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Trip Report November 2011 China trip reort

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We were contemplating taking a tour for our China trip. My drawback was the hotel choices that the tours use and being on a set schedule each day. So, we ended up planning our own trip and had a fantastic time (2 weeks from 11/16-30). Thanks to all on here who answered our questions to make our trip a success.

We did a lot of pre-planning by downloading subway maps and figuring out our daily activities before we left. Subways are very easy to navigate. They have the English spelling and announcements in English. And most young people speak a little bit of English to help with directions.

I will mention the hotels that we booked but for more information, check out my reviews on trip advisor. We tried to find hotels close to transportation and have breakfast included so we were good until dinner.

5 nights in Beijing at the Park Plaza
1 over night train from Beijing to Xian
1 night in Xian at the Sofitel
3 nights in Yangshou at Rosewood Inn
3 nights in Shanghai at Gran Melia

I will mention prices that I remember so you have an idea of the cost. EVERYTHING is negotiated.

Arrived in Beijing on Thursday early evening. Took the subway to the hotel from the airport. Checked into the Park Plaza and took a subway to Tianamin Square to look around. Made it an early evening.

Friday – Beautiful day, about 70 degrees. Subway to Tiananmen Square. Walked through Forbidden City/Palace Museum. Walked through Jing Shan park. Walked through Beihai Park. Bus to Quanmen Market for dinner. Subway back to hotel.

Saturday – Weather turned very chilly, in the 30’s. We got up early and took a subway to the Panjiayuan flea market. People come from all over and sell their treasures on the streets and then the other people rent a space in a market and sell more treasures. On the way to the market, we found the eyeglass area. There are about 3 big buildings with all eye glass booths inside. Bring your eyeglass prescription. They will make them in 30 min. I got one pair for $30 and one for $70. Cost depends on frame selected and prescription strength. Also, bought prescription swimming goggles for $11. The goggles come in standard same eye prescriptions. If you do not like the price, just go to the next booth. It is a little overwhelming, because everyone wants you to shop in their store. I picked a store by how well their english was. Next, took the subway to the Beijing zoo to see the pandas. Then a subway to the Summer Palace to take a boat ride on the lake and watch the sunset.

Sunday - Took the subway to the Temple of Heaven this morning. This was my favorite spot in Beijing. There was so much activity. A great place for people watching. We finally figured out where all the 'old' people are. It was very entertaining to get the day in the life of a mature Chinese adult. They were dancing (line and ballroom), exercising, playing cards, bull whipping, kite flying, instrument playing, singing, and ring tossing. We spent a lot of time in the park just taking it all in. Across the street from the subway was the Pearl Market where I had to stop and buy some pocketbooks. They take the U.S. dollar so that is what I negotiated with. Next, a subway to the back lakes and took a rickshaw ride through the Hutongs and had dinner.

Monday - Took a cab to the Wall (Mutanyu) for 550 RMB. Negotiated by the hotel. Took 1.5 hours to get there and we spent 2 hours there. Took an open air chair lift up and the slide toboggan down which was actually a fun experience. Our driver waited for us to take us back to the hotel. Had a duck dinner at a fantastic restaurant (Da Dong), across from our hotel in a mall. It is very upscale and chic and they have open ovens in the center of the restaurant where they cook the ducks. You could walk right up and take a picture. Reasonable and worth the experience. Next, walked to Wangfujing street and then walked the side street for the Night Market and saw the bugs on the sticks and people eating them.

Tuesday – Took it easy during the day. Left at 6pm for a taxi to the Beijing train station to catch the 8 pm overnight train to Xian. Our first Beijing cab ride was a nightmare. It was a white knuckle ride. NYC cab drivers are tame compared to this. It took a little over an hour and only cost 44 RMB. However, the ride was very stressful. They drive like maniacs. The pedestrians, mopeds, bikes do NOT have the right of way. Unfortunately, our cab driver hit a dog.
We bought our train tickets before we left for vacation on I wanted the deluxe soft sleeper. They charged $25 per ticket fee on top of the face value of the ticket and delivered the tickets to the hotel. The tickets were waiting for us at check in. I thought this was reasonable since I did not want to be bothered with buying any tickets once in China. I discussed this with the concierge and she said they would have called a ticket agency and it would have been more than a $25 per ticket fee.
On the train, there was a whole car of deluxe soft sleeper cabins and most were empty. We did not get to socialize with the locals. Seemed like everyone got on the train and went to sleep. You can smoke at the end of each car so you did get the smoke smell in your cabin if you opened the door. Took a walk but did not find a lounge car. A guy with a cart selling drinks came through the car. We had a private bathroom and it was adequate with a western toilet. There was toilet paper but you may want to bring a towel to throw out when done or some paper towels. They supply a quilt and pillows. Not like home but adequate. We were warm enough. There were rattling noises throughout the journey. We slept on and off but sufficient enough to spend the next day sightseeing. Not sure why they use the word soft sleeper. It was not soft. But it was a fun experience and I would do it again.

Wednesday – arrive in Xian around 8:30am on the train. Take a metered taxi to the hotel for 7 RMB. We were allowed to check in early. The concierge assisted with getting a taxi to the terracotta warriors for 350 RMB. It took about an hour to get there. We spent 2 hours there and the taxi dropped us off on the way back at the South Gate. Rented a bike on top of the city wall. Walked to the Bell Tower and found a very good restaurant, Star Ferry, for dinner. We did everything we wanted to in Xian and only needed the 1 night.

Thursday – Took a taxi to the Xian airport. Meter was 180 RMB. Try to negotiate a cheaper fare rather than the meter. We arranged via the flight on China Southern before we left. The flight was full and I am glad we did it ahead of time. We paid about $100 each. Seems like the worst part about domestic flights are the flies on the airplane. When they hand out the newspapers, take them to swat the flies. They served a meal on the flight but we did not take it. We arrived in Guilin and had a driver pick us up (arranged through hotel) to take us to Yangshou. The ride there (about 70 min) through the Karst mountains is a beautiful site. The weather in Yangshou was a breath of fresh air (75 degrees) compared to the cold we left in Xian/Beijing.

Friday – Took a local bus to Yangdi from the Yangshou bus station in town. You pay when you get on the bus. When you get off the bus, you start negotiating on the guy’s calculator on his cell phone for a bamboo raft trip down to Xingping. We paid 130 RMB. It was so scenic and breathtaking. The driver stops for a 15 minute lunch break and lets you out to walk around and hopefully support the locals. We bought a beer. When your ride is over, you are a good distance to the bus stop for the bus ride back so hire a taxi to take you to the bus stop.

Saturday – Walked around the shops in Yangshou. The town is beautiful with these big mountains everywhere you look. Took a long walk along the river to the Li River retreat hotel and had a drink and bite to eat. Walked back and went to see the evening show on the river. Go for the cheap seats. All the seats look like they have a good view. The show was cute and should not be missed.

Sunday – Took a car service back to Guilin for a flight on China Eastern. Again with the flies and we were the last row on the plane. I did not figure how to get seat assignments from ctrip. Arrived in Shanghai to 70 degree weather. Took a subway to Peoples Square and walked down through Nanjing East Pedestrian street, the Bund and took the tunnel ride ($8) back to the hotel. Over priced but it was convenient to get back to Pudong.

Monday – Took the hop on/hop off bus for 30 RMB in front of the aquarium. Went to Shanghai museum, took a ferry ride for 2 RMB and walked to the Garden area that we spotted from the bus ride. The nights were foggy so we opted not to do a harbor cruise. The ferry was a cheap alternative for a ride on the water.

Tuesday – Took a subway to the train station to visit Xitang, a cute little water town that we read about. We did not have firm directions so the day was a little stressful. Once we arrived in the train station and walked outside, we were mobbed by drivers and all the metered taxi’s had left so we took a bus. The bus driver took us to a bus station and we switched to another bus. After an hour ride, we arrived in the town. Again mobbed by drivers. We found the town entrance gate (50 RMB each). Once inside, it was like the Venice of China. Alleys with houses/stores and bridges along the water. We did not have much time because we knew it would be a challenge to get back to Shanghai. There were no cabs around so a nice teenager walked us to the bus station. They said it would take 3 buses to get back to the train station. They put us on a bus to another bus station. We figured we would take a cab to the train station but again, we were mobbed by drivers (but no meters) so went back inside and they put us on a bus to Shanghai. Lesson learned is to make sure you have your main itinerary written out in Chinese before getting started. Once you get out of the main city, English is rare.

Wednesday - Subway to Pudong airport. Took about an hour. We read up on the Maglev but it was more expensive and does not reach top speeds for when we were traveling.

All the people we met along the way were very helpful and friendly. We do not speak any Chinese. I only had to use my translation app once in Xitang. We had a great time with a lot of laughs. You can do China on your own!

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