I’ve been meaning to post pictures from our family trip to China and am just now getting around to organizing my photos. It was one of the best family trips we have ever been on. It was affordable, there was so much to see, and it was so easy to do with kids. Before I went I was a little nervous about getting around but I don’t think it was that much harder than navigating a European country with a foreign language. We felt safe and everyone was very helpful when we asked. We had been wanting to visit Paul’s brother and family who are living in China and when I was hunting for airfare for a Spring Break trip I happened upon some really cheap direct flights to Shanghai. They were less than $600. We jumped on them and are really happy we did.
The Flight/ I read the flight information wrong at first and had thought the flight was going to be 15 hours long. Luckily it only ended up to be about 12 hours. It really wasn’t bad. We came prepared with ipads and headphones and snacks and the kids did great. When we arrived we were tired but went directly to the train station and took a train to Nanjing, just a few hours out of Shanghai. We stayed with Paul’s brother and family. It was a great transition to stay with family for the first few days because there was no pressure to sight-see and we could get over jet lag. They took us to markets that aren’t in any guide books. They also taught us a few tricks to get around. Honestly, the most helpful thing was watching my sister-in-law bargain with the vendors in limited Chinese. It came in handy later on in the trip when I had to do it on my own.
Nanjing/ We probably wouldn’t have stopped in Nanjing on our short trip if we didn’t have family there. It is a great city but not as famous as some of the others in China. Besides the markets and seeing family we also went to Confuscious’ Temple and Yellow Mountain which we really liked. After a few days we jumped on a train and began our trip to Beijing.
Beijing/ We only had a couple days in Beijing and the priority was to see the Great Wall. I knew we were only going to be scratching the surface on this city but it was still worth it to me to go there just to see the Great Wall. I had done some research and knew I wanted to go to the more remote section that goes from Jinshaling to Simatai. You hire a driver to take you about an hour and a half outside Beijing and they drop you off at Jinshaling and then pick you up at the end of the day at Simatai. While we were there the roads to Simatai were closed so we just hiked for several hours and then after lunch turned around and backtracked. The Great Wall did not disappoint. It completely lived up to the hype and was really an amazing experience. Our boys (ages 4 and 6) did really well on the hike. They could run around and get their energy out and was much better than the days where they had to sit still at a restaurant or on a train. We saw a handful of people the whole day so it was a really cool experience that we pretty much had the wall to ourselves. The next day we had time to make a quick visit the Forbidden City and Tianamen square before we caught an afternoon flight to Guilin.
Yangshuo/ We flew into Guilin and caught a taxi straight to Yangshuo (about an hour away.) I had read that Yangshuo had the same landscape as Guilin but a little less touristy and more laid back so we skipped Guilin completely. This place is heaven on earth. I loved our whole trip but Yangshuo was definitely the favorite. As we drove in the taxi through the lush green landscape I couldn’t believe that everyone was driving along as if everything was normal. The hills were breathtaking complete with swaths of mist! I wanted to make the driver stop to take pictures every five minutes because it was so beautiful. We stayed at The Giggling Tree at the recommendation of a friend and really had a great time. The rooms were made out of old farm houses and is run by a Dutch couple. It was very family friendly. They helped us make arrangements to site see and rent bikes etc. Even though it is a fairly small town there was so much to do. We would usually spend half the day doing a hike or doing an activity like a boating trip and then half the day riding bikes. There are these amazing little roads and paths all over the valley and biking was a huge highlight of the trip. Another cool thing we did was go to the Impression Sanjie Liu Show. Zhang Yi Mo, the director, is the guy who is responsible for the Beijing olympics opening ceremony. It was an incredible show. The only thing I regret about this part of the trip is i wasn’t appropriately dressed. I would have packed more outdoor-type gear like hiking sandals and rain jackets. We were fine but I didn’t totally realize what it was going to be like when I packed.
Shanghai/ It was great to get back to a modern city after spending some time in the country. Our friends were there for work so we were able to meet up and do some shopping with them. Shanghai is fantastic. We stayed at the Andaz Hotel (we chose it because thats where our friends were staying) and had a gorgeous room on the 24th floor. It is one of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed in and my favorite part is they don’t nickel and dime. They had complimentary wifi and replenished free treats in our room everyday and always had some delicious snack for free in the reception area. We paid about $150/night which isn’t cheap but considering how nice the hotel was it felt like a good value compared to the hotels in San Francisco where we live. (Plus it had one of those amazing electronic toilets that I had only read about!) Our favorite things in Shanghai were: Spin, Flea Market, and The Notions Market.
Our itinerary was perfect but I would have done one thing differently. Initially I had planned to make five stops on our two week trip but I started to get nervous that it was going to be too much traveling so we left the last part of the trip open ended thinking we could take side trips from Shanghai. By the end of our trip we were tired of planning things and would find ourselves just exploring Shanghai or even returning to the same markets just because they felt comfortable. So if I did the same trip again I probably would have either made a stop in Chengdu to see the pandas or else done a river cruise before spending the last three days in Shanghai. Here are a couple tips for getting around China that we found helpful:
1. Splurge for an International Data plan. I’ve started to just plan that into our travel budget as it makes everything go way smoother.
2. When you search something on your phone it also comes up in Chinese characters, we could show that to the taxi driver or the man selling train tickets and it allowed us to get around the language barrier.
3. When negotiating in the savvy markets (like in Shanghai) start at half the suggested price (at least.)
4. For food our kids loved dumplings and we could usually get those anywhere we went. It was a pretty easy kid-friendly food to find if our kids were being picky.
Have you ever traveled in China? Please add your suggestions and tips below in the comments.