China is BIG! I know this because I spent 14 amazing days with my mother, my sister and her husband and we covered just a tiny portion of this vast country.
Book-ending our trip with the two most populous cities in China, Beijing and Shanghai, we planed, trained, automobiled and boated around stunning vistas and amazing sites. The traffic in China is chaotic and we were grateful to have a driver as well as an English-speaking tour guide along the way. Although there is definitely a language barrier, the Chinese people are warm and welcoming, and proud to share their rich heritage and culture with visitors.
China is relatively inexpensive, with the cost of living being about half of that in Canada, and food is great value, particularly in restaurants (mid-range 3 course meal for two is about 28.00 C$) and on food carts. Beer and wine are also very affordable – we had some absolutely lovely Cabernet Sauvignon from Dynasty Winery, which is a Sino-French joint venture.
We visited all the standard tourist spots:
- The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square (Chinese tourists still queue for hours to see a mummified Mao lying in state)
- The Great Wall (we took the cable car up and the luge down!)
- The Terracotta Warriors (the detail and breadth is extraordinary.
- The Three Gorges Dam (we were piloted through the ship lift at this massive engineering feat on our Yangtze cruise)
While these were fascinating, some of the most memorable highlights of the trip were
- The street markets at night with their festive atmosphere and vibrant food carts
- The day trip on the misty and scenic Li River and the three-day cruise on the ancient and storied Yangtze
- The surprisingly hip international flavor of Gulian and Yangzhou
- The evening show on the river in Yangzhou produced by the creator of the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony
We visited tearooms, a silk factory, stunning caves and a jade museum. We ate food we’d never seen before, drank liquor with a snake in it, had lunch in a private home in a Beijing hutong and watched the light show that is Shanghai at night from a riverboat in the rain. Although it wasn’t on my bucket list or even my radar, I would go back in a heartbeat!
Most visitors to Mainland China need a visa. You should apply at least two months in advance, and will need an “invitation letter,” basically the trip itinerary that the tour company will send you. And you should purchase travel insurance, just in case you or someone in your party has difficulty obtaining the visa.
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