Wednesday, October 3, 2012

China, Part 1 of 3

Here's a little summary of my trip to China. At the insistence of my Mom, we used a tour company and went on a four person/three city/eleven day tour. She left all the planning up to me and I decided to book with The China Guide. Yan Ban was our contact person there and pretty much everything went smoothly. I had a general idea for our itinerary and Yan and I emailed back and forth making adjustments. A few benefits of booking with them are:

1. There were no forced shopping/factory stops,
2. There was flexibility in the restaurants (two of us don't eat meat),
3. There was flexibility in the hotels (I got to book them myself),
4. They accept credit cards as payment through their website.

There was a lot packed into our trip but I suppose that's the nature of a tour. We zipped through a lot of sites in a small period of time. There were lots of things at many of the sites that we probably could have spent more time at but again, it was a tour.

The first city we visited was Beijing and we got to fly direct from Vancouver. Our guide and driver picked us up from the airport and we stayed at the Park Plaza Wangfujing (nice hotel!).

Day 1 - In the morning we visited Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City and Jingshan Park. We probably could have spent an entire day at these three sites. We didn't see Mao's body (there was a super long line up anyway) nor the museum in the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City wasn't as epic as I expected. In the afternoon, we went for a rickshaw ride through a hutong, went up the Drum Tower (longest steepest staircase I've ever seen), Temple of Heaven and a kung fu show.

After the first day, I got a general impression of the main tourist sites being kind of beat up/unkept. You would think the government would try to keep everything in tip top shape but it sort of reminds me of an old fair ground that wasn't being maintained. The highlight of the day was actually quite random. We drove by a big white dog and this is how the conversation went.

me: "look at the big ass white dog... wait a sec, he's wearing glasses!"
wife: "you're a jackass. It's probably a statue"
wife turns around.
wife: "jeez, it is a big white dog wearing glasses!"

Day 2 - Woke up early to head to the Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall. This was the highlight of the trip and it didn't disappoint. The views from up there are cool and the history is amazing. Our guide was telling us that less than 1% of the Wall is preserved. The rest of it is crumbled and in disrepair. I had no idea! I thought the majority of it was fully standing and walkable. After the Great Wall, we headed to the Ming Tombs and Sacred Way. One tomb has been opened and is on display. Others have been discovered but they remain unopened. The reason for this is the lack of technology to prevent items on the inside from deteriorating and oxidizing. Our guide said the Japanese have the technology and would be willing to help preserve the artifacts but want half the booty. This sounds like BS to me. I googled it and found nothing. The general Chinese sentiment regarding Japan really doesn't seem very good even after all these years. On the way back to the city, we stopped by the Olympic site to see the Birds Nest.

Day 3 - This was our last day in Beijing and we visited the Summer Palace in the morning. If I ignore the hoards of tourists, I can imagine why the Emperor would like to hang out here. We were scheduled to eat at some hotpot place but because two of us don't eat meat, we passed on it and the guide let me pick the restaurant. We were going to Lama Temple so I googled some restaurants and we ended up at Fairy Su, a Buddhist Vegetarian place. The guide was tripping out because some of the tea was super expensive (I think it was pressed by a monk from the temple or something). I thought he was going to have a panic attack because of it. We basically had to talk him off the wall and they had other less expensive tea options and it was fine. This ended up being one of the best lunches we had in Beijing. Great meal for sure. The Lama Temple was pretty cool. There's a huge tall Buddha carved from a single piece of sandalwood. There's even a plaque for a Guinness world record lol

Next we cruised down Nanluoguxiang and visited Houhai Lake. The former was a cool alley with lots of places to pick up a snack and a lot of younger people. I think it would have been nice to have stayed at a hotel near this area. Houhai Lake was just an area with lots of restaurants along the water. The day was capped off with a
Chaoyang Acrobat Show which was pretty nuts. They brought out a metal mesh sphere and had a guy drive a motorcycle in it. Then they added another motorcycle, then another, then another, then another. At the end, they had eight dudes driving around inside this thing. It was crazy!

For dinner most nights, we went to the Wangfujing area. We saw a review of a dumpling place called Shun Yi Fu in the Moon Guide so we ate there a few times. Tasty dumplings! It used to be on a hutong east of Wangfujing but is now in the Beijing APM Mall, which also contains a Uniqlo.  I also had a snack at a  rice ball place there called QQ Rice.  Surprisingly, they had a veggie chicken option as well as a wide variety of soy milks.

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