China itinerary suggestions

Jan 2nd, 2009, 06:23 PM
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China itinerary suggestions


We are a family of four, parents and 2 boys, ages 11 and 16. We are planning to travel to China in March, 2009. It is DIY trip, in spite of the fact that we speak no Chinese and haven't traveled in Asia since our "no reservation" years.

Here's what our itinerary looks like.
fly NYC to Beijing
Beijing 4 1/2 days/4nights
overnight train to Xian
Xian 1 1/2 days/ 1 night
fly to Shanghai 2 1/2 days/ 2 nights
train to Hangzhou 1 1/2 days/1 night
bus to Tunxi 1 day/1 night
taxi to Yellow Mt. 1 1/2 day/1 night
taxi to Xidi/Hongcun 1/2 day
fly to Beijing
fly NYC

When planning the trip, I was trying to find a good mix of urban/rural and old/new. I know, for the most part, it's the typical tourist trail. It's the last few days that give me the most pause. It is too adventurous given the language barrier and the logistics?

Any suggestions and insights would be greatly appreciated!

pasqualino is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2009, 07:58 PM
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The path to Huang Shan, Xidi, and Hongcun is well travelled (including very large volumes of Chinese tourists), and the language only really becomes a barrier if you choose to make it one. You're not going to be charting unknown territory here (World Heritage listed sights), but it is indeed good to get away from the cities, since most of China is rural. Having visited both Beijing and Xi'an (which could be said to deserve a little more time itself), there could be an argument for skipping Shanghai altogether.

Many guide books give details of how to tackle this route, and with taxis essentially all you need is your requirements written down in Chinese. Any time you come across someone at a hotel reception with half-decent English just get them to help you out.

The last time I looked long-distance luxury buses were far more frequent than trains between Shanghai and Hangzhou, and except at times of the day when the traffic is particularly murderous, quicker (I seem to remember. I prefer trains anyway.) But this would be worth looking into.

This is a bit of a detailed itinerary that does seem to include a lot of rapid moving about, and doing so with some precision. If you are keen to visit Shanghai I think I'd probably skip Hangzhou in order to give yourself a bit of flexibility and slow down a bit. Note that by the time you've flown to Shanghai, got into town and checked-in you'll have less than half a day remaining, very likely.

If you stick to your very precise itinerary, just be aware that there's a chance it could go a little astray, and be prepared not to mind if there's a hiccup. A little less rush and a little more flexibility might be a good idea.

Peter N-H
PeterN_H is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2009, 08:33 PM
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Shanghai South - Hangzhou now has the highspeed "D" train. Fastest train takes 1:15 or 1:18 for the 173km route, which is pretty quick. But they depart from Shanghai South, not the main Shanghai station.

And, the "D" train is not that frequent. But there are many other slower trains that take about 2 hours.
rkkwan is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2009, 06:03 AM
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Thank you for your reply. Yes, I agree the schedule is tight. As always, I wish we had just a few more days... I must admit, Shanghai is the least appealing destination for me and did indeed consider skipping it altogether. But, I ending up keeping it for its modern architecture (#1 son) and dumplings (#2 son)!...Yes, I hope to take the fast D train.

Out of curiosity, if we axed Shanghai/Hangzhou/Yellow Mt, where would you suggest we go instead? (Remember, it's March)

Thanks again!!
pasqualino is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2009, 08:07 PM
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Due possibly to the disastrously untidy state of my desk I don't have a current timetable to hand, but it used to be possible to fly directly to Huang Shan from Xi'an, although only I think about twice a week. That would enable you to cut out Shanghai and Hangzhou but still enjoy the remainder with more time.

But as for alternatives, the obvious suggestion would be not to fly across the county but to stay in the neighbourhood of Xi'an or return in the direction of Beijing, giving yourself more time to see things and less spent on travelling.

You could consider (as has been mentioned in other recent posts, or consult your guide book) a route north from Xian to Pingyao. The latter is on about the same level as Hongcun, etc., certainly overdeveloped these days, but certainly historic, and sitting in countryside dotted with the vast 19th century mansions of traders and bankers. The old walled city of Pingyao was the starting point for China's banking system, which before that was mostly limited to pawn shops, and allowing the deposit of money in one location and the withdrawal of it at another, dramatically reducing risk of theft. This system was eventually killed by the arrival of Western-style banking in Shanghai. But whereas Sha1nxi Province is now one of China's poorest, it was for a while one of the richest. But the richness meant lots of building, and the poverty meant there was no energy to waste on destruction during the Cultural Revolution for instance. As a result a lot of the oldest surviving wooden buildings in China are in the province.

In Pingyao there are a number of refurbished mansions now working as hotels/guesthouses, in some of which you can sleep on a traditional kang, or brick bed heated from underneath with hot ashes.

I can't remember the exact content of the film, and everyone has different standards on what to show their children at what ages, but after review you could show your sons the Zhang Yimou film made back when he still made interesting films, called 'Raise the Red Lantern'. Then you could take them to the mansion on the road north from Pingyao to Taiyuan where it was shot.

Taiyuan has one interesting temple but is otherwise an unattractive industrial city (a description that would in fact fit most cities in China however), but north again you have side turnings to two of the oldest temples in China, their antiquity clearly visible in the simplicity and solidity of their bracket sets and the low pitch of their roofs. But if that's too technical then it's on north into the mountains of Wu Tai Shan, which offer long climbs up steep stone staircases to mountain-top temples, like something out of a 1970s Led Zeppelin or Strawbs album cover. This area is very busy with Chinese tourists, but there's comfortable accommodation.

You can catch a train to Beijing from just to the north of Wu Tai Shan, or continue by bus to Datong, which has a marvellous cave-temple site with vast Buddha figures carved from the cliff, and a temple known as the Hanging Monastery which clings to a sheer cliff face in a dramatic way likely to please small boys. There are trains from Datong to Beijing, as well as frequent comfortable express buses.

Another alternative where you really wouldn't see any tourists would be Shi Jia Zhuang, which you could reach by a short flight from Xi'an or a 9 or 10-hour train journey. Or better, perhaps, by direct express bus from Taiyuan after seeing Pingyao and some of the surrounding mansions. This, again, is an unlovely town (although with comfortable hotels and plenty of restaurants), but a short bus rides out of it are Zhengding, which is strewn with a collection of unusual pagodas; the Zhaozhou Qiao, which is the first stone bridge to use a segment of an arc, about 800 years before this occurred to Europeans, and spandrels (perforated buttresses to allow the passage of flood waters) about 1300 years earlier; Cangyan Shan, with an impressive temple on a bridge spanning a cavern, and which was the location for the final scene from the (dire) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

There are dozens of trains to Beijing a day, each mostly taking 2-3 hours.

Perhaps you can do some reading and see what you think.

Peter N-H
PeterN_H is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2009, 08:49 PM
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Just a supplementary thought: Shanghai may have lots of modern architecture but a lot of it isn't terribly interesting (save Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill's tower and a few others).

Beijing might now be regarded as a modern architecture destination in its own right, because although it has a great deal that's tedious or hideous, its big showpieces are amongst some of the most extraordinary buildings to be erected in modern times, and a tour round those ought to please any buff. It's like a roll call of famous and sometimes controversial architects and previously untried techniques, all with budgets a great deal more vast than typically obtainable in the West. E.g:

Herzon and de Meuron's National Stadium ('Bird's Nest')

PTW's National Aquatics Centre ('The Water Cube')

Rem Koolhaas' CCTV Building ('The Big Shorts')

Paul Andreu's National Grand Theatre ('The Duck Egg')

Sir Norman Foster's Capital Airport Terminal 3.

We're missing Zaha Hadid (she's building down in Guangzhou), but you can't have everything.

Peter N-H
PeterN_H is offline  
Jan 5th, 2009, 05:02 PM
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I read your reply with great interest! Thank you for taking the time and effort to share your wealth of knowledge about China...I had a cursory impression of Datong from a travel show and Pingyao from a Wall Street Journal article. Much to my surprise, Frommer's gave Pingyao a star, and Fodor's did not even mention it. I suppose that was the main reason I was dissuade from visiting those areas. However, as you so eloquently pointed out, they do indeed have much to offer...Your point concerning the architecture in Beijing was well taken. I suppose I missed the obvious there. We'll definitely check out the places you mentioned and read up on those architects. I was just wowed with photos of the new Beijing subway stations...I look forward to watching 'Raise the Red Lantern.'
Thanks so much!!

pasqualino is offline  
Jan 5th, 2009, 05:23 PM
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The fact that a place isn't mentioned in a guidebook is not a reason to NOT go. In fact, it's probably better that way as it's not as crowded and/or westernized.
rkkwan is offline  
Jan 5th, 2009, 06:07 PM
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The itinerary sounds good.
You can do following in Beijing:
Day 1 ,arrive Beijing and rest.
Day 2,T-Square,Forbidden City,Hutong.
Day 3,Temple of Heaven,Summer Palace and Panda Garden.
Day 4,Great Wall at Mutianyu and Lama Temple .
Day 5,shopping and leave to Xi`an at night.
If you stay in Beijing over weekend,do not miss Panjiayuan Market.
Violet_1125 is offline  
Jan 8th, 2009, 04:05 PM
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If you ask me, way. way, way too much to do in the amount of time you have alotted, with 4 people. With just under 2 weeks, I would stay in no more than 3 places, with side trips, but that's me. I hate to feel rushed, and you will. Especially with the language barrier and no tour guide.
lollylo25 is offline  
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