone European style buildings here, but they were blown up by French and English soldiers to punish the Emperor during the 2nd Opium War of the 1860s. We enjoyed relaxing in the gardens and enjoyed the quiet ambiance. We did not see any other westerners there.

    We took the subway back the way we had come and then walked back to the Orchid Hotel. We wanted to savor the end of the day one last time sitting out on the rooftop terrace. We returned to the Mercante restaurant for dinner and then turned in for the night hoping that the flight we had booked for the next day to Taiyuan would go smoothly. Spoiler alert-it does not!

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    October 10, 2012 (Wednesday)

    We checked out of the Orchid Hotel at 7 am and traveled by a taxi the hotel arranged for us to the Beijing airport. The hotel had packed us a brown bag breakfast which was thoughtful. Orange juice, pumpkin bread and bananas and water. We ate in the taxi and hit the ground running at the airport hoping for the best. We were flying China Eastern to Taiyuan, where we would be met by a driver from our hotel in Pingyao for a one night stay there. We processed through the check in and security and then waited at the gate for our 10 am flight. There was English signage at the gate. At some point, the sign at the gate was changed to say the flight was delayed due to a mechanical problem and there was no plane at the gate. Uh oh! As time when on it became clear that the delay would be protracted. The numerous airline staff then attempted to convince passengers to leave the airport to rest at a hotel. I communicated the best I could with the airline staff using language applications on my phone and other language apps on their phones. There was a German family there who were also trying to get to Pingyao although they had planned a two night stay there. We chatted with them and with a Chinese woman who was translating for some other westerners. Then, the sign at the gate changed to say the flight was cancelled. It turns out that the same plane is used to shuttle back and forth all day between Beijing and Taiyuan and it had broken after the first Beijing-Taiyuan shuttle of the day. The next flight was at 1 pm, but that flight would be in jeopardy too if the plane stuck in Taiyuan wasn't fixed in time for the 1 pm Beijing -Taiyuan departure. The airline staff tried hard to help us and one young woman was furiously typing messages to me in her Chinese to English app on her phone, but this situation was a little bit too complicated to figure out that way. The girl was very sweet and then wanted to be my e-mail pen pal!

    Because we only had the one night in Pingyao, we reluctantly decided to cancel the Pingyao hotel and rebook ourselves on a flight to Xi'an. I was very disappointed about missing Pingyao. I pictured it as being very evocative of "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" but I figured that now I have an excuse to go back to China. We were supposed to fly to Xi'an the next day from Taiyuan. I could not figure out how to get in touch with Ctrip although I had my iPhone with me so we went back out through security, bought new tickets, retrieved our luggage and rechecked it for a 1 pm flight to Xi'an. We went back through security to the gate for the Xi'an flight where I called the Sofitel Xi'an at Renmin Square, our hotel in Xi'an to add an extra night there. This was no problem, but I ran out of time before our flight took off to arrange for the Sofitel to send a driver to pick us up.

    We arrived in Xi'an at about 3 pm. As we were exiting the airport, a guy approached us about transportation into town. We did not realize that there was an official taxi line up ahead of us and so we agreed. The price was cheap and there were no problems with the driver or anything, but be aware of this if you only intend to take official taxis. It took about an hour to get to our hotel which is part of a huge complex with restricted automobile access into the complex. We were amused to find that there appeared to be some sort of PLA convention going on there while we were there. There are multiple restaurants in the hotel including one called Azur with western food and there was also a Japanese restaurant.

    We were a little tired after the excitement with the flights, so we just rested in the room until dinner time. We went to eat at Azur, which has a large buffet with western and asian food and an a la carte menu. My husband had his usual steak and fries with a coke and I had the Hainanese chicken with rice and chili and ginger dipping sauce and a glass of red wine. The food was very good. Back in the room, we enjoyed checking out the Chinese, Japanese and French television channels and then we caught up on what was going on in the western world by watching CNN and the BBC and surfing the internet.

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    October 11, 2012 (Thursday)

    We got up a little later at 8:30 am and found the hotel had complimentary continental breakfast items and tea and coffee set out in the hotel lobby of our wing of the hotel by the Japanese restaurant. I was glad we did not agree when asked at check in if we wanted to pay extra to have the breakfast buffet. The free continental breakfast was fine for us. We asked the concierge about getting tickets for the Tang Dynasty show and were directed to the independent travel agency located in the hotel where we bought tickets for that night's show.

    That completed, and with maps and guidebooks in hand, we took off on foot in search of the Muslim Quarter. We enjoyed wandering through the Muslim Quarter taking in the sights, sounds and smells. The streets have one small shop after another selling street food, fruits, vegetables, black eggs and all kinds of souvenirs and other goods. I even remember a guy squatting with a blow torch and welding some metal object just outside his shop. Amusingly, there were small electronic signs hanging across the street, which seemed a little incongruous in this mostly old world scene. Outside one shop, the shop owner had a small colorful songbird in a cage hanging from a tree and there were people everywhere!

    We worked our way to the Great Mosque of Xi'an, which is tucked away in the Muslim Quarter. There is some signage, but it helped that we had maps to help guide us. I really love the Great Mosque and it was a highlight on my 2003 trip to China. I have seen mosques in Turkey and other places including Paris, but this one is so different. It's a mosque with Chinese characteristics. The minaret looks like a Chinese pagoda. I find the blend of the Chinese and Islamic styles of architecture so interesting and beautiful. The place has lovely gardens and is quite tranquil.

    After exiting the Great Mosque, we headed back through the Muslim Quarter to the Drum Tower. On our way, we were stopped by a Chinese family who wanted me to pose with various members of their family, children, mom, and grandparents. This had also happened a number of times when I was in China in 2003. I was amused and flattered by these kinds of episodes. Who knows, maybe they thought I was freaky looking, but I felt like a celebrity anyway. My husband, being a much shyer person was not amused when he was asked to pose for a photo, but then he doesn't really like to stand still when I take his picture either. Several times, I convinced him to pose anyway in the interests of good American-Chinese relations. We noticed that a lot of Chinese young people like to flash a peace sign when having their photo taken. As an aside, earlier this month when I was in Orlando staying at the Ritz Carlton for a professional conference, I met a young Chinese couple here from Hangzhou who were studying for MBAs in NY. I talked to them in Mandarin a bit and then asked if they would pose for a photo with me and we all three simultaneously flashed the ubiquitous peace sign!

    Anyway, when we got to the Drum Tower we stopped at a nearby McDonalds where my husband had Chicken McNuggets, fries and a Pepsi and I had a Pepsi Max. We toured the Drum Tower from which there was a great view of the Bell Tower. We walked on by the Bell Tower to the intact City Wall. I rented a bike at the top of the wall and rode to one corner of the wall and back. This wall, unlike the Great Wall, is flat and it is a kick to ride up an down it and contemplate the long history of Xi'an, the ancient capitol of a united China. Back down at the base of the wall, as we were leaving we caught a changing of the guard show with tall Chinese guys in Tang Dynasty uniforms. We thought it oddly amusing that these guys were solemnly marching to some very flowery, non martial music! After the show, we walked back to the Sofitel.

    We had an early dinner at 5:30 pm at the Azur restaurant at the hotel. My husband had a burger, fries and coke and I had pork fried rice, wonton soup and a salad. Back in the room, we watched some news on CNN and music videos on a channel called "V", which is a Chinese version of MTV. At 7:30 pm, we left the hotel and got a taxi right outside the hotel entrance to the Tang Dynasty Show, which was not too far from the hotel. I really enjoyed this show when I saw it in 2003 and this time it was just as great as I remembered. The show features traditional chinese music played on the traditional instruments. There are fabulous ornate costumes and lots of singing and dancing. After the show we tried to find a taxi, but could not find one, so we started to walk back to the hotel. A pedi-cab driver offered to take us back to the hotel in his motorized pedi-cab. The price was quite reasonable and we were grateful because we were out of steam at the end of another big day in China.

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    October 12, 2012 (Friday)

    One of my fellow Saturday Chinese school students at home in Florida had mentioned to me that when he and his family were in Xi'an they had a guide who they had liked so, before we left home for China, I had corresponded by e-mail with the guide, Wang Bei Ping. His e-mail address is wildbee@126.com. We had arranged in advance that he would meet us in the lobby of the Sofitel at 8:30 am. Before we met up with him, we had the free continental breakfast. When we met him, Wang Bei Ping presented us with a calligraphy he had done on rice paper, a very nice personal souvenir! Wang Bei Ping is a very enthusiastic ambassador for his amazing city of Xi'an. We loaded up into his car and took off for the Terracotta Warriors site. It took about an hour to get there.

    We arrived at about 10 am. We toured the pits which are housed in enormous airplane hangar-like buildings and admired the large scale of this scene with warriors, horses, archers and other figures. In the museum we saw the beautiful golden bronze chariots and terracotta figures close up as well as other artifacts. In the museum shop, I bought a book in English about the terracotta warriors and had it autographed by the peasant who discovered this treasure in the 1970s while drilling a well. Outside the museum, we found an ice cream cart and bought Magnum ice cream bars for "lunch".

    Wang Bei Ping drove us back to Xi'an where our first stop was Da Cien Temple and the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. While Wang Bei Ping was regaling us in English with the history of the place, a small crowd gathered who were just staring at the two waiguoren and the Chinese guide speaking English. It was a little disconcerting, but funny. I wouldn't think we would be that much of a novelty in 2012 in a city a big and frequented by tourists as Xi'an! After briefing us on the history, we wandered the grounds and then climbed to the top of the pagoda, where there was a fine view of the temple grounds and Xi'an beyond. There are some lovely courtyards towards the back of the temple grounds. This temple was founded during the Tang Dynasty by the Buddhist monk Xuanzhuang after he returned in 645 AD from a long journey to India bringing with him sacred buddhist scriptures.

    Next, we moved on to the Shaanxi History Museum. This museum had a very impressive collection of artifacts, including ceramics, bronze ware, early Chinese coins and paintings. There are also terracotta Tang Dynasty ladies, much plumper than the modern Chinese ladies in the Tang Dynasty Show and the famous Tang Dynasty Sancai horses, camels and other Sancai figures. I thought this museum was a better place to see the faces of the terracotta warriors up close than at the Terracotta Warriors museum. The Shaanxi History Museum was also less crowded.

    Our last stop of the day was Xiaoyan Ta (the Small Wild Goose Pagoda). This Pagoda is newer than the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and the top of the pagoda was damaged in a 1556 AD earthquake so its top is sheared off. I don't think you can climb up this pagoda. The grounds are beautiful and the trees look very old. There are shops in the buildings scattered around the grounds with some lovely art for sale and other souvenirs. There is also food and drinks for sale and benches to sit on. It is fun to ring the giant iron bell (11 ft. high) called the Morning Bell Chimes. There is a small charge for this and they permit you to ring the bell 3 times. One of my favorite Chinglish signs is engraved in a small stone plaque on the pagoda grounds. I remembered it from my 2003 visit here and found it again. It was located in a grassy area and said "Small grass too contain life." The Xi'an Museum is also located on the grounds near the pagoda, but by the time we got there, it was 5 pm so we decided to call it a day. Wang Bei Ping returned us to the hotel where we thanked him and paid him and said "Zai jian" (goodbye). We had dinner again at Azur where I had pork tenderloin, noodles and green and red peppers and a caesar salad and my husband had his old standby steak and fries. This was a very busy day so after dinner we crashed.

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    October 13, 2012 (Saturday)

    Our last day in Xi'an....We got a pretty early start at 7:30 am, had the continental breakfast and took a taxi outside the hotel complex back to the Small Wild Goose Pagoda. We used the map the hotel had given us with the Chinese characters on it for the various sights in town to direct the taxi driver to the Small Wild Goose Pagoda. Early in the morning, the park was full of people doing tai chi and singing and dancing. We toured the exhibits of the Xi'an City Museum. This museum is smaller than the Shaanxi History Museum, but still had a nice collection of statutes of the Buddha, jade items, official seals and paintings and calligraphy. After visiting the museum, we explored the lovely grounds of the pagoda again, I rang the bell and prowled for souvenirs in the small shops. My husband had a hot dog and coke purchased from one of the food carts in the park.

    Then, on exiting the park we tried to hail an available taxi but quickly gave up on that and decided to walk to our next stop for the day, the Forest of Stelae Museum. This is another museum surrounded by a lovely, tranquil park and gardens. This museum consists of a collection of very large stone tablets with calligraphy inscribed on them. They are mounted vertically sometimes supported by stone tortoises. Most of the stelae have Buddhist scriptures inscribed on them, but some have poetry and one has Nestorian Christian messages. It is interesting to see just how different the many styles of calligraphy there are (like different fonts for the Latin alphabet.) We spent a leisurely time in this place and had a short conversation with a pensioner in traditional Mao gray trousers and jacket who had evidently identified us as Americans and was expressing his approval of America from what I could gather. He was talking a blue streak in Mandarin but I could only understand a word or tow here and there. I was thrilled when I understood any words while in China. I thought he was expressing approval of America and disapproval of Japan, but I'm not totally sure. Anyway, we had a lot of experiences like this in which Chinese people wanted to engage with us despite their lack of English language skills and my limited ability in Mandarin. Overall, we found people to be very friendly and helpful.

    We walked back to the hotel, packed and had dinner at Azur. We had the same dinners we had had the first night in Xi'an. We had the concierge check on our flight to Lijiang for the next day because we had some conflicting e-mails from Ctrip about the flight. The concierge reported that the flight was still on schedule but the records showed only my husband was booked on the flight. Uh oh. That's when we adopted to mottos-"Keep calm and carry on" and "Hope for the best, plan for the worst!"

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    October 14, 2012 (Sunday)

    There is only one direct flight from Xi'an to our next destination, Lijiang so we had to get up at 4 am to get to the airport in time for the 7:35 am flight. The hotel desk staff called a taxi for us. When we arrived at the airport we had some difficulty figuring out where to check in because the flight information we had from Ctrip showed the airline as "Dear Air" and "JD Air" but we could not see any signage in the airport that corresponded to either of these names. We inquired about this at several check-in lines in the airport until we finally found the right line. Even though when the concierge at the Sofitel called the airline about our reservations and only my husband was listed, it turned out that we were both in the computer system. Security was not as time consuming as it had been in Beijing and when we got to the gate, the plane was already there-always a good sign! The flight left Xi'an on time at 7:35 am and arrived in Lijiang at 9:45 am. After collecting our luggage, we found a driver from the Banyan Tree Lijiang in the arrivals hall holding up a sign with our names- a welcome sight. We piled into his SUV and arrived at the Banyan Tree Lijiang in about 40 minutes. The driver was playing soothing new age music in the car which was relaxing. We were blown away by the Banyan Tree Lijiang! Of course we had seen the photos of the place on the hotel website, but it is even more outstanding "in person." We stayed in a lovely garden villa with its own private walled yard and Jacuzzi and a stunning view of Yulongxueshan (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain). We rested for a while in the room and yard.

    Lijiang is in Yunnan province in the foothills of the Himalayas and not too far as the crow flies from Tibet. Yunnan in the southwest of China and borders Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. Lijiang is at 8,202 feet of elevation. We are from Florida at 0-30 feet of elevation. We didn't notice any problems specifically attributable to altitude, but we were feeling a little lethargic when we got to the hotel. Maybe it was just an excuse to sit and enjoy the view for a while. When we could bring ourselves to move, we set out for Suhe old town, which is about a 15-minute walk from the hotel. Suhe old town is smaller and a little scruffier than Lijiang old town. We poked around in the shops and enjoyed seeing the native folk dressed in their traditional Naxi garb. Most Chinese people are ethnic Han, but there are quite a few distinct ethnic minorities in China, including the Naxi. After a short walk around town we returned to the hotel.

    At about 4 pm, we decided to visit Lijiang old town which is not close enough to walk to so we got a taxi. It turns out that Lijiang is a very popular destination for Chinese tourists. We didn't see many westerners. Lijiang old town was crazy busy so rather than walk into the center of town on the main street in, we opted to follow a path up a hill to avoid the crowds. This strategy worked and it turned out that we were climbing up one of the premier Lijiang sights-Lion Hill which commanded fine views over the tile rooftops of Lijiang old town. This view is so evocative of the martial arts on rooftops scenes in movies like "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" that when I made a movie on DVD of our China trip I used some of the music from "Crouching Tiger" for the soundtrack of my movie. After admiring the view and the relative peace and quiet, we made our way back down Lion Hill to the central square in the town and then followed a stream winding through town to several water mills at the entrance to town. All along the stream are a line of shops, restaurants and nightclubs with live music. It was a very lively scene. We were in the mood for some peace and quiet so we looked for a taxi back by the entrance to the old town to take us back to the hotel. We showed 3 or 4 taxi drivers the card with the hotel name before we found one willing to take us. Several of the drivers told me "Bu jhi dao" (don't know) although the card I showed them had a map and instructions in chinese. I don't know if their reluctance was due to the location of the hotel or the fact that we were westerners.

    Anyway, back at the beautiful Banyan Tree Lijiang, we sat out and admired the stunning view and as the sun set, reluctantly peeled ourselves away to go to the hotel's western restaurant for dinner. I had a scrumptious Thai red curry chicken and rice dinner and my husband had a steak and fries and we shared a chocolate mousse for dessert. Then, we arranged for transportation to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain for the next day and hit the hay.

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    October 15, 2012 (Monday)

    We fueled up on the extensive breakfast buffet in the western restaurant of the hotel, Ming Yue Restaurant and got an early start to our day. We met our driver for the day in the lobby at about 9:30 am. We were a little disconcerted when on the way to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the driver stopped and asked us if we wanted to get oxygen tanks for the trip up the mountain! We told him it wasn't necessary. We arrived at the parking lot for the mountain at about 10 am. The driver procured the tickets for us to Yak Meadow. It turned out the higher access point was not accessible that day because the cable car was shut down due to high winds. The parking lots here are vast and were full of large tour busses and cars. The driver made sure we understood which numbered parking lot (#3) to get out of the shuttle bus on the way back and then we took off in a shuttle bus up the mountain.

    We took the shuttle bus up the mountain. At the end of the road is the access to a gondola style cable car. After exiting the gondola, we wandered around and along a path through the woods which took us to Yak Meadow. The meadow is very large and is surrounded by a path. There were small shops selling Naxi handicrafts and renting Naxi traditional clothes so put on and have your picture taken. I thought it would be fun to dress up in the Naxi costume. All the Han Chinese ladies were doing it so why not me?! The costume consists of a colorful, full long skirt and blouse and a giant fur hat. We walked around the meadow, admiring the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain from many vantage points. I am so glad we made the effort to go here because it was so worth it. The air was cool and crisp and the sky blue with a few puffy clouds. The place is stunningly beautiful. On the way back to the gondola, we spotted several yaks in Yak Meadow. You could hear them too since they were wearing bells, kind of like cows in Switzerland. We had to wait a little while to get a shuttle bus back down the mountain to the parking lot where we easily found our driver. After returning to the hotel we relaxed and again had dinner in the western Ming Yue restaurant and then read up on Shanghai, our next stop.

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    Another really early morning-5:45 am this time. The breakfast buffet was barely open so we gobbled down some food, checked out and hopped into the Banyan Tree Lijiang SUV for the 30-minute trip to the Lijiang airport. This was a China Eastern flight. We had no difficulty with check in or security. The flight boarded and left Lijiang on time. The scenery from the air around Lijiang is stunning. The first leg of the flight was a 40-minute jaunt to Kunming. We weren't sure if we had to change planes in Kunming for the second leg of the flight to Shanghai. It turns out that the second leg was the same plane but we were required to get off the plane and then we through passengers were allowed back on the plane before passengers originating in Kunming. The flight from Kunming to Shanghai was 3 hours and arrived on time in Shanghai. After collecting our checked luggage, we identified a driver holding a sign with our names from our hotel, the Hotel Indigo on the Bund. This driver was really dressed up in a sharp black suit and driving a black Audi.

    We arrived at the Hotel Indigo on the Bund at about 2:30 pm and checked into our 12th floor room with views of the Pudong and the Huangpo River. We enjoyed the quirky ambiance of this hotel. This hotel caters to a mix of business travelers and tourists. The Sofitel in Xi'an also seems to attract this kind of mix of travelers, while the Orchid Hotel in Beijing and the Banyan Tree Lijiang are definitely more hotels for tourists. The Banyan Tree Lijiang is probably the nicest hotel we have ever stayed in. Later in the trip, we stayed at the ICON Hotel in Hong Kong which is also stunning. Our previous favorite hotel of all time was the Golden Well in Prague.

    After getting ourselves settled into the hotel, we strolled up the Bund. The hotel is at one end of the Bund and the broad riverside promenade. We took advantage of the hotel's proximity to the riverside promenade every day that we were in Shanghai. When I was in Shanghai in 2003, our tour group stayed far out of the central part of Shanghai and we only had one brief stop along the Bund and didn't go to the Pudong at all. I really think it is worthwhile to be centrally located if at all possible so that you can get around on foot and areas like the Bund and Pudong become more familiar to you. We went into several of the bank buildings along the Bund as well as the Fairmont Peace Hotel, where we had drinks and snacks. Back at the hotel, we ate dinner at the hotel's Char Grill restaurant, where I had a burger and salad and my husband had a steak and fries. Then, we turned in for the night.

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    October 17, 2012 (Wednesday)

    On our second day in Shanghai, I had breakfast at the Quay restaurant on the 6th floor of the hotel. My husband didn't eat breakfast because it was not included in the room price. We took a taxi to the Shanghai Museum and arrived at about 10 am. This is a fabulous museum. I remembered it from my 2003 trip and knew that we would spend a lot of time exploring it. We ended up spending 4 hours there! This museum has extensive collections of bronze works, sculpture, ceramics, jades, paintings, calligraphy and seals. It is by far the best collection of these works that I have seen and helps a westerner to better understand Chinese art and aesthetics. After our tour of the museum I bought some silk scarves in the museum store and we had a break in the cafe.

    Then, we walked along the famous Nanjing Lu and I shopped at the Pearl City shopping center at 558 Nanjing Lu. I went a little crazy buying long pearl necklaces in white, pink, green with matching earrings and I bought a malachite necklace and amethyst necklace and matching earrings. The prices were so reasonable and I am very pleased with what I bought and wear these pieces a lot. Since I wanted longer necklaces than they had already made up, the girls in the shop made up the necklaces in the length I wanted and very fast with double knots between the individual stones/pearls. It was such a good deal, I wish I had spent time to pick out other necklaces.

    Anyway, after the shopping frenzy, we continued along Nanjing Lu to the Bund. We located the Bund tourist tunnel and crossed the Huangpu River underground/underwater. The tourist tunnel is a bit of a trip-as in a 1960s trip. You are loaded into a small car that runs on a track and there is a light and sound show along the way. There are colored lights that change and a voice that says things like "Acid magma." After exiting on the Pudong side of the river, we walked to the Oriental Pearl Tower. We went up to the 2nd observation deck as the sun was going down and admired the 360 degree views. We spotted our hotel from there as well as all the buildings along the Bund.

    After admiring the spectacular view, we went down to the basement where the Shanghai History Museum is located. This museum has artifacts and dioramas from Shanghai's history with an emphasis on its past as a trading port for western nations. It is interesting to get the Chinese perspective on these events. After touring the museum, we walked around the Pudong and then along the riverfront looking for a restaurant with western food. We found one called RBT (with a Rabbit logo) where I had a caesar salad and spaghetti bolognaise and my husband had a steak and fries. After dinner, we took the tourist tunnel back across to the Bund and strolled back along the riverfront to the Indigo Hotel on the Bund and called it a day.

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    October 18, 2012 (Thursday)

    We were up a little later at 8:30 am and enjoyed the breakfast buffet at the Hotel Indigo on the Bund, then we took a taxi to Fuxing Park in the French Concession. We enjoyed walking around the park people watching. As in the other parks we had been to in Beijing and Xi'an, there were large groups of people singing and playing traditional Chinese music, ballroom dancing and doing tai chi. From the park, we made our way to Xintiandi, a neighborhood of traditional shikumen. These are traditional Shanghai buildings combining Chinese and western elements and constructed of brick. They are one or two-story structures. Like the siheyuan style homes of Beijing and other Chinese cities, the Shikumen are crowded into narrow alleys like the hutongs of Beijing. Also, like the hutongs neighborhoods of Beijing, a lot of these shikumen areas have been demolished in Shanghai.

    In Xintiandi, we located the site of the 1st National Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in a restored shikumen. We were curious about how the history of the party would be presented. The place has artifacts and exhibits relating to the birth of the Chinese Communist Party and the first National Party Congress which was held in July 1921. Upstairs in the museum are exhibits in Chinese and English explaining for each Party Congress a review of past and future policies of the party. It was interesting to see what kind of spin is applied to policies like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. There was no photography allowed in this museum and the policing of this seemed to be pretty strict. Other museums we visited all over China also often had signage banning photos and guards to enforce the ban, but when I noticed that the Chinese blatantly violated this, I did the same. At the 1st National Party Congress Museum, however I did not see people taking photos.

    After our "reeducation" at the 1st National Party Congress Museum, we walked towards Shanghai's Nanshi (Old Town) area. On the way, when we were taking a break sitting on a wall in front of a bank building, a young man spotted us and hurried over to talk to us. He spoke English and it turned out that he was a Korean student studying in Shanghai. He hugged me and went on his way. I guess he felt some kinship since the three of us were all non-Chinese in China! It was one of many touching and funny episodes we encountered in China. I think these kinds of memorable experiences are less likely to occur if you are traveling in a big tour group. Another good reason to go for independent travel!

    Also, along our way to Nanshi, we stopped at a McDonalds for my husband to have Chicken McNuggets and a Coke and I had a Diet Coke. We wandered through the Nanshi area and eventually found our way to Yu Yuan Bazaar. When I had visited this area on the group tour in 2003, our Chinese guide described the bazaar as "Chinatown in China". This is a pretty apt description. The bazaar is very crowded. It consists of many shops and restaurants. There are some pretty popular dumpling restaurants in this area, but we didn't visit any. We wandered through the bazaar and made a bee line for the Yu Yuan Garden, an oasis of calm in the madness that is Yu Yuan Bazaar. There is an admission fee for the garden, but it is definitely worth it. I had visited the garden on my own during my 2003 tour and remembered it as a highlight of my time in Shanghai. The garden is really lovely and has a distinctive white washed serpentine wall with an undulating dragon on top of it! This wall is featured on the tickets for the garden. The garden was created in 1559 AD so it is very old. It contains all the elements you would expect in a Chinese garden, rockeries, water elements and traditional Chinese buildings. The garden is located next to the City God Temple which I wanted to see but could not find. After spending time in the garden, we treated ourselves to a chocolate Blizzard at Dairy Queen in the Yu Yuan Bazaar. While we were eating the ice cream, a Chinese family approached us and wanted to take a photo of the Chinese husband with my husband, who was not keen on this. I talked him into it in the interests of good American-Chinese relations. After that photo was done, there were many more photos which included both me and my husband and various members of this extended Chinese family. They were very polite and appreciative and I found their enthusiasm for this very charming.

    After the photo taking was over, my husband returned to the hotel while I shopped for more jewelry at a large jewelry shop that was in the old town but was outside of Yu Yuan Bazaar. I don't remember the name of the store, however. I bought gifts for friends and family back home there. I decided to do this in Shanghai because we had such a short amount of time in Hong Kong I did not want to leave this shopping so late in the trip in case I did not have time. Generally speaking, my plan with buying souvenirs was to hold off until later in the trip to keep our bags lighter. This is part of the reason I did not buy any jewelry at the Pearl Market in Beijing. The checked bag weight limit for flights within China is 44 pounds. When I was on the 2003 tour, I ended up buying a second bag to check in Guilin because I had bought so many large souvenirs, notably a silk comforter. When I was on 2003 the group tour, the Chinese airlines just averaged the weight of everyone's luggage so having a second bag or overweight bag wasn't a problem. But on this trip with just the two of us, I knew I would have to keep the weight down. Of course, if you buy really bulky souvenirs like rug or furniture, you would have to pay to ship those things home.

    After my shopping expedition, I made my way back to the hotel using my iPhone Google maps and a small Popout Map of Shanghai. I'm a big fan of these Popout Maps for cities all over the world because they are small and less conspicuous than a large unwieldy map that, when you are consulting it, just advertises that you don't know where you are! I returned to the hotel at about 5 pm, we rested up and then went to dinner at the Quay Restaurant in the hotel. My husband had his usual steak and fries and I had xiaolongbao (Shanghai dumplings) with a ginger sauce. The plate of steamed dumplings was delivered with an explanation of the proper technique to eat the dumplings! Put ginger sauce in the large ceramic Chinese soup spoon, then put the dumpling on top, poke a hole in the top of the dumpling with a chopstick, suck the broth out of the dumpling through the hole then eat the dumpling with the ginger sauce. Delicious! The broth is very flavorful and the dumpling and ginger sauce are wonderful. Too bad I only had three of them. After the dumplings, I had fried rice with chicken and mushrooms.

    After dinner, we got a taxi to take us to the Shanghai acrobats show, which was pretty far away from the hotel. We have always enjoyed Chinese acrobat shows. The first one I remember seeing live was at the Splendid China theme park in Orlando in the 1990s. This show was excellent. My favorite act is the Lion Dance, but there were many other outstanding acts in the show. Unfortunately, photography was prohibited at the show. Photography was permitted at the Tang Dynasty show so I was disappointed that I could not take photos or video at this show. When the show was over, we had difficulty finding a taxi that would take us back to the hotel. We hailed 3 taxis before we found one willing to take us. We returned to the hotel at about 9:30 pm and made the final arrangements for our trip to Suzhou for the next day. Then we called it a day.

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    October 19, 2012 (Friday)

    We got an early start to the day and I had the breakfast buffet, but my husband did not because he thought it was too expensive for what little he would eat of it. We had arranged through the hotel for a driver for the day for our excursion to Suzhou. This was the only excursion like this we took while in China that was on the pricey side. We debated about it but decided that it would be the best way to see all the gardens we wanted to see in the one day we had allocated for this. Just as with the previous excursions we had in Beijing to the Great Wall and Lijiang to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the driver did not speak English. Again, though, this was not a problem. The hotel had communicated to the driver exactly where we wanted to go and he took us to all 5 places in Suzhou. Also, I had the driver's cell phone number in case we had trouble finding him-we didn't. If we had had more time in Shanghai, I would have spent it visiting one of the water villages near Shanghai and Hangzhou with its famous West Lake.

    Westerners are probably more familiar with Japanese gardens than Chinese gardens. There are similarities between the two, but they are still quite different. The Chinese garden has many commonly used elements that are symbolic. The garden is intended to be a natural landscape in miniature with rocks standing in for mountains and water elements for larger bodies of water. There is symbolism in the plant material used as well. For example, Chinese gardens often contain the "Three Friends of Winter" which are pine trees, bamboo and plum trees. They are called this because they do not wither in cold weather, unlike other plants. Therefore, they symbolize steadfastness, perseverance and resilience in the face of adversity. Manmade wooden halls and pavilions and walls are also added to the garden. The interplay between the man-made structures and the landscapes is designed so that moving from one building to another, the view is constantly changing (like a Chinese landscape scroll being unrolled.) Unusually shaped windows and doorways in walls are placed to frame these views. This concept is called "borrowed scenery". Paths through the landscape are serpentine or zig zag. Chinese calligraphy poetry also has a place in the Chinese Garden and bits of poetry are strategically placed in the garden.

    The 69 classical gardens of Suzhou are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are in my opinion a must see when visiting Shanghai. Suzhou is not that far from Shanghai, but with the traffic it took an hour and a half to get to our first stop in Suzhou, which was the Humble Administrator's Garden. My husband liked this garden best. A garden has been on this site since 1131 AD. It is the biggest garden in Suzhou with a large lake and hills scattered amongst the pavilions, rockeries and plants. There is also an area here dedicated to Penjing (Chinese bonsai). Penjing dates from the Tang Dynasty and is older than Japanese bonsai, which is more familiar to westerners. As you might expect, the gardens are very popular and are quite crowded. Some of less well-known gardens are less crowded. When the driver dropped us off at the garden, he made sure we knew where he and the car were when we exited the garden. This system worked out great and there were no problems.

    The next garden we visited was the Lion Grove garden. This one is smaller, less popular and not as crowded. The focus of this garden is on its fabulous huge rockeries and in particular one grotto of famous Tai Hu (Lake Tai) rocks, which is said to be shaped like a lion. This garden was built in 1342 AD by a Buddhist monk. There are also water elements and plants in the garden, of course, but the focus is the giant rocks.

    After visiting the Lion Grove garden, we toured the Silk Museum in Suzhou, which contains examples of ancient elaborately worked Chinese silk garments as well as a tiny pair of silk shoes for bound feet. The exhibits explain the history of Chinese silk manufacturing and exporting of silk along the famous Silk Road. I bought an inexpensive but beautiful silk scarf in the museum shop. The museum was interesting, but I must confess that I thought we were going to the Silk Factory in Suzhou, a place I had visited in 2003. Even with 9 years of planning, I confused these two places! The Silk Factory emphasizes the cultivating of silkworms and the harvesting of silk from the silkworm cocoons and spinning silk thread into fabric. Both the Silk Museum and Silk Factory are interesting. I had thought the Factory would be more interesting for a first time China visitor like my husband.

    Our next stop was the Master of the Nets Garden, the only one I had visited in 2003. This garden is renowned for its clever layout and use of space given its small size. The Astor Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC is modeled upon a small courtyard in the Master of the Nets Garden. The Astor Court is indoors but succeeds in conveying the sense of a Chinese garden and is intended to provide a respite for visitors to the museum's Asian exhibits.

    The last garden we visited in Suzhou was the Garden for Lingering. This garden had special events which may explain why it was the most crowded garden we visited. Near the entrance to the garden there was a small traditional Chinese orchestra playing music and a woman singing Chinese opera. Outdoors in a lake, there was another costumed woman in a boat playing a traditional instrument and singing which was broadcast over a loudspeaker. The loudspeaker was a little jarring in the tranquil setting of a garden.

    We returned to Shanghai and our hotel room where we rested up and enjoyed our view of the Pudong. At about 6:30 pm, we walked along the river in the opposite direction from the Bund to the Cool Docks area for dinner. This is an area that has recently been developed with restaurants and shops. We found a restaurant there where my husband has his usual steak and fries and I had a Caesar salad and spaghetti bolognaise. I noticed while we were in China that western restaurants all seemed to have spaghetti bolognaise, but not other Italian pasta dishes. Good thing I like spaghetti bolognaise! This was our last night in Shanghai, so we walked along the Bund one more time, then packed for our flight the next day and went to bed.

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    October 20, 2012 (Saturday)

    Another early morning start at 5 am to meet the driver to take us to the airport at 6 am. Our flight to Guilin was from Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, which mostly handles domestic flights. Our flight from Lijiang/Kunming also came into Shanghai Hongqiao Airport. The other Shanghai airport is the Shanghai Pudong International Airport, which mostly handles the international traffic. We had smooth sailing through check-in and security, the flight boarded on time, but took off about 30 minutes late. The flight time was about 2 hours. We landed at about noon. The late arrival did not create a problem getting from Guilin to Yangshuo as the driver sent by the hotel to pick us up was there at the arrivals hall with the welcome sign with our names. The drive from Guilin to the hotel, the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat took about an hour.

    Yangshuo is a much bigger town than I remembered from my brief time there in 2003. I also thought it would be reasonably easy to walk from the hotel to town. We did not find that to be feasible for us. In one point in our stay at the hotel, I heard the staff warning several western tourists about carefully guarding their purses while they were riding bikes in the area as robbers on motorcycles had been known to go by tourists on bikes and grab their purses and other bags! I was surprised by this because I had always thought there was very little of that kind of crime in China as opposed to some places is Europe where this problem is endemic. Anyway, we ended up relying on taxis which are cheap to get us around.

    When we were planning our trip, we debated the relative merits of staying close to the center of town or not. I am glad we decided to stay a bit out of town. When I planned the trip, one of my goals was to alternate a big city with a smaller town. The original idea was Beijing (big city) then Pingyao (small town), Xi'an then Lijiang, Shanghai then Yangshuo and finishing with Hong Kong. As it turned out, we did not get to Pingyao, but the larger/smaller city plan held through the rest of the trip. That being said, Chinese cities are huge-Beijing has 16+ million, Shanghai has 20+ million, Xi'an has 5+ million and Hong Kong has 3+ million. Even Yangshuo has 300,000 people and Lijiang has 1+ million and this is not including tourists. By contrast, the biggest city in the US is NYC with 8+ million, then LA with close to 4 million and Chicago with close to 3 million. However, my husband and I live and work in a city in Florida of 60,000 people, although the county has a population of 600,000. In 2003, I was astonished at the enormous size of cities in China that I had never heard of before. I was prepared for that in 2012, but hoped for some more rural experiences in the places we had picked to stay. We did have some more tranquil experiences in Lijiang and Yangshuo.

    In Yangshuo we thoroughly enjoyed the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat. The hotel is smaller than the other hotels we had in China (and less expensive) except the Orchid Hotel in Beijing. When we travel in Europe, we typically pick small boutique hotels, so this one fit the bill. The hotel caters to westerners and is very accommodating. We had a second floor room with a large balcony and a stunning view over the Yulong River to the quirky karst mountains. We spent a lot of our leisure time sitting on the balcony enjoying the view.

    After hanging out on the balcony until sunset and meeting our neighbors from Scotland in the next room, we went downstairs and had dinner in the hotel's dining room. My husband had steak and fries and I had a Caesar salad, pork ribs and fried rice. We also had dessert-my husband had vanilla ice cream and I had apple crumble with vanilla ice cream. The hotel had a library of western movies on DVD and DVD players and TVs in the rooms, so we watched "Becoming Jane" (a movie we hadn't seen) in our room. I love it when such disparate times, people and places combine-1800s England meets 2012 China and a couple of Americans from Florida!

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    October 21, 2012 (Sunday)

    In the 2003 China tour I had taken, our Li River excursion consisted of a large motorized boat going from Guilin to Yangshuo. I decided that it would be a more tranquil experience if we stayed in Yangshuo and took a smaller boat for the Li River trip.

    The previous day we had arranged a private motorized bamboo raft trip down the Li River. We were up before 7 am and had the included breakfast at the hotel, then the hotel desk staff called a taxi to pick us up and take us to the point up the river where we would meet our boatman for the river excursion. After a 1-hour bumpy taxi ride (the roads were full of potholes) we arrived at the rendezvous point in Xingping. The taxi driver turned us over to the boatman and off we went. The boat was a rubberized narrow bamboo raft with seats and a canopy to protect from rain and sun. We went down the river and back up to Xingping for a 2-hour trip. There is a lot of traffic on the Li River, much more than I remember from 2003. Most of the tourists on the boats were Chinese. I think there has been a large increase in Chinese tourists in places like the Li River. In 2003, I remember seeing a lot of cormorant fishermen along the river. This time I only saw one!

    The weather was much better for this excursion than in 2003. Then, it was rainy and cold. In 2012, it was hazy and mild. The Li River, in my opinion, is a must see for China because it is so central to the culture. There are poems and paintings about it. At the start of the trip, the boatman indicated by pantomime that the spot where the boat was docked was the scene depicted on the 20 yuan note (Apple Hill). This is how central this place is to the Chinese-it's on the money! Before I went to China in 2003, I thought the Chinese landscape paintings I had seen with these odd shaped mountains were stylized and not real. They are real and extraordinarily beautiful! From talking to the staff at the hotel, it appears that the hazy atmospheric scene is a constant along the Li River. The boatman returned us to where we started and the taxi driver picked us up and took us back to the hotel by about noon.

    We had lunch at the hotel. I had a ham, pineapple, onion and tomato pizza and my husband had a burger and fries. My husband stayed at the hotel, enjoying the view and tranquility, while I took a taxi into town and shopped. I bought some gifts and small embroidered pictures that are so detailed they look like photos! I walked to the bus station and showed a taxi driver the hotel card for the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat and we agreed on a price and I was back at the hotel. When I returned, we sat outside enjoying the view until sunset then we had dinner at the hotel restaurant. I had pineapple chicken and fried rice and my husband had lemon chicken and fries. We both had ice cream for dessert and then watched "The Men Who Stare at Goats" and "Pride and Prejudice". Just another day along the Li River!

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    October 22, 2012 (Monday)

    This was a big day starting in Yangshuo and ending in Hong Kong. We got an early start at 7:30 am and had a full breakfast at the hotel. The taxi driver came to take us to the rendezvous point along the Yulong River, about a 15 minute ride upstream from the hotel. We met the boatman and took off. This boat was a traditional bamboo raft that was propelled not by a motor but by the boatman using a long pole to push off the bottom of the river. Then, the long pole is turned over and the other side of the pole is used to push the against the bottom of the river. I remember seeing a lot of these boats in 2003 that were being used by fisherman. This time, most of these boats were being used to transport tourists, mostly Chinese. The boat trip along the Yulong River was 70 minutes long and is all downstream and very tranquil. There were a lot of other boats, but since the boats did not have motors, the tranquility of the scene was not disturbed. There are floating restaurants and rest areas along the river, but we did not stop at any of them. There was also an area where people were swimming along the riverbank. The bamboo raft has two chairs affixed to it and a canopy to provide shade from the sun. The boatman stands at the back of the raft and propels the boat and steers with a long bamboo pole. The rafts are picked up downstream after a trip down the river and are disassembled and loaded on trucks and trucked back upstream to the place where the journey begins.

    I would recommend going as early in the morning as possible for both the Yulong River trip and the Li River trip since we observed from our hotel room balcony that the traffic on the river really picks up later in the day. Also, it gets hotter and there is more glare from the sun. Both the Li River and the Yulong River are very shallow and clear. The scenery is very beautiful with the unusually shaped karst mountains with fanciful names based upon their shapes. The haze in the sky adds to the mystery and allure of the place. There are also huge feathery fern-like bamboo plants along the banks of both rivers called Phoenix Bamboo. At the end of our boat trip, the boatman navigated the boat to the hotel's dock and dropped us off.

    After our boat trip, we had lunch at the hotel. I had a ham, onion and tomato pizza and tea and my husband had a burger and fries. Then, at 1 pm in the hotel's garden, I had a 1-hour private Tai Chi class that had been arranged through the hotel. I had taken Tai Chi classes before so I was a little bit familiar with the moves. After the class, we checked out of our hotel room and then relaxed in the garden of the hotel watching the bamboo rafts pass by on the languid Yulong River and the enormous butterflies dancing on the bougainvillea. These butterflies are so big that when I first saw them, I mistook them for hummingbirds!

    At 3 pm our taxi driver arrived to take us back to the Guilin airport. We arrived at the airport at about 4 pm. We had a little trouble figuring out where the check-in was for our flight to Hong Kong. After some inquiry, we discovered that the Guilin to Hong Kong flight is considered to be an international flight, so we stood in line at a special check-in with its own security and passport check and signage for "international flights". We checked our bags, cleared security and immigration with no problems and found the gate for our flight. Our flight to Hong Kong boarded and left Guilin on time at 6:30 pm and arrived in Hong Kong on time at 7:40 pm. There was an earlier flight that day at 4:30 pm but it was booked when we first tried to make reservations. After the flight landed, we were bussed from the plane to the terminal to go through immigration and collect our checked bags.

    We found a taxi station outside the terminal and took a taxi to our hotel, the ICON Hotel in Kowloon. The taxi ride was a bit of an adventure because the taxi driver took 3 of our bags (one with my cameras and iPad and other electronics in it) and put them in the trunk of the car from which they were protruding so he secured the trunk with a bungee cord! Every time the car hit a bump, I pictured the bags tumbling out of the trunk. Luckily, this did not happen and we and the bags were safely deposited at the ICON Hotel. We arrived at the hotel at about 9 pm. We were delighted to discover that we had been upgraded to an enormous suite with a beautiful harbor view. The suite had a large and comfortable living room/office, bedroom, master bathroom and spare half bathroom. The room had large windows with 180 degree views of Hong Kong Island and Victoria Harbour. It was stunning! Too bad we only had 2 nights there. After the relative peace and quiet of the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, finding ourselves at the end of the day in bustling noisy Hong Kong was a little jarring. My husband particularly found the sensory overload overwhelming and intense. After settling ourselves in to the suite, we ventured out and walked to the harbor and along the Avenue of Stars with plaques commemorating the Hong Kong film industry and its movie stars. Some plaques have the stars handprints and autographs. There is a bronze statue of Bruce Lee along this area. We strolled along the waterfront, taking in the boat activity and the neon light displays on the buildings on Hong Kong island. We walked as far as the Star Ferry Port, then walked back to the hotel. There are many nightclubs in this area of Kowloon (Tsim Sha Tsui) and we heard one band playing "Gangnum Style" as we passed by on our way back to the hotel. Back in our room, we admired the view and planned our adventures for the next day, our only full day in Hong Kong.

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    October 23, 2012 (Tuesday)

    With only one day to explore Hong Kong, we were up early at 6:30 am. We had a good breakfast at the hotel and walked to the famous Peninsula Hotel. After checking out the Peninsula, we walked across the street via the underground passage to the Star Ferry terminal for Tsim Sha Tsui. We took the ferry across Victoria Harbour to the Central Terminal and then started walking towards the Victoria Peak Tram. We were using maps and the iPhone Google Maps but the problem is that some of the time there are barriers that do not allow you to cross streets. I think if we had had more time to explore Hong Kong, we would have been less frustrated by these barriers. It appears that most of the acesss is above ground in elevated buildings and passageways, but these did not show up on the maps I was using. Anyway, we figured it out and got ourselves to the Victoria Peak Tram, while admiring the soaring skyscrapers along the way.

    We were glad we went straight to the Peak Tram early in the morning because there was a line when we got there which was much longer when we came back down. The tram is a funicular and is very steep. It does not go to the top of the peak. I think you can walk to the top but we did not have time for that. There were a lot of people at the terminus of the tram so we walked along a path to admire the view and get away from the madding crowds. There was a bit of haze in the air looking towards Kowloon, but it is a breathtaking view anyway. When planning the trip I had trouble convincing my husband to stay any length of time in Hong Kong because he (as a history buff) wrote off Hong Kong as not being steeped in ancient Chinese history like Beijing and Xi'an. I convinced him to give it two nights because I said "Hong Kong is one of the world's greatest cities" and a must-see. There is some history there and a vibrant modern life too as well as a stunning natural setting. In the end, he was blown away by Hong Kong.

    We took the Peak Tram back down and then meandered our way through Hong Kong Park and over to Hollywood Road. We went into Man Mo Temple and then poked around in the antique stores in the area. In 2003, I had bought a blue and white ceramic tile landscape of mountains, pine and water in a shop on Hollywood Road for $75 that I have displayed in my dining room and I treasure. On this trip we did not buy anything, but enjoyed exploring the shops anyway. After our antiquing expedition, we made our way back downhill to the Central Terminal and took the Star Ferry back to Tsim Sha Tsui and back to our hotel for a rest.

    At around 5 pm, we took the hotel shuttle bus to the Peninsula Hotel and toured the Hong Kong Museum, which is across the street from the Peninsula Hotel. The Museum has a great collection of Chinese ceramics and other art forms. We were there late so we had to hurry through the collection. From there, we made our way to the Avenue of Stars and enjoyed the light show on Hong Kong Island and then moved on to Fresco Lane to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse for dinner. I had a salad, chicken, spinach and potatoes au gratin. My husband had steak and bread. We then walked back to the hotel and packed for our trip home. I had a swim in the hotel pool and a soak in the tub in our room with a view of Victoria Harbour. We were happy to be going home after 3 weeks, but sad that our China adventure was over.

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    October 24, 2012 (Wednesday)

    We were up at 6:30 am and had breakfast, checked out of our beautiful room and took a taxi to the airport. We had a flight from Hong Kong to Tokyo on Japan Airlines. Notwithstanding that I had worked hard in the hotel to balance out the weight of my checked bag and my husband's, my bag was overweight when we went to check the bags. I had to twice move items from my bag to my husband's to even out the weight. We went through immigration and security with no problems and our flight from Hong Kong to Tokyo was on time.

    In Tokyo, we obtained our boarding passes for the Tokyo to Dallas flight and the Dallas to Florida flight. The flight from Tokyo to Dallas was 11 hours and landed on time and we flew back home to Florida without incident.

    WHEN CAN I GO BACK TO CHINA!

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    Thanks nina88 for busting me out of my inertia and spurring me to finish this trip report. Thanks Shanghainese and Darcy 001 for your comments. Shanghainese, I have your enjoyed reading your reports of your trips back to Shanghai. Were you part of the fodors group that got together the end of October 2012 for a Fodors get together in Shanghai? We just missed it- we were in Shanghai a little too early in October. My husband and I do plan to return to China in 2016 and probably spend a week in Shanghai. I can't wait!

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    Not in October 2012, I put together one in May 2012 and another this year in May too. Hope to meet you in 2016, in the meantime let me know when you are in northern California.

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    Shanghainese, we'll probably be going to China in October again hopefully in 2016. Before then, we may visit my cousin in San Francisco so we would be in Northern California. I would extend the same invitation to you if you visit our beautiful Southwest Florida Gulf Coast!

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