I will be meeting my hubby who is stationed in Iraq in April. We do not know the must see's for China. We thought we would start out in Bejing, but have no idea of the best area of town to stay in. Can anyone offer suggestions? We will be in China for 17 wonderful days. We enjoy the normal tourist things of seeing the Wat's the trader markets and stuff you know thingsyou can not see in the United States. We were in Thailand last May and fell in love with it, started in Bankok and wound up in Chiang Mia (which this turneed out to be our favorite). I guess I am asking for help on the must see's and the areas of town you would recomend to stay in.
I was in China last summer and it was fantastic. Beijing is a must see: I would recommend staying at Peninsula Palace or Grand Hyatt as both are great hotels in good locations with easy access to transportation. If you would like a more affordable hotel (these two are great value compared to worldwide hotels but on the highest end for Beijing), try to stay in the same area as Peninsula Palace, Wangfujing shopping district. This is a great area to get a feel for the locals as this is a popular area for shopping and dining. You will also be within walking distance of many Beijing must-sees: The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Beihei Park, The Temple of Heaven, and the hutong districts. It's great to get out and walk around, although I'll warn you it is a pretty long walk from the hotel through the massive Tiananmen Square to the Temple of Heaven. Also visit the Lama Temple for a gorgeous look at Tibetan Buddhism.
Other day trips around Beijing of course include the Great Wall, Summer Palace, and the Ming or Qing tombs. These are all worth visiting. I would recommend you hire a driver through the hotel for any and all of these, they usually will combine a trip to the Great Wall with a visit to the tombs. Unless you love crowds and a them-park feel, I would not recommend visiting the Great Wall at the most popular and closest location, Badaling. It is incredibly crowded and they've built all sorts of cheesy rides and amusements around the wall so there is little feel of authenticity. If you can, drive a couple hours more to the Wall at Mutianyu or Simatai - simatai is great if you want to get some exercise hiking the wall.
Outside of Beijing I did not visit Shanghai but I've heard great things, it is more European in feel than Beijing. Hong Kong is a must if you have a chance, it is a mix of Asian and Western in a gorgeous, water-based, vibrant city. It's a good place to transition from the US to China as it is pretty Westernized compared to Beijing.
Also, would you have a chance to add a trip to Tibet? Tibet is wonderful but changing quickly as a train has now been built from Beijing. If you fly to Tibet you must stay in Chengdu for a night or two, it is the capital of the Sichuan Province and less Westernized than Beijing so quite an experience. It is the place to visit the Giant Panda sanctuaries which is well worth the visit in itself. Then, on to Tibet which is a completely different culture still from mainland China (although of course the Chinese communism is rampant there now - I won't get into politics here!) The Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple in Lhasa are beautiful, amazing, unbelievable sights. With 17 days in China I think it would be worth a trip for 3-5 days.
I've kind of dumped a lot of information here from what I remember but I hope that this helps get you started planning your trip. Let me know if I can answer any more specific questions - my husband lived in Beijing for the summer so he'd be able to help answer anything more specific...
Oh my how you have made me so excited about the upcoming trip!!! You have been wonderful with all of your answers. I am sure I will have more questions for you, I am just so excited about reading your reply right now as you just summed up everything we enjoy doing and seeing and I just had not idea of how to word everything I was wanting to know!!!!
We spent 5 weeks there 2 years ago -- I used China Odessey Tours (on line) and they were GREAT! They arranged for pick-ups at my various locations and then delieved us to the right terminals (airports, buses and trains). Without them we would have had a terrible time. I made the iterny up, and they then helped with meals and transfers. We loved Shanghai, Xian (the Terra cotta Warriors), Hong Kong (need separate Visa to visit), and the Great Wall.
just came back today from a 15 day trip to hongkong, macau and beijing. a local tour guide is a must as language is a definite problem. can recommend a very good local tour company in case you want their use, we were a group of 10 and we got excellent service from them for 3 days, including pickup and drop offs at the airport.
mutinayu seems to be the best place to visit the great wall and there are two options to go up --- one via the state owned cable car or by the cable car of a private operator (this is the more exciting option as it offers the option to slide down the slope like a toboggan) tianenman square is a must see along with the forbidden city, which is right there itself. however will definitely recommend to avoid walking as its pretty hot in beijing and it was 36 degrees a couple of days ago. any way a lot of walking is involved in the forbidden city and tianenman square itself, and not to talk about the great wall. so try and preserve as much energy as possible for the attractions. hutong is supposed to be a good place, but we ran out of time as we ended up shopping at the silk market and ya show market --- and for me any trip to beijing is incomplete without a visit to at least one of such markets and bargaining for items you dont need, but end up buying!
will strongly recommend the dragonair package (if you are coming from hongkong) as it includes airfare and stay at the china world hotel (its a shangri - la managed place and very good) 2 nights at this hotel and the to and fro airfare cost us about 3000 HKD, which is great value for money and then we organised the local sight seeing ourselves for usd 125 per head for 3 days including pick up and drop off at the airport and 3 meals and an excellent kung fu show at the red theatre.
Hi Puneeth - I would like to interject here that I don't believe a guide is a "must" except maybe for 1-2 days around Beijing and Xian. Hongkong is one of the easiest cities I've been to, travel-wise. It isn't very big, it is super easy to get around between the ferries, walking and the trams, and most people speak English. We were very much on our own in Beijing and didn't find it at all difficult, just get a map! It was nice to have a driver out to the more remote locations - you definitely need to arrange one or take a cab out to the Great Wall, and to see the Summer Palace and Ming Tombs it is helpful as well. Again, you don't really need a tour guide for such sites. It is nice to have one to explain the sights of the Forbidden City. But it was very fun and pleasant to walk around the city from our Peninsula Palace Hotel to the Forbidden City down through Tiananmen Square and farther south through the hutongs and parks. Yes, it is hot (we were there in July) and the walks can be long but assuming you have a map Beijing is a safe city and it is so nice to kind of get lost in it and find your way around. There's also a pretty easy-to-use subway system in certain parts of the city. Other great locations that you might not really get to explore with a guide are Beihei Park and the Back Lakes region.
I'm saying this as somebody who isn't always an independent traveler - we've used private tour guides (literally somebody with us on trains and planes) in India and Tibet - but I really don't think it's necessary throughout China, just for certain locations and sights.
Message Edited by claassenam on 06-22-2007 02:06 PM
So I almost feel like I'm going to be mistaken for a promoter of this website, but you may need this if you are not planning on going with a tour company. www.ctrip.com (Hopefully this will just inspire LL to put more China Postings ).
Also, you may find this of use. I am contributer here as well (I'm such a sucker for on-line blogging). http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/
This is the "ex-pat" guide. It has everything you could possibly want for the major cities, Restaurant reviews Nightlife postings, classes, Local Chinese people who are bi-lingual and want to translate for you and take you around, etc... (Though on the last, I'm more than sure the concierge at your hotel can help you out).
A little bit more on the cities (without repeating what's been said)
Beijing: If you can take the spice and are not on a budget, you must check out Lan (Link below to Chinese written version of name/address/review). It is a destination in itself, as the wealthy restauranteur of South Beauty Restaurant, instead of just buying fancy art, decided to create an environment of art in which to showcase the food. She hired world renown designed Philippe Starck to design it and they spent some unheard of sum of money to make it happen. The details are incredible. It is not cheap in absolute terms, but compared to a NYC restaurant, for the environment and delicious fare, it is a true bargain. Plus, it's across the street from the silk market so the perfect thing to do before or after shopping. Incidentally, bed linens are the single best thing to get at the silk market if you have luggage capacity. They are gorgeous and they are cheap. In my "bottom finding' experiment on the price, I uncovered a cost of approx $120-240RMB ($16-30) for an embroidered beautiful pattern duvet cover and 4 pillow cases depending on quality of cloth. This experiment was run in January of 2007, though so there maybe slight inflation. Perhaps someone can update going forward. http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/beijin...an-restaurant/
The Great Wall is pretty great, you should see it and try to get off to the old part of the wall as well. Be forewarned that doing a little extra cardio in advance is a good idea. One important detail people often forget to tell others is that the Great Wall was built on a mountain range and walking along it therefore involves scaling a mountain. But it is good fun.
Xian: Too many people miss this city and I agree with my fellow poster. The terra cota warriors are the single most interesting man-made thing I have ever seen. Not to belittle the Great Wall, but anyone can build a wall, and if you have a lot of people and nothing else to do, maybe a great wall. But thousands of individually artisaned statues and horses... wow! You have have a lot of people that not only have a lot of extra time, but also have signficant artistic talent. Those statues were primarily made in either the likiness of the artist or - out of filial piety - the artist's family member. It's truly amazing!
Shanghai: Where as Beijing to me is the Boston of China, Shanghai is the NYC as far as energy goes. If you are not on a budget, do the 5 star restaurants, b/c there is no place else on the earth where Jean George 5 course prix fix will only cost you $80 ($600RMB). I actually prefer the one in Shanghai to Perry Street in NYC. But JG swears that Shanghai style is a bit saltier. There are a number of restaurants on the bund that are all very nice and a lower priced menu for lunch that is still world class. Do not stay in Pudong. It's boring. I prefer the Westin on the Bund or the Portman Ritz. However, use C-trip, the ratings are very accurate and the executive apartments are very nice. If you stay at the Westin on the Bund they have a guy who will run with you around Shanghai and point out sites. He doesn't really speak English though usually. But it's still a nice jog around the bund and into the old city.
ShenZhen: Scary. And if you're not scared, you should be at least slightly scared. It's still very dangerous, the crime is rampant, and the stories of it are grotesque. I consider myself fairly fearless, so I am not exaggerating. However, if you want THE best fakes (which I would never promote) Shen Zhen is the place. These are the ones that were done in the same factories with the same materials and same craftmanship, versus the one you can find in NYC Chinatown. Have the hotel send you there, and follow the people that look like they are from Hong Kong (which incidentally is my theory on why the best fakes go to Shen Zhen). Even the most expensive labels (in the $1000+ range) should cost around $200-$300. But again, I don't promote this.
And in all places, have RMB on you vs paying in credit card. Try to get the smaller bills. Places do not generally accept credit cards. The ATM is the best exchange rate, so I would recommend just using that. Even at the airport, I would recommend using the ATM over the teller. All the bigger banks (CITIC, Bank of China) will accept foreign ATM cards. The smaller banks (the names sound like Shanghai Local Industrial Farmers bank, etc) do not accept foreign cards. This scared one of my friends who at the ATM thought her card was being declined when it was just a local bank that wasn't able to do the transaction.