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Shanghai is an incredible city. Completely stunning in almost every way. I made it to 5 major cities on my first ever trip to China and it was by far my favourite. China’s largest city by population, Shanghai is also one of the biggest finance and transport centres. The name means ‘Upon-the-sea’.

Shanghai city

I didn’t have any sort of organised tour for Shanghai, but I did have a hop-on hop-off double-decker bus ticket valid for 48 hours. This bus was excellent value, having 3 routes covering a great area and stopping at dozens of city attractions. I found it also doubled as a fun general purpose. Sitting on the open top-deck, under a bright blue sky, lazily cruising around the city was a lovely experience. The bus provided head phones with location specific information in 4 languages. On top of all of this, the ticket provided entrance to the 88th-floor observation deck of the Jin Mao Tower, the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel and a cruise along the Huangpu river. Two of the bus routes run along The Bund, the magnificent length of architecture running along the river. This water-side area always swarming with people, attracted by the beautiful sights and sounds.

Alongside those I’ve just mentioned, other worthy Shanghai attractions include;

  • Shanghai Museum
  • Yuyuan Garden
  • World Financial Centre
  • Shanghai Disneyland Resort
  • Revolving restaurant inside the Oriental Pearl Tower
  • Nanjing Road

Shanghai The Bund

High-end retail is everywhere in Shanghai, the city is a shopper’s heaven. Western influence is much stronger here than the rest of China, tourists are definitely more present also. It’s a very friendly city! The tree lined boulevards and colonial era buildings make it a beautiful place to simply wander and be absorbed by.

Getting around is a breeze with the fantastic metro system, you’re never far from the nearest stop. Taxis are also everywhere and ready to take you where you need. Having your locations written down in Mandarin is always advisable in case the driver doesn’t speak English. It’s easy to have this done at your hotel before leaving!

Shanghai Jin Mao Tower

Thanks to its position in the Yangtze River Delta, and the fact it has attracted so many migrants throughout history, Shanghai is a bustling centre of Chinese street food and cuisine. Some definite must-tries include;

  • Sheng Jian Bao
  • Cong You Bing
  • You Dunzi
  • Shansi Leng Mian
  • Dou Hua

Thanks for reading!

Henry

Shanghai night time

Arriving at Guangzhou train station, I didn’t know what to expect of the city. It’s one of those modern metropolises often seen as a stop-over to other parts of the world. As one of China’s busiest airports, Guangzhou Baiyun is the home base and central layover for China Southern Airlines. It’s also growing into one of China’s most important centres for the high-tech industry with booming industrial sectors. A great place to shop for electronics.

Guangzhou city

The metro from the train station is as efficient as any other in China. Well laid out maps with an intuitive system. The ticket machines always available in English and prices around 1 dollar to get anywhere in the city.

Guangzhou doesn’t quite have the history to match some other major cities, its streets full of modern architecture and high-end retail. It looks and feels clean, modern and safe. The people smiling and milling about town in a jubilant fashion.

The city is busy, but it doesn’t feel busy in the same hectic way that other cities do. A relaxed nature seems to permeate the air.

Guangzhou Skyscraper

Exploring at night is a great decision. The air is cooler, that southern humidity dropping off slightly with the absence of the sun.

The city begins to glow in the evening and continues on into the night. The lights of the towers coming to life in a myriad of colour and modern expression. The air itself glowing purple as the mist and fog catch the light.

The waterside is wonderful, it seems this is the time and place to exercise, the riverbank flowing with activity. Again, it’s busy with crowds but doesn’t feel like it. The noise and behaviour are calm and comfortable. The locals at peace in their home.

Guangzhou bridge and Canton Tower

The Canton Tower stands high in the sky, its shifting rainbow of light dancing in the sky. It’s a marvel to look upon as it reflects on the river. The tower can be ascended, with a glass observation deck at 450m!
Across the bank, Huacheng Plaza is abuzz with life and laughter. The ‘place to be’ apparently, the square teeming with families and children playing on the colourful ground which lights up like a disco floor, the city’s tallest towers bordering both sides displaying their own light shows.

I spent hours wandering the streets, seeing everything on display. It really comes off as a very happy place, a big city with a welcoming environment.

Some other highlights of the city are definitely;

  • Shamian Island
  • Chen Clan Academy
  • Baiyun Mountain Park

After taking the metro back across town to my hotel, I wandered down the streets lined with small food stalls, the smell captivating and irresistible. I couldn’t finish my walk empty handed, grabbing a portion of crispy looking gyozas. Completely delicious, every bite a reassurance of the decision I had made.

Guangzhou by night

Guangzhou is a wonderful place to visit for food, its streets full of wonderful regional cuisine and international favourites.
Make sure to try these delights when visiting;

  • Yum Cha
  • Kao Ru Zhu
  • Long Hu Dou
  • Shuang Pi Nai
  • Dim Sum

Thanks for reading!

Henry

Not far from Guilin, around 95kms, lie the breathtaking rice terraces of Longji. Amongst these flowing hills of lush green forest and rice, is Dazhai village. I cannot recommend this place enough, whether you’re looking for adventure and hiking or just time to relax in a serene location surrounded by some of the most beautiful country scenery I’ve ever seen!

Dazhai Village

Like many places of stunning natural beauty, it is a little remote. I travelled by local bus from the airport which was very slow and involved a few vehicle switches in small towns where no one spoke English. When I left a couple days later I discovered the direct bus which was much faster and a lot more comfortable! From my experience, unless you’re very confident on your own I would definitely recommend visiting the Longji area with private transport, or as part of a tour! For me, it’s a place not to miss either way!

I stayed in the Longji Dazhai International Youth Hostel. It’s definitely not a youth hostel in the traditional sense of low-cost backpacker style travelling. I had a wonderful king room with en suite and private balcony overlooking the centre of the village, which was also a rice field! Very comfortable indeed.

Dazhai Rice Terraces

Despite being such a small town, there are quite a few local restaurants serving up fresh local produce. Every time I went for a walk, there would be friendly invites and gestures to join a table for lunch or dinner. I actually ate all my meals in the hostel, which had a great menu of wonderful variety. I had some of the freshest and most flavoursome food I’ve ever eaten during my stay!

About a 10-minute walk down the road that you come in on, is an enormous cable car ready to whisk you up to the highest point in the immediate area for incredible views of the surrounding valleys and terraces.

The area provides some excellent hiking, most of which follows small paved paths that curl and weave around the hills. Some of the greenest green that I’ve ever seen greets you around every bend and over every crest.

Dazhai Hiking

Dazhai and the Longji area were a wonderful escape from the flat-out-busy lifestyle of the Chinese cities. Even the drives in and out were incredible, the narrow roads following a river through the valley. Waterfalls cascade down on both sides, one even straight onto the roof of the bus as we drove past. It did rain a lot while I was there in mid-July but I felt this added to the experience. July through September is a beautiful time to go, as the crops are mid-growth and will be glistening green with the fresh rains.

Thanks for reading!

Henry

Xian, the capital of the Shaanxi province, is one of the oldest cities in China and the oldest of the Four Great Ancient Capitals. In English, the name translates to “western peace”.

As part of the economic revival of inland China since the 1990s, Xian has emerged as a cultural, economic and industrial centre for the north-west.
Xian has a rich and important history in China, offering ancient history and a very inviting atmosphere for tourists.

Terracotta Army Xian

I decided to take an organised group tour for Xian for one day, and have a second day free to explore the city on my own. After my visit, I thought this was definitely the right decision, I met some awesome people on the tour and we had a great guide, super informative. The private air-conditioned bus was plus also!

The city tour, which focused on the ancient history of Xian, included the Banpo Museum, Mausoleum of the first Qin Emperor and of course the Terracotta army.

Banpo is the name given to ancient village ruins discovered in 1953. Just east of Xian they have been carbon-dated to 5600-6700 years ago. A truly ancient relic of modern humanity. I knew nothing about this incredible place before this tour, learning the history of the places you visit, especially ones as old as this is one of my favourite parts of travelling.

From Banpo, we went to a sculpture workshop, to check out all manner of local craft. Beautifully intricate jade carvings and hand-woven clothing, alongside full-size replicas of the Terracotta soldiers. You could even have the soldiers made with your head on them, the artists achieving an excellent likeness!

It was now time for the day’s main attraction. The most famous site in Xian would have to be the Terracotta Army. The army was originally discovered by a farmer who was digging a well but found the stone head of a soldier. Since that day the area has been protected and has resulted in one the greatest ever archaeological finds with over 8000 figures spread through a number of pits.

What an incredible sight it is, I just stood and stared, the vastness of the main pit is really staggering.

Chariot Xian

Alongside these 2 major historical sites, I used my free day in Xian to check out some other local attractions, including;

  • Fortifications of Xian
  • Mausoleum of the first Qin Emperor
  • Giant Wild Goose Pagoda
  • Great Mosque of Xian

The fortifications still to this day, run in a full loop around the centre of the town. If you’re feeling up for it, you can walk or ride a bike the 15km circumference right around the top!

If there’s one food dish that represents Xian, it’s ‘yangrou paomo’. This dish is made up of shredded flat bread in a mutton soup. Spicy and delicious.

Alongside this, don’t miss the ‘chuan’er’. Very similar to a shish kebab, this barbecued meat on a stick is wonderfully spiced and flavoursome.

The place to find this food? The Muslim quarter, a district of myriad colours, sounds and flavours. Check it out once the sun goes down, this is when the streets come alive!

Xian Muslim Quarter

In regard to getting around, I will offer the exact same advice as I have in earlier China pieces! It’s super easy!

The city’s subway system is very modern and intuitive, with easily readable maps and very cheap ticket prices. Around $1 will get you almost anywhere in the city!
Taxis are always available to take you where you need. I highly recommend if you don’t speak any Mandarin, to get your hotel staff to write down your destinations and addresses in Mandarin and then show this to the taxi drivers! Always make sure they are using the metre to avoid being ripped off!

Thanks for reading,

Henry

Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China and one of the world’s most populous cities. A truly modern metropolis rich with thousands of years of history, Beijing has something to offer everybody.

The name Beijing, means “Northern Capital”, and has been the country’s political centre for the majority of the last 800 years.

Temple through the gates Beijing 

Taking an organised tour is a great and convenient way to see the city and its tremendous highlights, while also taking the pressure off you if you’re worried about dealing with the traffic and busy streets. It’s very normal to feel this way, a population close to Australia’s total in one city can be daunting for anyone!

 

A 2-day tour would be an absolute minimum, 3 or 4 days preferable, don’t try to rush this city and cram it all into one day! Here’s a few spots that shouldn’t be missed;

  • The Forbidden City
  • The Temple of Heaven
  • The Great Wall at Mutianyu
  • Tiananmen Square
  • The Summer Palace
  • National Museum of China
  • Simatai

 

This list is just some of the highlights, with some, such as the Great Wall, worthy of having an entire day or more dedicated to them alone. The Forbidden City, Tiananmen square, Temple of Heaven and The Summer Palace combine for a great full day of city touring, without too much driving or wasted time transporting between.

Forbidden City rain Beijing

A personal favourite of any organised tour is always the incredible included lunch!

Like all China, Beijing has its regional specialties and delights. Local restaurants are very accommodating to foreigners, with most having illustrated menus in English and helpful, friendly staff. You may have to point to what you want on menus at times but I find this adds to the fun of it all and goes part and parcel with the travelling experience.

Make sure to try some of these local bites when in Beijing;

  • Peking Duck or Beijing Roast Duck
  • Chinese dumplings – Jiaozi
  • Gangou potatoes
  • Noodles with Soybean paste
  • Tuckahoe Pie

 Beijing Tea

Once you’re in Beijing, the intense traffic can seem intimidating but getting around can be very easy!
The city’s subway system is very modern and intuitive, with easily readable maps and very cheap ticket prices. Around $1 will get you almost anywhere in the city!
Taxis are always available to take you where you need. I highly recommend, if you don’t speak any Mandarin, to get your hotel staff to write down your destinations and addresses in Mandarin and then show this to the taxi drivers! Always make sure they are using the metre to avoid being ripped off!

 

Beijing is the perfect place to launch any adventure in China, it’s size can be daunting but its clean and safe and has so much to offer. A truly captivating city showing off an incredible mix of China’s history and modernity.

 

Thanks for reading,

 

Henry