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First some advice prior to departing your hometown; If you happen to be a social media addict like myself make sure and download a VPN so that while in China you can access your social media. Also, I would advise you look into downloading a translator app for your phone so that communication will be made a lot easier.
We left Edmonton with a little bit of apprehension about the long journey ahead; upon arrival in Vancouver we decided to make our 5 hours connecting time as comfortable as possible by checking into the Premier Lounge at the airport; the lounge had very comfortable seating, a great wifi connection, the food was great, but the selection was very limited.
I had chosen to fly to Shanghai with China Eastern, which I must admit prior to boarding the flight I had a few concerns about since I had never flown with them before. I was quite surprised at how modern their planes were. The selection of entertainment was awesome and I managed to watch about 6 movies during the flight. They offered a variety of meals and snacks during our flight; although the breakfast left a lot to be desired.
Upon arrival in Shanghai I managed to navigate through the maze of immigration despite the fact that I have absolutely no knowledge of the Chinese language. Unfortunately once through immigration, due to a misunderstanding and there being 2 family marts at the airport I waited about 45 minutes before finally connecting with my sisters driver Jeffrey.
For my first day in Shanghai, I decided to take my daughter and niece to Disneyland for the day… It was a lovely sunny Saturday and the park was overcrowded; on average we had to wait approximately 1hour and 45 minutes to finally enjoy our chosen ride. As a result, we only managed to experience about 4 rides in the 8½ hours we were there. The Tron ride was very futuristic and pretty fast-paced. Everything was in Chinese including the instructions broadcasted for each ride, fortunately for me, they did include English subtitles to their animated cartoon; the language barrier in China is probably the biggest obstacle for the majority of foreigners; I expected more English speaking workers especially in Shanghai Disneyland.
The following day we packed up and headed back to the airport in Shanghai for our flight to Beijing to start our guided tour of China. We arrived and were met without any hitches and driven directly to our hotel, the Four Points by Sheraton. The hotel is very nice, although where our room was located it was a bit noisy.
We started our tour with a visit to the Ching Dynasty Emperor’s underground Palace, in other words, his final resting place; as their belief is that even though his body has died his spirit remains alive, therefore they build elaborate tombs to ensure their comfort in the afterlife.
We went on to visit a Jade factory where we saw the art of jade crafting and were able to purchase some of the ornaments made there, we also enjoyed a delicious Chinese meal at the Jade factory.
We then carried onto the Great Wall of China, this is quite an undertaking to climb, I managed to climb part of the way, but decided not to go all the way around the wall. As this takes approximately 4 hours and we were given 2 hours to explore the wall. That evening we slept well from sheer exhaustion.
Today after breakfast we headed straight for the Summer Palace, where Alice from Stunning China Tours painted a verbal picture of what life was like living there, she went through the history and explained the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by the Emperor and Empress and his many concubines. We purchased some of the pearl jewelry that was made from the pearls taken from the lake at the Summer Palace. We then visited a Pearl Factory that showed us the many things made with the Pearls from the Summer Palace lake. We also were given the opportunity to purchase some Jewelry as well as skin cream made from crushed Pearls. They also gave a demonstration of how to tell the difference between fake and real pearls.
We then visited Tiananmen Square and walked onto the Forbidden Palace, which has been around since the Ming Dynasty. This Palace has been rebuilt and renovated many times since it was originally built in the 1400’s the current buildings date from the 1700’s. This was a very long and grueling walk with intense heat; I was absolutely exhausted by the end of the tour; I would suggest dousing yourself with sunblock and carrying an umbrella for shelter from the sun, as there is not much shade. We continued onto the Chinese Institute of traditional medicine, whereby looking into our eyes, checking our pulse, and looking at our tongues we were diagnosed and given possible solutions to our everyday medical problems such as cleansing our liver and kidney’s for water retention and weight loss.
Today after breakfast we said goodbye to Beijing and boarded the high-speed bullet train to Suzhou, I must admit this journey is very long and the train did not feel as if it were high speed at all, we had many stops along the way and about 5 hours after boarding the train in Beijing we finally made it to Suzhou. We were met by Faye, also from Stunning China, on the train; which was great as she helped us navigate our way from the train through the station and to our driver.
We were then dropped off at our hotel.
Gabriella and I chose to spend a relaxing evening at the hotel as by this time we were both exhausted; we walked over to the nearby Subway and had an extremely spicy Chicken Sandwich.
Our hotel was nice, but the beds were not very comfortable.
This morning we visited the lingering garden first, which was lovely; very peaceful and calming as you walked around enjoying the various areas of the Garden. Then we were shown the silk factory where we were given a demonstration of how the silk is made from the pupa to the full-grown worm within about 5 days. The worms live for approximately 25 days before they cocoon themselves with the silk; which is then taken and stretched into the various fabrics or threads.
We then made our way to Shan Tang street, with the cobbled stones and narrow alleyways, and street vendors on each side; they had a lot of little rickshaws’s around the streets with little old man that looked extremely exhausted and very gaunt; a dying breed, I would imagine pretty soon rickshaw rides will be a thing of the past.
We drove to Hangzhou, which took a little longer than expected (about 3 Hours due to traffic). We spent the night at the Grand Century Hotel. Gabriella and I decided to have dinner at the Western Restaurant on the 1st floor where we ordered tuna sandwiches; something almost impossible to ruin; but unfortunately they did not have tuna so they made tuna flavored apple sandwiches with fries and charged me 68RMB each approximately $13.60 CAD each; at least the fries were nice. The service was appalling, I wondered why we were the only customers at this restaurant considering the hotel was filled to capacity.
Today we first stopped off at a green tea farm, we were told about the process of picking the green tea as well as the cleansing and weight loss benefits of green tea due to its high concentration of antioxidants. We then stopped off for a cruise along West Lake, then had a leisurely stroll through the gardens, where we stopped to enjoy some green tea ice cream.
We then drove to Shanghai and checked into the Renaissance Hotel, I decided to spend the evening with my sister Anna-Lisa and her family, we had a lovely evening together.
The following day we enjoyed a sightseeing tour of the Bund in Shanghai. We spent some time visiting the old HSBC bank. The building is about 100 years old with fabulous stone ceilings with their original pictures, built by the Russians, it still has the Russian symbol of a star on the building. We then bought lunch at an underground food market. In the evening we were taken on a sightseeing cruise on the Huangpu River in Shanghai where we took many pictures of the brightly lit buildings.
This morning I said goodbye to Faye and my other 2 traveling companions Lorraine and Michelle; Gabriella and I took the metro to the People’s Square; then onto the Shopping Plaza to meet my sister Anna-Lisa and her family for lunch at a Latin restaurant; after lunch we strolled around the mall for about an hour before taking a taxi back to the Renaissance Hotel to catch our ride to the airport for our flight to Yichang for our Yangtze River Cruise.
Our flight arrived into Yichang late in the evening. We were met by our guide and had an hour transfer to our cruise. Unfortunately, due to our late arrival, the cable car down to the port was not operational so we had to walk down many stairs to finally arrive on the ship. We managed to check in and head straight for our cabin where we crashed for the next 4 nights. I would suggest an earlier flight into Yichang if taking a river cruise so that you may use the cable car down to the port.
Each morning we were offered a complimentary tour of the port we were docked at. Each tour included a commentary on the history and culture of the area; for most of the excursions, we had to do a lot of walking definitely a destination for the more fit traveler as this included many stairs that were not evenly built in height since they were built many centuries in the past.
The entertainment on board was performed by the crew. Each evening we were treated to a different performance by the very talented crew. This included the history and dress of the various provinces of China throughout the centuries as well as the different dances performed by the indigenous people of each province. We were also treated to a professionally performed magic show by the head of housekeeping. The crew onboard the American owned and Chinese operated Victoria Cruise ship were very helpful and provided great customer service at all times. The only barrier is that of language, which can be easily resolved by using a language app.
Our first day we were taken on an excursion of the 3 Gorge’s Dam, which is the world’s largest dam. Included was a boat trip up the dam and onto the ship elevator. This was a major feat in engineering. They started construction on the ship’s elevator in 1997 and completed it approximately 16 years later. The dam has two five-stage locks to raise and lower ships to the different river levels. Each lock in the five stages is 65 feet high and 910 feet long.
Day two of our river cruise excursion included a leisurely ride through Shennong Stream, which offers clear running waters, picturesque rock formations, and even monkeys and goats along its banks. Drifting along the Shennong Stream in a sampan is the unique way of experiencing the beauty of Shennong Stream, a sampan is about 40 feet long, 6 feet wide, usually steered by six boatmen. We Sailed through Qutang Gorge, the shortest and most dramatic one of the Three Gorges. Wu Gorge is famous for its quiet beauty.
Day three we were treated to a shore excursion of Shibaozhai Pagoda. This town looks like a ghost town as they had to relocate the many inhabitants to build the dam. They preserved the Shibaozhai Pagoda by building a wall around it about 3 feet higher than the water level at its highest. We climbed the pagoda while our guide provided us with insight into the history, and hardships faced by the locals in the past as well as the present. I would have to say while observing the locals doing their laundry in the river not much has changed for them.
We arrived at our final port, Chongqing, a little later than was scheduled therefore we had to change our onward flight to Xian. We arrived in Xian too late to do the tour of the Terracotta Warriors Museum and were taken on a quick tour of the city wall before checking into the Grand Noble Hotel, Xian.
We had a morning flight from Xian to Shanghai and then finally back home to Canada.
For such an ancient civilization, China is lacking in social graces. Definitely not a destination for the finicky or faint of heart traveler, but for seasoned travelers who enjoy history and culture this is the perfect destination.