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Trip Report Two weeks Beijing to Shanghai

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I’m very thankful to this forum that already helped me plan many of my trips. Especially my big thanks to Kja, whose China trip report inspired me to visit some places I was not considered to visit initially. I hope my experiences will also help other travellers with their trips planning.

In my trip report I’ll write about the places we have visited and experiences we have made. But I’ll skip all info on hotels and restaurants, as with booking.com, lonely planet and trip advisor – you can find the best hotels/ restaurants for your budget and taste

Also I’m not a native English speaker and living in Germany, so very sorry for the language mistakes in advance.

Our 2 weeks initial itineraries were the following:

Beijing – 2.5days
Datong – 1.5 days
Pingyao – 2 days
Xi’an – 3 days
Shanghai – 1.5 days
Hangzhou – 1.5 days
Suzhou – 1 day


Beijing

It was my second time in Beijing, though my mom’s first, so we made a deal to limit our stay to 2.5 days. We visited Temple of Haven, Forbidden palace and Summer palace, but didn’t manage too see much of the city, as Beijing deserves at least 5 – 6 days. Still it was really pleasant to see that the cultural sights stayed exactly the same as I remember them from my last visit, what I can’t say about the city itself.

My last visit to Beijing was 8 years ago and the changes I saw were really amazing. Funny enough, the most striking change are the public toilets. The horrors of my last visit– dark stinky rooms with just some wholes in the floor with no cabins or doors were gone for good. This time I was really amazed about amount and cleanness of the public toilets and not only in Beijing but in all tourist sights we’ve been. Frankly, China beats here even the countries like Germany or France.

Second huge change is the people. This time we encountered much less attention and curiosity and in Beijing and in more remote places. People still look, still make pictures; nevertheless you do not feel stalked all the time as it used to be. Also shopkeepers changed their attitude completely. On last visit I had to breathe in and breathe out before I was ready to step in a market or shop, a chaos of voices and hands trying to attract your attention to their merchandize. Today, I think, Chinese have more money then they used to and are not so desperate to earn an extra yuan or two. So you are left more or less along in a shop, being able to take some time to see what is offered and decide if you want it or not. Also the bargaining became more relaxed. I remember the 10 – 20 minutes shows about each item you wanted to purchase - loud discussions, dramatic “I cant sell it too you for the price, you are robbing me” (or something like this, in Chinese). This time you still have to bargain and decrease prices 5 -10 times, though not as if you bargaining for your life. My biggest concern before the trip was not the language barrier or rudeness, but exactly the constant attention of people around. But in the end it was just fine - China changed and happy to say, this change I like really a lot.

One of the dearest memories of my last visit to Beijing were of Qianhai lake with relaxing cafés and bars, bands playing tuneful Chinese pop and beautiful reflections of the lights in the lake. This was another shocking change I observed – the lake became a collection of clubs and bars with a band playing in each of them, so when you sit outside the Chinese songs is mixed with “pretty woman” and Lady Gaga hits. Te vibe of the place changed completely. It is said that you can never come to the same place twice and on Qianhai lake I felt how true it is.

Another thing that surprised me in Beijing were the taxi drivers. It never happened to me before that taxi stops; the driver reads an address and says - “No”. In Beijing it happened 3 times. If the drivers were ending their shift or just didn’t want to go to the other part of the city, I do not know. Those incidents, as many others we faced stayed a mystery to me.

Something about food. I love Beijing Duck and was dreaming about it since we start planning our trip. So surely a Beijing duck restaurant was a “must do” on our program. We picked Da Dong Roast Duck as the place to go. In general Chinese eat really early, around 6, while at 11 all the places were already closing down. So the strategy we automatically picked up is to combine lunch and dinner and go for a meal shortly after 5. It allowed us to get a table in all restaurants even if it was highly recommended to book in advance. The duck was amazing, but what was really new to me is the duck skin with some fat dipped in sugar. Would never imagine I could enjoy something like this.

The days in Beijing were short and I was really sad we were not able to visit the place I wanted, like 798 Art district or National Theatre. But well, China is big and you can never fit all you want into a limited vacation time.

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    Datong

    Though a taxi drive to Liuliqiao Bus Station to catch an early bus to Datong was smooth, the most frustrating and confusing day of the whole trip was in front of us. Just before starting the trip I printed out time tables for all buses and trains in English and Chinese. So well prepared and confident we’ve headed for the ticket booth. While cueing we were approached by a lady (will call her lady N1) claiming that the first bus to Datong will depart only in 4 hour and we should purchase a ticket from her for a “special” bus. As my printout clearly stated a bus in half an hour, I politely turned down her proposal. Though in 5 minutes as it was our turn and I proudly showed the Chinese timetable with carefully marked bus, the lady at the counter gave us a “no” sign and showed on her computer screen a bus departing in 4 hours. Not considering long we decided to follow the lady N1 to her promised “special” bus (…this is so not easy to follow a Chinese when he or she is leading you somewhere, as if on purpose to assure you do not have time to re-consider your decision). Surprisingly instead of the bus we ended up on a parking lot next to a huge black Chinese car. Most probably it was safe and nothing would have happened and the bus was parked some distance form the bus station and they planned to bring us there with a car. But I was repeated too many times in my youth not to get into a car of an unknown person, so we thanked the lady and headed back to purchase tickets for the official bus.
    Liuliqiao Bus Station is a grey hall with just one snack shop, a toilet and a drinking water stand, so lacking any entertainment I had enough time to learn by hart all what is written in my guide book about Datong. If the buses were overbooked, cancelled or never existed, this I’ve never learned. That’s a price you pay for travelling in a country without knowing the language, so we took it easy and were looking forward for the days in Datong.

    We arrived at Datong Bus Station around 4 and as a smoker the first thing I needed after 5 hours bus ride is a cigarette. No chance! The second we left the bus terminal we were surrounded with 5 taxi drivers who were offering to drive us any place we want. Still I was very determined to take my time and enjoy the cigarette before searching for a note with hotel address (surely in Chinese). But “No” was not taken as an answer and halfway done with my cigarette I gave up and handed the address to one of the taxi drivers. “30 yuan”, “20 yuan” – each driver wanted to be lauder then the others. Though the moment I said “meter” - interest was immediately lost. We got our metered taxi after a while and after a long day arrived at our hotel. I knew that Datong is not the nicest city, so we booked a nicer hotel then for the rest of the trip. Oh god, later we learned that it was an excellent decision.

    After short refreshment we headed to the city to check a nine dragon screen and have a dinner in a restaurant recommended in our guide book. We were already not far away from the city walls and looking forward for a nice dinner, when I got a hunch that something is wrong. Approaching the walls, all we were able to see was a huge construction site with all building demolished and new not yet built. It took us really some moments to realize that the construction site was actually the place where the city centre supposed to be. Surprised, confused, frustrated (whatever the word) we turned back and not knowing of a better plan, wandered around the district. All I can say, this city is unbelievable! And I can not figure out how it exactly functions. Anywhere you go you have huge 30 storeys apartment blocks that are under construction or finished, but still empty. Space for newly build shops, but still closed. And among this construction craziness you have some islands of life where you see people playing cards, selling fruits, repairing shoes, talking with neighbours, sleeping on their scooters. After an hour or so of walking, the idea of returning to a paradise of our hotel was quite appealing and we returned there for dinner.

    I can not say I loved all the experiences we had on that day. But I’m really happy we saw this side of China (and now I have a great story to tell)

    Just as we arrived at the hotel on the first evening we gave a call to a CITS office and arranged a driver for the next day. Initially we planned to split the sights in two days. But as our bus was much later then expected we had to change the plan and fit in all what we wanted to see in one day. So at 8am our driver was there and we headed for the Yungang Grottoes.

    I’ve already realized that China is a big constructions sight and things are changing with extraordinary speed there. But still the developments around the grottos impressed me a lot. Huge brand new shiny complex with tickets and tourist information, brand new temples still smelling of paint, new bridges over new ponds and even new park with newly planted big trees (you can still see the circles of new ground around each tree!). Wow.

    The Grottoes itself were stunning: amazingly Buddhas and Bodhisattvas carved directly into the mountains and in the walls of grottoes. It was really great to examine the walls in search for the story of Shakyamuni’s life in some of the caves and wonder about the sizes of Budhhas in the others. It was really hard to part from the place, but we still had a big plan for the day.

    Next we drove to the Hanging monastery that gets somehow very controversial reviews from being the greatest sight around Datong to claims it is waste of time to go there. The monastery is built on a wall of a cliff and tiny prying halls are connected through the stairs sometimes literally suspended in the mid air. I think it is not the sight you should drive hundreds kilometers to see, but in combination with Yungang Grottoes it definitely worth visiting. Personally I loved the place. We were there at the same time as a big Chinese group that provided an extra entertainment for us - with all their hysterical laughs, signs they gave and pictures they were taking of each other.

    After the temple we headed to the Hen Shan, that was just 15 minutes away with a car. Hen Shan is one of five Chinese holy mountains. When I was preparing the trip, it was close to impossible to find decent information about the place. It was mentioned here and there, but no maps and no descriptions. It totally kicked my curiosity and I was really determined to go there. To get to Hen Shan, you can walk or take a cable car. We decided for a cable car. I’m a bit afraid of height and crossing a deep gorge in a tiny open cabin shaking in the wind was quite fun. Also at Hen Shan we had our moment of fame: as we were the only European looking people there, everybody was eager to make a picture with us or of us. I always find funny how different people approach you for a picture – some ask, some are pretending they are photographing something else and make a picture of you and some just grab you and pose. Hen Shan has stunning views and we totally enjoyed some hours there wandering up and down from one temple to another.

    What was really surprising are the prices we paid that day. It is really hard to understand, how the entrance to the museums in total on that day was twice more expensive than our driver with his car.

    The day was long and when we came back to the hotel at 7pm we were quite tired, we still had some hour to kill before taking the train to Pingyao.

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    I'm glad I convinced my husband to take the train instead of the bus. Hopefully it will run on schedule. Did you book the hotel for two nites so that you could return and shower prior to taking the train out? I'm anxious to hear about your train trip. Were you able to get a soft sleeper to pingyao? I didn't realize that hen Shan is only 15 minutes from the temple. Perhaps we will add that to our itinerary if we have time. Were you happy with the cit driver? What was the cost for the day?

    Looking forward to the rest of your report. Thanks for posting so promptly.

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    Thanks for such a great start to your adventure, and thanks for your kind words! I can only say that you are building on the adventures of Fodorits who preceded, inspired, and advised me.

    I'm enjoying your report very much - you are bringing my memories to mind even as you describe things that changed in the few years since I visited these places. Hen Shan sounds great - I hadn't known to consider it.

    "I can not say I loved all the experiences we had on that day. But I’m really happy we saw this side of China (and now I have a great story to tell)" Oh yes, I remember many moments like that! Sounds like you are in the process of making it through those moments with humor and flexibility, and that you are building a treasure trove of stories.

    Looking forward to hearing more!

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    I'm so happy some people enjoy my report, thank you very much!

    Dgunbug, we booked the hotel just for one night and were hanging out in the lobby & restaurant the second evening. Booking 2 nights would be great, but it depends on your budget.
    Cit driver was ok, I mean he smiled, was driving us around and dint speak a word of English. His driving style was sometimes too rough for us, but as he is Chinese, you can't expect anything else. We paid 450 yuan for the day (350 as agreed with the CITI office and 100 extra for Hen Shan as we decided to add it later) I think any taxi driver will agree to drive you around and it may be even cheaper. I didn't have any strength that day to negotiate, so we chose an easy way with official agency.
    Ill post the story with the train tickets tomorrow, so please have some patience :)

    Kja, specially thanks too you again ;)

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    I'm also anxiously awaiting your next "chapter". We are planning a 4 week trip to China for next April, and would like to spend a few days in Pingyao. We will be traveling in the reverse order-Xian-Pingyaou-Beijing.

    The transportation issue is a bit overwhelming for me--it's like putting a very difficult puzzle together!

    Post soon!
    Thanks
    TVQ

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    :))) thanks again, and here is the next chapter.


    Pingyao

    Before I start the story about Pingyao, I would like to write about the trains and train tickets first. This or last year China has implemented a centralized system for sales of train tickets. So now you can purchase tickets for any trip in any Chinese city with your passport or ID. The tickets are sold 2-3 weeks before the travel date. There is an amazing web site with the information about train travel worldwide, so if you are interested you can read there more: www.seat61.com

    We booked all hotels in advance, so I was really worried about getting tickets for the trains we planned. Thus I started checking the ticket availability online some weeks before the trip (www.chinahighlights.com/china-trains). And unlucky us, a week before the trip the tickets for the train we wanted were already sold out. To assure we get a train at least for the same day, I booked a ticket still from home through one of the agencies (to be delivered to our hotel in Beijing). It was really a rip off and we had to pay 4 times the original price, but I didn’t know any other way to get those tickets before you are in China. (May be some hotels can arrange the tickets in advance, didn’t work with ours though). I was really happy we booked those tickets in the end, as I heard people in our hostel discussing how to go on from Pingyao, as train tickets were completely sold out.

    Tickets for our second train trip were available in the internet till our departure for China, so I booked them when we arrived in Beijing through our hostel for just extra 20RMB. Definitely great option, as tickets are delivered directly to the hotel. But we were not able to get a soft sleeper again.

    Originally I’m Russian (= used to bad trains) and have perfect sleep (=no laud neighbour can wake me up), may be that’s why our trips were smooth and I enjoyed my beauty sleep on both train journeys.

    The funny thing we observed while travelling is the ticket system. When you are boarding a train in China the staff is taking away your ticket and gives you a plastic card with your sit/ bed number. And when you are leaving the train – you have to give the plastic card and receive your tickets back. We were wondering why they are doing it, but it became another Chinese mystery.

    Ok, on to Pingyao.
    Pingyao is one of the few towns where the city centre was not completely re-build (or if re-built than at least in an old style, you never know for sure) and we went there to see a glimpse of what you imagine was traditional China. Pingyao is kind of Chinese Rottenburg or Colmar – cute place, it is lovely to stroll around and definitely worth seeing, but after you visit couple of museums and walk 2 main streets 5 times back and forth – you’ve seen the place. Plus there are some must sees around town.

    We arrived very early in the morning and after dropping the luggage in the hostel, we headed out for a walk in the city. It was the most pleasant time (6am) to stroll around the ancient streets watching locals opening the shops, chatting and selling their garden produce right on the main streets.

    As soon as the time came for the sights to open, we headed to the ticket booth to purchase the city ticket that allows visiting the city walls as well as numerous city museums. Also we took an audio guide that I can quite recommend, as it gave some interesting details on some temples and country yard houses.

    We started with the city walls. Funny enough the brightest memories I have were neither of the walls nor of the city view, but of the Chinese tour groups. Especially remarkable are tour guides explaining something in loudspeakers and making shure they are louder then their colleagues. To me it looked more like a bunch of demonstrates, then tourists with their loudspeakers and red hats.

    Till the late afternoon we kept ourselves busy with visiting the sights, the ones I particularly enjoyed were the temple of the city good and Rishengchang Exchange Shop. There are much more museums in Pingyao, but after visiting a couple, you see they all are quite similar.

    As we had some time, we decided to head to a sight outside of Pingyao – the Shingling Temple. First question we faced is how to get there. Pingyao is a pedestrian city, so it is not possible to stop a cab until you are outside city walls. Also there were plenty of options for “motorbikes with trailer sits”, that we decided to take (after hard bargaining, of course). That was a fun ride (or fun for me & terrifying for my mom) – on an old, tiny motorbike in the middle of traffic jam with trucks, busses and other cars. Taxi definitely, would have been a safer option, but then you miss the fun of the trip.

    I didn’t expect much from the Shingling Temple, but then it became the most interesting sight for me in Pingyao! It houses beautifully carved wooden statues from different time periods. Especially interesting was a collection of 200 years old paper dolls in one of the shrines. We spent more then an hour examining the status and the dolls to displeasure of our motorbike driver driver, who was waiting for us outside.

    After coming back to Pingyao, there was nothing more left to do as to stroll (10th time) along the main street and check some souvenir shops. Pingyao is famous for its lack products and if you want to get some – it’s definitely the place. Though the goods are quite touristy and they sell more or less the same stuff in all shops.

    The second day we planned for the sights outside of Pingyao and took a tour with our hostel to the Wang's Compound and Zhangbi Ancient Village. We enjoyed the Wang compound, it was quite fun to wander around this huge home – castle, though after the Pingyao museums – the difference is only the size (still I can walk endlessly through the Chinese country yard houses, they are so cute). On the other hand Zhangbi Ancient Village was quite disappointing. The tunnels are not especially spectacular and the look of an ancient village in China is quite particular – backstreets with walls of break and closed doors.

    I thought I new everything about Chinese kid’s pans with a slit on the bottom and as they are free to relieve themselves any place they feel like it. Still it was just unbelievable to see kids brought by their parents to a side on a busy street or a corner of a museum house and doing what they need to do. Once we were enjoying a break in a Wang compound’s park when a mom brought her kid, put him just a meter away from us to do his business. That view was more then I was able to handle, so we had to leave our relaxing bank and look for another one. Cultural differences…

    That evening we had our train to Xi’an at 11pm (or we thought so at least). Luckily I decided to check the tickets in advance and (surprise, surprise) found out that the departure point was not Pingyao, but Taiyuan (a city 50 km away from Pingyao). I heard that it is not possible to buy a ticket if you start in the middle of the route, so I figured out it would be ok to board the train in Pingyao with Taiyuan ticket. What I didn’t figure out from the ticket was the departure time. First I asked the reception and they claimed the train arrived at 2am in Pingyao. Good I had my iPhone with me, as the online train timetable stated 1am as a departure time.

    In the end, the online time table was correct and we boarded our train with no problems. But as we came to our train places, there was somebody already sleeping on my mom’s place. I was quite amazed with an easygoing approach the train staff had. They just waked the guy and offered the place to my mom (with the same bed cover of course). Good we were dead tired by that time and were just happy to get to our beds.

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    Xi’an

    We were lucky and unlucky with our Xi’an visit. It happened that the days we’ve been there were exactly the days of the anti- Japanese protests connected to the islands dispute between China and Japan. So we were really unlucky to miss lots of sights (city walls, bell tour and drum tower were closed, half of the city blocked with military and police most time in the evenings), but lucky to have a glimpse into the China politics: to see the crowds protesting, turning and breaking Japanese cars and businesses while the police is standing around, watching people and doing nothing. On the way to one of the sights we passed 5 or 6 crashed Japanese cars with some police standing around…. When we were passing back some 5 hours later, those cars were still there as well as the police. From all this you clearly understand, those protest we totally supported by the government even if encouraged.

    As the protests were the strongest within the city walls, first day we headed south to see small and big goose pagodas and the Daxingshan Temple. We did the whole round on feet, which was a lot of walking, but I totally enjoyed it. The big Goose pagoda impressed me the most, to be precise it was not the pagoda itself, but it’s surroundings. I think Chinese are in general good at building massive entertainment complexes around one single ancient site, but here in Xi’an it was overwhelming. When you go on top of the Pagoda all you see are huge modern buildings of shopping malls with traditional roofs, huge fountains, huge entertainment park “Tang paradise” (attraction that can attract only Chinese). All this “hugeness”, gold, attempt to impress is everywhere in China and in times of imperators and in the times of communist and also today.

    On our way back to the city we had a two hour adventure of getting back to our hostel, as due to the protests all the streets were blocked by police. Can not say it is the most pleasant feeling to be pushed back by the army guys with shields and weapons, so we had to make a huge walk around. As we arrived to our hostel, both me ad my mom needed a whisky cola before going to sleep.

    Our second day plan was the Terracotta Army. Initial plan was to go there by public bus, but after the experiences of the previous day we decided to go for a tour organized by our hostel (what was a wise decision as the whole city’s public transport was blocked again that evening). I think there is no need to write much about the Terracotta Army, all tourists visiting Xi’an will do it anyway. The only thing to mention: on the way to the Terracotta Army we were brought to the factory producing the souvenirs. I’m a big hater of those places, where tourists are brought in big busses to buy stuff and walked the whole place through very fast. Now after the end of the trip, I can say I was wrong, as there I saw the best wooden furniture and wooden decoration that I saw in my two weeks in China.

    We were really worried about our third day in Xi’an as if the protests would not come down, I did not have any back up plan and we would be stuck in our hostel. Luckily it worked out just fine, as it was Monday and seams like all demonstrates had to go to work. We took our time to explore ex-Confucius temple (aka Forest of Stone Steles Museum), Muslim quarters. I particularly loved the great Mosque, definitely my number one … hm … religious complex I saw in China on this visit. Also it was fun to wander deep in the Muslim quarter near market area – you see all the curious things people sell there – black eggs, fighting bugs (which one they use, I’m not sure), undefined vegetables, monster zucchinis. In the evening we had a stroll in the south east quarter of the city with art shops and kiosks. It was really fun to see the European style painting hanging in the galleries…very special form of Chinese art, was really wondering who is actually buying those masterpieces.

    I think three days in Xi’an is the perfect amount of time to see what city has to offer, though our visit didn’t go particularly as planned.

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    I commend you for your good attitude when faced with adversity. The best if travelers are flexible and get the most out of their trip, as you did. I'm looking forward to the rest of your report.

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    Shanghai

    Next morning we had a flight to Shanghai which was uneventful. Taking the Magelev train was quite convenient and we arrived at our hostel right on the People’s Square around 3 pm. The rest of the afternoon and evening we spend on the Bund and Nanjing Road. That gave us the chance to see them and during the day light and in the evening. Doesn’t matter how many times I saw the pictures of Puddong, the real thing impressed me a lot. We spend more then an hour walking the river slowly north to south between the super modern buildings on the Puddong side and centaury old beautiful buildings on the Bund side. We really loved this contrast.

    And as always, as much as architecture we enjoyed watching people. I particular loved the girls walking with flip-flops and with their supper 15cm high hill shoes in their hands. Each time they wanted to make a picture, they changed into those high hill shoes, but you see they can’t even make one step with them properly.

    Even more then the girls we enjoyed watching couples doing their “wedding pictures”. I’ve never seen the real wedding in Asia, but I’ve seen those “wedding picture” million times – a very Asian habit to rent wedding dresses and before (or after?) the wedding go for all fancy photo shooting in famous places.

    To enjoy the night views on Pudong, we went to Captain’s bar, a whole in the wall place, but the cocktails were ok and the view superb.
    Shanghai is really different to all Chinese cities I’ve been during the trip and I’ve fallen in love with it right away. It’s really a shame that most of the guide books state that there is not much to do and recommend to stay there for just a day. In the end we spent there more time than we planned - 3 days and there is still so many things I would love to see and do. I will definitely come back there again.

    Our second day in Shanghai started really early, at 6 am as we wanted to fit in this day as much as possible. First we had a walk to the Yuyuan Garden and managed just in time for the opening of the ticket both. The gardens were lovely and we arrived early enough to share the place with very few other people. We totally enjoyed the tranquillity of gardens, watching the staff feeding the fish and labyrinths of roads leading to the lost pavilions. Just an hour or so later, as we were leaving, the garden completely changed and it was filled with noises of tour guides’ explanations and clicks of cameras. Lucky us.

    Afterwards we headed to the Shanghai Museum. Quite an interesting one, though if you’ve been to the Taipei National Museum, the collection can not surprise you much. My very favourite was the part with the ancient bronze vessels. Also the audio guide in the museum was quite good and gave some insights why this or that piece is especially valuable (if you are not an expert, it is not always obvious)

    After the museum (already quite tired, but full of motivation) we headed to the French concession. First stop on our way was the Xintiandi, my guide book claimed that it is a complex build as traditional Chinese lanes full of shops and cafes. True, it was full of cafes, but there was very little Chinese in it. To me, it looked more like a typical European street. If you are carving for some pizza or pasta, or missing European style places, it’s the place to be. Though, not for us, so we passed the area quite fast and headed for our next destination - Taikang Road. Again this area was described as a number of restored traditional lanes with cafes and shops. This time we had luck and Taikang Road was lots of fun: labyrinth of narrow lanes full of cute cafes and design shops.

    During all two weeks in China we were looking for some souvenirs. People think China is a big market and it is easy to find something. But actually if you want to bring home something special, it is not such an easy task. On Taikang Road we were lucky to find 2 design shops with ceramics that combined some traditional Chinese designs and modern styles (it’s not the advertising, but if somebody looks for something similar, here are the web sites with the shop addresses: www.pilingpalang.com, www.pureland.cn )
    Relieved that we found the souvenirs we were looking for and now won’t return home empty handed we headed to the last point on the plan for today - Puddong bar “Cloud 9”, situated in Jin Mao Tower. I totally love sky bars and there is nothing better as to have a nice cocktail with a stunning view, so I took some time before the trip to check for the best sky bar in Shanghai. My expectations were quite high as the Cloud 9 is mentioned in many lists among top 10 sky bars in the world. But after visiting the place, I would not rate the bar that high. Thought the cocktails and service were good, the tables are too far away from the windows, so you can’t enjoy the view that much. And overall there is a feel, that the place was “in” some time ago, but not anymore and now it is surviving with Hayat guests and tourists. Anyway, it was a nice end for a nice day and my pimm’s cucumber tasted just fine.

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    Hi dgunbug, We planned Suzhou as a day trip from Shanghai. But it was impossible to leave Shanghai. So we woke up on the last day and decided to cancel the trip on a very short notice. Hangzhou is cool, but Suzhou should be lovely as well. So if you have to pick one - it's a tough choice. It should be possible to see Suzhou on a day trip from Shanghai, while in Hangzhou it's really great to stay overnight. May be this can help your planning. I'll post about Hangzhou tomorrow.

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    Hangzhou

    Next two days we were planning to spend in Hangzhou. Thought with the new speed train it tacks only 45 minutes to get to Hangzhou, with the time to get to the train station, purchase the tickets and arrive to our hotel, it took us good half of the day before we were able to start our exploration.

    I think it is not possible to dislike Hangzhou – beautiful lake with perfectly maintained park all around it. It gives a feel as if you go to the sea side off season. All you do here is stroll around the lake, drink tea, wonder and make million of pictures of perfectly maintained gardens and watch Chinese couples on vacation strolling around the lake. That’s exactly what we were doing for the remaining of the day.

    The reason we came to Hangzhou was not only to enjoy the beauties of the lakes, bridges and ponds, but to see the Impression West Lake Show staged by famous film director Zhang Yimou (I’m a big fan of his movies, especially Hero). We arranged our tickets thought the hotel and at 7.30 were ready to watch the performance. Oh my god, it was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in my life. Staged directly on the lake, using the trees, pavilions and bridges as the stage decoration and making it even more beautiful with light and sound effects, the performance kept me with my mouth open all 90 minutes. What was really surprising is the reaction of the audience: people leaving, people talking on their mobile phones, no applauds when the show finished. I assume that’s another cultural difference, but still it was a pity considering the quality and impact of the performance. After the show we gave up an idea to catch a taxi and had an hour walk back to our hotel, what was great to digest the emotions after the show and enjoy the night view of the West Lake.

    Second day in Hangzhou we took a taxi to Língyǐn Temple. More impressive then the temple itself, are the Buddhist carvings you see on the way to the temple. As the carvings are done directly on the cliffs of the mountain with all natural vegetation left untouched (fortunately no modern rebuilding here!), you have some magic feel wondering around the carvings (again, given that you’ve arrived early enough, around 9 am the place is full with the tourist groups). We took an audio guide in the ticket booth again, that helped us not only have some information about the carvings and the temple, but also get directions with an electronic map on the audio guide devise.

    After that we had a short drive to the Tea museum, as both me and my mom are big tea lovers and were curious to learn something new about tea. There were some explanations about tea plant and tea produce indeed, but if somebody asks my opinion, I would not recommend going there.

    The next 3 hours we devoted to circling the lake from the west side (east side we did the previous day) finishing the round in a Starbacks with a cup of coffee.

    It was around 4pm and we decided to catch a taxi to the train station and head back to Shanghai. I was reading somewhere before that from 4 to 6 pm it is close to impossible to find a taxi in Hangzhou as the taxi drivers are changing shifts. But of course, I thought it would work fine for us for some magic reason  Now I know – it is indeed impossible to catch a taxi at that hour. After half an hour attempt to catch a taxi we gave up and asked at tourist information which bus goes to the train station (if it is a tourist information, do not assume they speak English! I used all my pantomime skills to explain what I want). In the end the girl working there wrote on a piece of paper something in Chinese and number “7” and showed us in some not clearly defined direction. Next half an hour we spent searching for the N7 bus stop. (yes, we tried to ask people on the street, no success). Tired and confused, we decided that those only things we can trust are our legs and the map, so we start walking the direction of the train station. Finally success and in approximately 30 minutes we saw the desired Train Station and finally returned back to Shanghai.

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    Shanghai again

    The initial plan for the last date was visiting Suzhou, but it was impossible for me to part from Shanghai without any shopping. So my mom was an angel and we agreed to exchange cultural program to fake markets, shopping malls and small shops.

    We started the day at the Underground Market at Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, as everybody I’ve asked named the place as the best fake market in Shanghai. So not true! First, you see only foreigners walking around with huge black bags; second, the quality of the stuff is total crap; and third, you have very strange assortment there. (if you are looking for a ski jacket, it may be not that bad, but I was looking purely for fashion items, that are in this season)

    After some wandering around and empty handed we head for our second shopping stop – Parkson department store on the Huaihai road. Again a disappointment – I was looking for some Chinese, Korean or Japanese brands, but it was full with Esprit, Only and Mango. The little of non European brands they had looked creepy and way to expensive.

    Not giving up we moved on to Xinle road, just around the corner from Parkson. And there was the place I was looking for: small cute shops with shoes, bags, accessories and clothes. One part of it – fakes; another part - just similar design to the branded stuff, but no labels. For those of us who love fashion, but can not afford fashionable design piece for one season - it’s a paradise! (Even after one week I can’t forget all those shops and still agonizing that I bought too little)

    There I also had the infamous China bags experience: “hallo lady, bags, watches, come with me, special price”. Following my curiosity I’ve followed one of the guys to the back streets where he led me to an apartment blocked, knocked on the door and we entered into a small room with thick air and walls with shelves full of Gucci, LV, Prada fake bags. I’ve been to two or three places like this, they all look the same. This is definitely quite a special way to do shopping. (… but I’ll lie if I say I went out empty-handed).

    With this shopaholic experience, our two weeks in China were ending and it was time to head to the airport. I love travelling and was lucky to visit many places in the world already, but China was the first country that brought so much different emotions: travelling there is sometimes quite frustrating, but definitely a lot of fun.

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    Thanks for the detailed report. Your observations about Beijing are correct but I would add "it depends where you are in Beijing". I live in Beijing and have seen the city change over the years but you still have toilets that are just a hole in the ground with no door. But plenty of nice toilets all over town. I disagree with the statement that Chinese eat early. Maybe you face this problem in touristy areas. Recently I could not find a place to eat between 9pm and 10pm after checking nearly a dozen restaurants that were all full. I gave up and went to McDonalds.
    And taxis have been more of a problem recently. With rising gas prices they make less and less money and have become more picky.

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