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Trip Report China Trip Report October 2011- Part 1: Beijing and Xian

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I had been planning a trip to China for years. It got derailed due to acts of GOd (the flu in 2003) or advice from friends (the large crowds during the 2008 Olympics would not be fun). So I did my research, convinced my wife (shopping in China is unmatchable). Then spent months on websites, mainly Fodors, to see which places to visit. I dropped the Yangste River Cruise since three days on a boat was not appealing. I also arranged a private tour through China Easy Tours, since it wasn't a whole lot more expensive than a group tour. I was afraid we would be forced to eat in McDonaldized restaurants to satisfy everyone. Our tour agent was Silvia Gan.

Day 1:
We flew from Calgary and caught a connecting flight from Vancouver. The Air China flight had good food, and was relatively comfortable.THe ten hours went by easily.Beijing Airport was pretty quiet, considering it was the last day of the National Day holiday week. There is a shuttle train takes you to the main immigration and customs, which was quick and efficient. The amusing thing was there was a rating machine under the Immigration Officer, to rate him. Our tour guide picked us up, and it was a 1.5 hour trip to the Regent hotel. This is one of the best hotels I have stayed in. An amazing lobby, excellent breakfast, large hotel room, superb toiletries, awesome bathrooms, etc. The location is great, very close to the Forbidden City and Tiannamen square. It was walking distance from Wangfujian Street, which was a bit like LA's Rodeo drive. DInner was at the Quanjude Restaurant for Peking Duck, which is a 15 minute walk. It is one of the oldest restaurants in Beijing. It is a huge place, and we were taken to what looked like the foreigners section. The Peking Duck was carved up in front of us, and the bill was reasonable.

Day 2:
We started out with a trip to the Tianammen Square. It is the largest Square in the World (have covered second largest, Red Square, and the third largest, the Zocalo in Mexico City). It is large and impressive. The Chinese Parliament is on one side. The Forbidden City is on the other side.After an hour in the Square, we headed to the Forbidden City. With 9000 rooms over 250 acres! One has to remember this was the largest economy in the world from 0 AD (during Roman times) till the mid 1800s. The Queen and the concubine section was particularly interesting. Their rooms seemed rather small, though.

We then went to the Temple of Heaven. Used by the Qing and Ming Emperors. Had to take a photo of the throne room over everyone's head. We went to the tea shop, where they showed us different types of tea. Word of advice, buy the same items at the Silk or Pearl Market for a lot less. Dinner was at the Huang Ting restaurant in the Peninsula hotel, a five minute walk.

The Silk Market is where we went next. My wife was ecstatic there. As mentioned, divide the prices they quote by three or six. The knock offs were perfect, according to my wife, who is well versed in these things. There were coffee cups that changed when hot water was poured in, different types of tea, cheap knockoff suitcases, clothes, etc.

Day 3: We headed to the Great Wall at Mutianyu. It is another awesome monument in a country full of awesome monuments. The largest wall in the world, by a couple of thousand kilometers. If urban legend is to believed, it is also the only man made structure that can be seen from the moon. We took the cable car to get on top. Walked through a few guard towers, where they explained how the guards lived. We also saw a few brides-to-be taking photographs in their wedding clothes. The day ended with a visit to the Pearl Market. We did get mildly scammed by the cab driver, who refused to put the meter on (so we paid $9 instead of $6).

Day 4:
After a superb breakfast in the hotel, a mix of western and Chinese dishes, fruits, etc, we headed to the airport. The flight to Xian was uneventful. The only humorous moment was when the stewardess asked my wife of chicken or beef (as a lunch choice) and my wife reacted with, "how much will that cost?" After living in North America, one never assumes airline meals are free!
We landed in Xian, were picked up by our guide. We were taken to the Big Goose Pagoda. One of the pagoda's many functions was to hold sutras and figurines of the Buddha that were brought to China from India by Xuanzang, a famous Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, traveler, and translator.Xuanzang is a prominent Buddhist figure mostly known for his seventeen year overland trip to India and back, which is recorded in detail in his autobiography and a biography, andwhich provided the inspiration for the epic novel “Journey to the West”. We then went to dinner at a local restaurant with our guide, where we had thick Xian noodles, vegetables and other fascinating dishes.
Our Hotel was the Sofitel Xian, which was in a fantastic compound. It had an old Chinese style theatre. Of course, nothing like the Beijing Regent!

Day 5:
We started with the City Wall of Xian, which is the only ancient city wall left standing in China. It was a lovely sunny day, and not smoggy like Beijing. After that we headed to see the Terra-cotta warriors. They were more impressive than I imagined. All of them put together cover a distance of two football fields. And that is just the first location. There are two smaller locations. Just read recently that they were painted in different colors, but time has eroded those colors. In any case, to make thousands of soldiers who resembled real people, instead of copying the same soldier again and again, is hard work!

We went to one of the generic silk factory outlets after this, where we looked at silk blankets and covers. They keep you cool in summers, and warm in winters, apparently.
For dinner we went to the De Fa Chang restaurant, near the Bell Tower (city centre). Our guide had made the reservations, since the staff spoke very little English. There were limitless dumplings in the shape of different animals. Very cute!