The Great Wall of China

Glories of China Tour Review 2015

Matt Cobley, our Operations Executive, recently returned from our Glories of China tour where he discovered some of the main, fantastic sights of China. 

Visiting many UNESCO Heritage Sights that are hot on the tourist trail, read his trip report below to inspire you on your China holiday.

Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to travel to China on the Glories of China tour visiting various destinations which varied from modern cities such as Shanghai and more scenic areas such as Yangshou. In total we visited five destinations: Shanghai, Guilin, Yangshuo, Xian and Beijing, which included 3 internal flights and 1 cruise.

Shanghai

On arrival in Shanghai, we had a private transfer to our hotel in Shanghai as there were no other passengers on the same flight as us.

The hotel in Shanghai was the 4* Greenland Jiulong Hotel and was it amazing; I couldn’t fault it. We met our National Escort called Wendy in the hotel reception who advised we had an upgraded room and on checking in to the hotel room we came to find that we had all the facilities we could possibly need with a fantastic view of Shanghai.

An hour after we arrived, we got ready and had our first meal at a very local, traditional restaurant just around the corner of our hotel. We had the opportunity here to meet half of our group who had already arrived which was nice and we then met the rest of our group the following day: there were 12 of us in total.

The following morning we started the day off at the Shanghai Museum. After the museum we took a brief visit to the French quarter whilst on the way to Pudong, the modern part in Shanghai’s City centre. Here, we went up Jin Mao tower, which is no longer the tallest building in Shanghai but still has the highest observation deck.  After this, we took a ride on the Maglev train which reaches a speed on 430km/h and goes from Shanghai City Centre to Shanghai Pudong airport. The distance between these is about 30 kilometes and the Maglev train takes only 7 minutes and 45 seconds, so by the time you reach 430km/h, the train starts to slow down again. The observation deck and Maglev train were both optional excursions and came to about 220 Yuan (£22 approx); they definitely worth the experience.

Later this evening, we enjoyed a Shanghai cruise which departed around 7.30pm and was the perfect way to experience the City at night. Our local guide advised us that you can catch the lights between 7.30/8 – 10.30pm every day. The queue to get on the cruise and on the cruise itself was crazy busy but we had fast track tickets which meant that we could board the cruise straight away which was an added bonus. We were originally planned to do this on the Friday night but Wendy our Escort moved this to the Thursday as she said that from experience the cruise is exceptionally busy on a Friday night.

On the second day, we visited the Silk Museum which I think was the most interesting museum throughout the trip. The staff at the museum that talked us through how the silk was made were very good. When walking around the factory, you could also see the local people working there and the process of silk making.

yu gardens

After the silk factory, we then headed off to visit the Yu Gardens and Old Town which was very traditional and a very peaceful setting. A short walk to the Old Town, we then had around an hour of free time to have a wander around the local markets. We then had a lunch in a traditional Chinese restaurant in the Old Town.

We also visited the Bund where we had time to explore and take pictures of the City. We noticed that a lot of wedding photos were taken around this area. We later ate in a nearby restaurant. I found that Shanghai’s cuisine was more sweet and sour compared in Xian, which was more on the spicy side.

Guilin and Yangshuo

On this day, we had quite a late flight arriving into Guilin around 6pm or so. Our guide helped us to check in and arrange necessary airport assistance for the elder passengers.

When we arrived into Guilin, we went straight to the main street which had a bustling market open until very late. Here, we had dinner. In this restaurant we had the opportunity to try the local wine which had a snake inside the bottle… but I don’t think any of us were brave enough to try this!

cormorant fishing

Straight after dinner, we went to see the Cormorant Fishing. Although this is no longer a way of catching fish in China and is just a show for tourists, it was a true memorable experience. There were two fishermen either side on the raft and around a dozen Cormorants or so.

When the Cormorant Fishing had finished we went and checked into our 5* Lijang Waterfall Hotel for the night.

li river

The next morning, we joined a Li River cruise which took approx. 3 hours to arrive in Yangshuo. Our cruise was actually quicker than planned due to the high water levels as the area had received quite a lot of rain over the previous few days. This cruise was extremely scenic and a major contrast to what we had already seen in China. This cruise was definitely very popular with the older members of our group and think that this is where people took most of their pictures. On the way we passed people living in small villages on the peaks and also saw water buffalo a couple of times along the way. When we arrived into Yangshuo, the journey had taken around 3 hours but our local guide advised us that if you were travelling in the other direction upstream (from Yangshuo to Guilin) this would take over 6 hours and we noticed the boats passing us going the other way were very empty.

On arrival into Yangshuo, there was quite a walk from the where the cruise docked to the coach. We started to really notice the temperature here as it was about 33 degrees and very humid. The elder ladies in our tour group went with our National Escort and took alternative transport to our coach as I think Wendy knew they would struggle with the walk in the heat. To get to our hotel we walked through the Market in Yangshuo which was very traditional, but I was very surprised to find a McDonalds and KFC in such a quiet, scenic town! We had around 45 minutes free time and then took another short walk to the coach to check in at our hotel.

We didn’t really have much touring in Yangshuo, but we had about a day and half worth of free time so we used this opportunity to go in to the local town and have a wander through the market. On the second day in Yangshuo we went on a walk in the mountains which was my highlight in Guilin / Yangshuo as we got caught in a tropical rainstorm which was truly amazing as I had never seen anything like it!

Throughout the walk, we explored the countryside and saw how the local villagers farmed in the surrounding rice paddie fields. The thunderstorm got quite bad so our coach driver drove up slightly further so we could get on the coach earlier as we were sheltering under a nearby building until the rain calmed down a bit. This was such a great experience and we did not come across any fellow tourists, only locals.

On checking out of the hotel, we got on the coach where we spent a couple of hours travelling up to Guilin, first stop being the Seven Star Park. We managed to catch a glimpse of the Giant Pandas within the park which was great! Our last stop in Guilin before the airport was the Pearl Exhibition Centre.

Xian

After the final touring in Guilin, we headed to the airport for our onward flight to Xian. What was really handy about this internal flight is that we must have been booked on a group PNR, as when we checked out from the hotel in Yangshuo, we didn’t actually see our luggage again until Xian as this was all checked in for us. So when we arrived at the airport, our Escort simply gave us our boarding passes and we just had to make our way through security. This saved a lot of time and we went through the airport and caught our flight a lot quicker.

Xian was my second favourite place; the highlight was of course visiting the Terracotta Warriors. Our hotel in Xian was the 4* Yulong International Hotel which was very impressive. One thing I found very strange is that there were no floors or room numbers with the number 4 in it as apparently the number 4 represents death. So there was no 4th, 14th, 24th or 34th floor in the hotel or room numbers.

As we arrived into Xian airport around 6pm, the guide planned for us to have the Dumpling meal and Tang Dynasty performance straight from the airport. If we were delayed this was going to be arranged for the next day but we managed to have this on the day of arrival. The dumpling meal was amazing! We had a selection of different dumplings such as duck, chicken, pumpkin, etc and also side dishes to go alongside this such as noodles, vegetables and, of course, rice! This was in the restaurant next door to where the performance was going to take place. Although The Tang Dynasty performance was great and well choreographed, it wasn’t really my thing but the other tour members absolutely loved it. It was all about the dumplings for me.

terracotta warriors

The next day was the all-important Terracota Warriors. This was arranged on a different day to the itinerary as there was actually only one day where we could visit this in Xian: the day that this was planned for was when the attraction would be closed due to a visit from the Indian PM. When visiting the Terracotta Warriors, there are three different ‘pits’ where you could have a look at the clay army. The first pit was contained the oldest findings and by far the best. There were less artifacts to look at and also had the broken remains of soldiers.

This afternoon was at leisure and me and Adam took the opportunity to visit the Wendy Wu Tours Xian office. We got a taxi there, which took a very long time due to the amount of traffic so on the way back our National Escort took us on the Xian Subway – which was an experience in itself! It was really nice to meet all of our colleagues in the Xian office as I deal with the groups department everyday; it was definitely nice to put a face to a name. We also met the FIT and E-Commerce teams.

We then took the Subway back to our hotel to join the group for dinner. The cuisine in Xian was a lot spicier than the rest of China, which I really liked! We also tasted what Xian is famous for: noodles! Our National Escort, Wendy, was also our local guide here as this was her hometown and when we went for a walk later that evening we met her husband and her 3 year old daughter which was really nice.

xian city wall

The following day, we visited the Xian City Wall, Little Wild Goose Pagoda and took part in a calligraphy class. We visited the East Gate of the City Wall as the other parts were closed for the Indian PM. Although the City Wall is only about 500 years or so old, which was fairly new compared to the other historic sites we had seen, the history behind it was fascinating. The wall was in perfect condition and you could tell what parts of the wall were not original and had been replaced as these would have Chinese markings in the stone. We saw lots of people with hire bikes cycling along the City wall. I wasn’t quite sure how they coped as the weather was so hot! It was around 30 degrees or so each day.

After lunch, we took a visit to Little Wild Goose Pagoda and the peaceful surroundings. Here we found out how Chinese buildings were structured to prevent flooding, capture light and prevent damage from earthquakes. We could actually see slight damage to the edge of the Pagoda which was from an earthquake many years ago. In the grounds of the Little Wild Pagoda, we attended a calligraphy lesson. We watched an artist conduct a painting and we then each had our name translated into Chinese calligraphy. This was very interesting to get an understanding of how Chinese language is written.

Later this afternoon, we transferred to Xian Airport at around 5pm for our last internal flight to Beijing.

Beijing

Our last destination was Beijing and out of all the destinations visited, this was my favourite. We managed to travel to Beijing at a good time as we didn’t encounter any pollution. Our local guide named Li Li said that it was unusual for us to actually be able to see the stars at night. Our local guide was fantastic and was constantly giving us facts about Beijing which I found really interesting. When we were being transferred, it was quite late and dark but I think this was a great way to see the City at night as we drove through all the modern skyscrapers.

hutong lunch

On our first day in Beijing, in the morning we took a visit to the Summer Palace. The Summer Palace was a very nice place to spend the morning as it was very relaxing. After lunch, we then took a visit to the Hutong District which was my favourite part of the day. It is amazing that there is such a local atmosphere within the heart of the City. The roads were very narrow and small so we took a Rickshaw ride through the Hutong District and then had lunch in a local person’s dining room, who cooked for us! It was very traditional and very local.

great wall

The following day was the day to visit the Great Wall. It was a very early start: our wakeup call was for 5.30am but we were definitely thanking the guide for this later as after visiting the Great Wall, it was a lot busier as time went on and the temperature really started to increase. The coach journey to this particular section of the wall was just under 2 hours. Most of the tour group only wanted to set foot on the first section of the Great Wall, but seeing as we had 2 and half hours free time here, I managed to go all of the way to the top.

I couldn’t believe how quiet the wall was the further you went – it was like a ghost town. The incline of the steps were a lot steeper than I thought they would be but the hardest part, I think, was actually coming back down. This was by far my highlight of Beijing.

temple of heavenAfter we had lunch, we then visited the Temple of Heaven, which was great to see but at this point we were all very tired so were looking forward to going back to the hotel! After we went back to the hotel, we had a couple of hours to spare to relax and then we went to have dinner followed by a Chinese Acrobat show. The Acrobat show was my favourite performance out of them all and we managed to have a private box for this show which was even better!

The following day, to finish off our tour we visited the Forbidden City and had a group photo in front of Tiananmen Square.

Later this evening, we had a Peking duck dinner which was by far my favourite meal throughout the whole tour! We also celebrated another tour member’s birthday who was 77 on the last day. Happy Birthday Florence!

Conclusion

I had a fantastic time visiting China. It was a jam-packed tour that allowed me to see all the iconic sights with excellent guides and a fabulous group. I liked that I got to see rural China as well as the big cities, and to walk along the Great Wall of China was my absolute highlight. I’d recommend this tour to anyone!

groupshot

See our other Glories of China review from 2013.


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