Trip to China – Planning
I prefer to travel with a tour group and/or guide when travelling to a non-english speaking country. For this trip, I chose Intrepid Travel. Intrepid had many options to choose from, all at varying prices, and their tours ran all year around. All in all they were the most accommodating tour operator I could find…their itineraries, timing and budget were perfect. The other thing I really liked about Intrepid is that they offer what they refer to as “real life experiences”. They focused on off-the-beaten-path trips, and far-from-touristy homestays, excursions and transportation methods. Intrepid also has the friendliest and most knowledgeable Chinese guide around, his name is Robert. If you go with Intrepid ask to travel within Robert’s group (you’ll thank me for it). They’ll know who you’re talking about because like I said, he’s the best, and a great guide is a nice compliment to any trip.
You can view the trip overview, itinerary, map, etc here: http://www.intrepidtravel.com/trips/CBSB/#overview
Flights to China
I’ve always found Flight Centre to offer the best price on domestic and International flights. Via Air Canada, Flight Centre found me a flight for about $820. I purchased my RBC travel and medical insurance there too – cant leave home without em 😉
For the record, I shopped all around the internet for a cheap flight to China. The best price I found was from Expedia flying with China Air (not the most reputable airline) for around $1000. I was prepared to spend that until I checked with Flight Centre, and I’m glad I did!
Arrival into Beijing Capital International Airport
Most of the signs in the Beijing Capital International Airport were in Chinese and English, which was obviously helpful. I had no problems finding my way around and took a taxi to my hotel. There are cheaper transfers to take, however I (especially after a long flight) prefer the reliable and brainless taxi option.
My first day in Beijing was a bit overwhelming…dealing with the crowds can be a nightmare and the pollution wasnt pleasant. I also found that the airport was the only place with english signage. Once youre in the heart of Beijing youre on your own and consider yourself lucky if your hotel employees speak any english at all. After a couple of days I realized the pollution wasnt all that bad, seriously. When driving on a freeway in rush hour you can only see about a hundred yards in front of you before you lose sight of things in the smog. But once off the freeways, and into the evening when traffic subsides things really clear up and its tollerable. I went in April, and found the warm, humid and cloudy days were just symptoms of the season and not pollution. As I said, its a bit of a shock at first but before long you’ll get used to it and/or realize its not all that bad. As for the nightmare crowds, that shock wears off once you start operating at the same fastpace as everyone else. Forget what you feel is common courtesy and just get moving. Dont give ladies,children or seniors right of way. Dont wait to hold doors open for them, dont wait for them to exit a subway car before you get on, and dont be concerned about bumping, rubbing shoulders or cutting people off. None of the Chinese care, and they all get around just fine. When commuting on foot, its normal to have someones toes at your heels as you walk, and its normal to be made into a Chinese sandwich on a bus. If you dont like being touched, bumped or congested with strangers then dont go to China.
I was incredibly surprised at how efficient this massive city ran while catering to so many people. Trains, subways and busses all ran on time. Lineups and queues, although long, ran smoothly. I dont recall having to wait to be sat at a restaurant, ever, and when making a purchase (dinner, water, bus tickets, shows, etc) you’re in and out lightning quick. Things in Beijing definitely run at a faster pace than most major cities.
The Great Wall of China
It is what it is, we’ve all seen pictures and it’s amazing. It should definitely be on everyones bucket list. What you might not know about visiting the great wall is:
– It’ll take you up to an hour to walk to the top
– It’s way too long to walk “accross”…most people only have energy to walk a small distance
– Some steps on the wall are so steep you’ll be walking on all fours
– You can ride a gondola all the way up to the wall
– You can ride a luge-style track down from the wall, it’s such a blast you’ll want to go more than once. I recall the cost being about CDN$20 for the round trip
My advice if youre visiting both Beijing and Shanghai is to spend more time in Shanghai. Its nicer, cleaner, more vibrant and offers more great food, drink, shopping and to-do’s than Beijing. I spent 3 nights in Shanghai and didnt want to leave. Anywhere along Nanjing road is a good hangout, the Huangpu River is a great afternoon and evening photo opp spot, and the Oriental Pearl tv tower is a must see, both from the street and the glass-floor sightseeing rooms inside at 800+ feet!
I heard rumors of massive knock-off shopping outlets in Shanghai. After a bit of searching I found a mall, yes mall, full of knock off brands just West of peoples park down Nanjing Road. The No 2 metro line will get you there or just take a cheap taxi from the main Nanjing tourist street Go past the Porsche dealership a bit further and look for it on your right. If you cant find it, just find a tourist and follow them. I guarantee you all they’re doing in that area is visiting the knockoff mall. Theres nothing else to see/do around there.
When I found it, it was called the Nanjing Fashion and Accessory Mall. I’ve also seen it online called the Fenshine Fashion and Accessories Plaza. Believe me when I say you’ll find everything there…such as: Nike golf clubs and bags, Lacoste shirts, Puma and Diesel shoes, Reebok sports jerseys, Nikon and Canon cameras, software (including Mac and PC operating system software), Swiss Army travel bags, and anything else you can imagine from brands like Chanel, Burberry, Prada, Gucci, etc.
The clothing is unbelieveably well made and well knocked off, just like the real thing if not better. The only “crap” was electronics like fake ipods, ipads, etc…so beware. Also, never, ever pay asking price. Dip lower than 50-75% off asking price. I never purchased anything but saw many tourists get ripped off. The vendors in these stores are professional hustlers who make their living off tourists spending sprees. I give credit to these vendors who dont like taking no for an answer, theres always a deal to be made and if youre a serious buyer the’ll make you a serious offer. They’ll respect your bargaining power if you can hang in there and take some punishment to get a good deal in the end.
Travel in China is Cheap
I was surprised at how cheap China was. I felt like I splurged (especially on meals and sightseeing) and barely put a dent in my budget. Like anywhere else, go off the beaten tourist trails for dinner and you’ll pay up to 50% less everytime. When buying something from a vendor, there’s always a deal to be made. If you want something for $5, you’ll probably get two for $7, or three for $9. Pool your spending with others if travelling with a group and you’ll save huge.
You can count on awesome food anywhere in China. The restaurants, menus and portions are all huge.