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Early stage planning a China trip with kids

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Oct 22nd, 2013, 07:06 AM
  #1
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Early stage planning a China trip with kids

It appears as if we are going to be taking our sons (10,10,11) to China in March for about 10-14 days. Everything is in the early stages so I am just exploring different ideas and itineraries right now. Beijing is a must for us. So, thinking we will start there. I know it will be chilly but we are coming from Minnesota so we will be ready for that. It is where else to go that has me a bit stumped. Shanghai seems obvious but not sure how much my kids will get out of that. Xian? They have already been to Hong Kong. We will most likely be flying through Narita on the way there so one idea is to spend 4or 5 days in Tokyo and then 4 or 5 in Beijing and 2 in Shanghai before flying home.

My kids are fluent in Mandarin and great travelers, adventurous eaters, etc.

I appreciate any thoughts you all might have.

Thank you
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Oct 22nd, 2013, 09:36 AM
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Fluent in Mandarin...excellent!! Xian should be interesting to them. Bike riding (or walking/running)on the city wall should be fun. Great Wall obvious must. Have they been to the amusement park (Ocean?) in Hong Kong. My kids loved it!
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Oct 22nd, 2013, 03:05 PM
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Fluent in Mandarin - I am so jealous!

Xi'an is nothing like Hong Kong...

I would skip Shanghai - it's good for shoppers and people who are into modern architecture.

Beijing is a wonderful destination but you may want to limit time there becase of the effects of the pollution on the kids.

I enjoyed Chengdu but it might be a bit chilly that time of year, maybe Kunming instead. Or you might look into visiting one of the sacred mountains.
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Oct 22nd, 2013, 11:29 PM
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You really should inform yourself properly about pollution levels in Beijing, and if you do so you'll have second thoughts about taking young children there, on whom the effects are likely to be greater and longer-lasting than on adults.

If you must take them then properly fitted N95 masks will be absolutely essential, but expect coughing and sore eyes regardless, and much worse if they have any susceptibility to asthma. It doesn't matter what sights are recommended for children if they are coughing, wheezing, and to tearful to see them even if they weren't already obscured by haze. You may be lucky and get clear days, but even blue sky, a rare sight in Beijing, doesn't mean healthy air, only less unhealthy air.

But you should view the readings (e.g. at http://twitter.com/beijingair and the explanatory material linked there), take proper medical advice, and not listen to hearsay, whether from the expats unable to leave and pretending to themselves that its not so bad really, or those, particularly with children, who are leaving in droves.

There's plenty more of China to see, all of it polluted but much significantly less so than Beijing, surrounding Hebei, and the northeast. Leave Beijing until the children are grown up (and even then hope that the intervening years have produced improvements, although it would be unwise to expect much).
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Oct 23rd, 2013, 12:49 AM
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I find the news of the seemingly ever increasing pollution in Beijing and elsewhere in China appalling and am sure that others do as well. Trying to sift through the information about it sometimes seems nearly as difficult as seeing through the pollution itself. Thank you so much for your observations and suggestions.

And do take steps for your own safety, Peter!
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Oct 23rd, 2013, 12:35 PM
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Hi there - We, too, will be in China in March with kids (ages 14 and 10), although none of us have any Mandarin. (You're lucky!) We have a little over 2 weeks, and we're spending the first chunk of time in Beijing, followed by 2 days in Xian, perhaps a day in Chengdu (because one of my sons is desperate to hold a panda), several days at the Linden Center in Yunnan province, and our final day and night in Shanghai, just because that's where our flights leave from. We're still figuring out the ins and outs of our trip, but those are the bones of it. I'd love to share ideas and information as we get closer to March!
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Oct 23rd, 2013, 01:04 PM
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miamatusow - did you read what Peter wrote about pollution in Beijing? Have you seen the pictures of Harbin now that winter heating has been turned on? It really is a serious issue.

See#160;http://news.nationalgeographic.com/n...is-china-coal/

http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/22/world/...ers/index.html
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Oct 23rd, 2013, 02:34 PM
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miamatusow, I will definitely be checking in here and updating as we put this altogether. I like your itinerary. I was thinking of Chengdu and Xian as well. I have not been to either before (I have been to Shanghai and Beijing and Tokyo). I guess I am still at a more macro level trying to scope out what we should be doing on this trip. We have 10-14 days (over our kid's spring break). We know we want them to see Beijing and the many sites there. Other than that, we are still trying to prioritize. Do we do two capitals (Tokyo and Beijing) or all China? There is so much to see in China, what areas do we visit this trip other than Beijing and what do we leave for another journey. The weather obviously plays a part in what areas we chose to visit this time as well. I wish it would be warmer but this is the time we are free to travel.

I am aware of all the issues regarding air pollution in Beijing. Fortunately, we won't be spending too much time there and my children do not have compromised respiratory systems. We will be taking precautions to try to minimize the impact of the smog.

Thanks for all the advice and ideas so far. Please keep them coming.
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Oct 27th, 2013, 09:55 PM
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I don't have any young kids, but I was a kid once and have had kids...I have been to China seven times and have spent weeks in the country, teaching as a volunteer and traveling to see friends I have made online. My take on China is a bit different than most since I have seen a lot of it with Chinese friends rather than with tour guides or via Starbucks.
I do have asthma and was in Beijing, Tianjin, and Taiyuan shortly after last year's high levels. Snow and the approach of spring festival brought the levels down. The temperatures should be warming and the need for heat fall (the central heat which is coal-fired is turned off fairly early so that may be off when you get there....). There are sandstorms in the north that come up, but I think that's late April-May so I guess you will miss that.
My recommendations aren't necessarily the guidebooks. By all means, see the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. (Badaling is a circus....it's the most accessible piece of the wall with a log ride type chain ride to the top; I have never been to Mutianyu, but it is supposed to be more scenic. I would get around to some places by subway; that's an experience in itself...oh, the Temple of Heaven is a definite must see (I hope your kids don't complain about walking...you can't get around these massive sites without walking a lot!) I think it is the eastern Ming tomb which has a walk down about 60 feet to see the tomb...that's very memorable and the surrounding scenery is great. In Beijing, you must go to a park in the early morning when the older people are exercising or on the weekend when the non-OSHA approved rides are operating. The park around the Temple of Heaven might serve the purpose; Beihai is another. The Panjiayuan flea market might/might not be interesting; it's a massive collection of sellers of antiques, souvenirs, kitsch, collectibles. It's mostly in gear on the weekend. In any city in China, I would recommend going to a food street. Wangfujing, which has regional cuisine from all over the country, is worth a visit. The high priced Wangfujing shopping street at the other end of the street, especially at night when the neon is going, is also worth taking in. Lama Temple is close to a subway stop and there is a small. kind of commercialized, hutong nearby. The Beijing Capital Museum is a bit boring until you get to the top floors where they have recreated scenes from local history and have a massive large street scene in miniature with a parade.
While Shanghai is a modern city without as many awesome historical sites, there are some worthwhile places to see. I am sure the kids wouldn't mind ride the Maglev which goes something like 425 km if you get there at the right time. (BTW, checkout the feasibility of taking the airport train from the airport to closer to your hotel in Beijing. A worthwhile ride in itself and maybe a slight moneysaver since the airport is so far out...I guess for a family, a taxi is a bargain....forget that idea....) The Shanghai Museum has the best collection of art and craft that I have seen in China (the best collection is supposed to be in Taiwan, which the fleeing Nationalists took with them). There is also another museum a block away which shows the planning and development of the city, including a scale model of the city which takes up one whole floor. There is a science and technology museum geared to kids (in Chinese, of course) in Shanghai; never been there, though. From Shanghai, you can go to nearby river towns and see how people lived/live. The Bund (never been to NYC so I can't compare) with towering high rises and early 20th century banking buildings facing off is spectacular, especially when you come out from underground on the Metro.
Xi'An is massive in scale; I am glad I went there. I don't know if I would recommend it as a must see. Seeing the expo building that is the size of a number of football fields with row on row of reconstructed warriors, horses, and attendants is mind blowing, though. The wall in Xi'An is the longest in China and you can rent bikes to ride along the top of it. (The terra cotta warriors are an hour or two outside of the city.) There is a temple and bell tower area that's also of interest in Xi'An. Xi'An has kind of small big city feel. By all means, try the street food there, as well as other places in China. It's fresh and inexpensive.

Consider Nanjing. Consider taking a high speed train for at least one trip in country. Shanghai's second airport Hongqiao, which has an intermodal terminal that connects train, bus, plane, and subway, is a sight by itself. That might be a good place to launch off to somewhere like Nanjing. Nanjing was the capital after the fall of the last emperor. There is a presidential palace there, as well as a great wall in the city with parks in many places. It's a very comfortable city with warmer weather.
I like Chengdu. Unfortunately, I went there in summer when the pandas are kept behind glass and bars because of the heat. It seems like you would be going at the perfect time. In Chengdu, there is an archaeological site with a massive pavilion and a museum with dioramas of early life. It's fairly new and not well-publicized. The provincial museum in Chengdu has sections geared to children and creating art. There's plenty of English to explain things like the development of ceramics and Buddhism in the country. An hour north of Chengdu (via high speed train), there is a historical site where the river was diverted by dams made of bamboo and rocks. It's very interesting and has a series of temples up a mountain that you access by a swinging suspension bridge.
There is much more I could write, but I may have already written more than you probably read. China is a big country and you can return again and again and see fascinating things. Other places that I like are Xiamen, Changchun, Chongqing,Guangzhou, Yinchuan....and little cities like Baoding and Ruian. I think experiences like subways, parks, and provincial museums are as meaningful as the notch in your belt spots. In Wenzhou, for example, I walked around an island park that won't make it on any tourbooks itinerary and also took a float down the river in a canoe at a forest park outside of town. Seeing a city park at night in the summer when people are doing all kinds of things like dancing and having talent competitions is so much fun. I have lots of pictures on Flickr under my name as well as video on Youtube which might give you ideas. Take care and enjoy your trip!
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Oct 28th, 2013, 07:50 AM
  #10
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Wow, ESLBruce, thank you so much for such a long and detailed response. I greatly appreciate it.

Right now, our draft itinerary is Beijing, Xian, Shanghai (Hangzhou, water town) and then home. So flying into Beijing and out of Shanghai. We have decided to take Chengdu out of the line up. THe boys have seen pandas in Taiwan and we can go to the Beijing or Shanghai zoo to see more if necessary.

I have been to the Badaling section of the wall before and it was...fine. I am thinking it makes sense to take the boys to Mutianyu this time. I think they will enjoy it more.

In terms of walking, the boys have somewhat unlimited amounts of energy. Trying to use it all up is always our dilemma. The boys travel with basketballs and mitts and gloves so I am sure we are going to be heading to local parks to find space to play. I am also going to make sure we rent bikes when available and burn off energy that way.

Thanks for the advice. We do appreciate it.
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Oct 28th, 2013, 11:46 AM
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> The boys travel with basketballs and mitts and gloves so I am sure we are going to be heading to local parks to find space to play. I am also going to make sure we rent bikes when available and burn off energy that way.

http://www.businessweek.com/news/201...us-air-quality
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Oct 28th, 2013, 11:56 AM
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Temppeternh

Thank you so much for this. We have been monitoring the air pollution problem closely and have had conversations with our health care providers here to make sure we are covering all our bases.
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Nov 2nd, 2013, 08:35 AM
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Taitai, I think you are right to plan on Mutianyu. It's where I send visitors--still accessible, but not as tourist-y as Badaling. The kids will enjoy the cable car ride up and a toboggan-type ride down. (There's still plenty of climbing to get to the cable car and the Wall.)

I also recommend Ritan Park, which is small but charming and easily reached in the CBD. In the morning elders do taichi, and if you're lucky you'll catch some horrid opera singer wannabe singing in one of the caves, echoing all over the area. There's a rock-climbing wall and ballroom dancing in the evening. Xiao Wang Fu has a location inside Ritan Park. It's oriented to tourists but has good Peking duck and a Mandarin fish your children will probably like (some restaurants call it squirrel fish, which my kids think is hilarious).
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