Tiffany McCrea-Lennon travelled to Beijing, China and explored its many wonders on an 8-day itinerary of the country. Find out more about her experience – you might just be inspired to book your own flight to China!
Settling into Beijing
On arrival in Beijing we are met in the arrival hall by George, our National Escort from Wendy Wu Tours. We transfer to our hotel for an early check in.
We are able to have a sleep in and free time until lunch time. All meals are included and are traditional Chinese style – spicy! We have a local guide meet us as they know the city like the back of their hand. In the afternoon we walk through Tiananmen Square and into the Forbidden City which involves about three to four hours on foot. For dinner we eat have a traditional Peking duck dinner. A favourite of the Emperor’s court and the upper class elite during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Peking duck quickly spread throughout Chinese society to become a national favourite and a symbol of China.
Beijing: A cultural and historical capital
Beijing is the capital of the People’s Republic of China. With its unequalled wealth of history, Beijing served as the centre for the many different empires and cultures that ruled China and has been the heart of politics and society throughout its long history. The ancient monuments, the stories of days gone by as well as the dynamic and modern city Beijing has become today, make it a destination not to be missed.
Built under the guidance of Chairman Mao Zedong, Tiananmen Square is said to hold a capacity crowd of over one million and is one of the largest public squares in the world. It houses not only the Monument to the People’s Heroes, it is also the final resting place of Chairman Mao himself in the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.
The sacred centre of the Chinese empire for 500 years and home to the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the Forbidden City is a vast complex of over 900 buildings and covers an area of 180 acres. Since 1987, the Forbidden City has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its palatial architectural style has been an influence on many imperial buildings throughout Asia.
Important note: The Forbidden City is closed on Mondays.
Beijing and the Great Wall of China
We are told by our guide that the traffic will be really bad because of a three day public holiday, so we are asked to be ready to depart at 7.30am to avoid the crowds and drive approximately two hours northwest of the city to the Juyongguan Pass to take a walk on the Great Wall of China. We have three hours free time to walk the wall at our own pace.
The Great Wall of China was originally built under the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, and is the country’s most iconic sight. Snaking through the northern countryside from the Gobi Desert in the west into the Bohai Sea in the east, the Great Wall of China is the longest wall in the world and was used as a fortification against northern nomadic tribes. The current structure dates back to the Ming Dynasty and is over 700 years old.
Such an amazing thing – I walked from the bottom of the top and its about six degrees with snow and an even colder wind.
The Summer Palace
Afterwards we visited the jade factory and stroll through the Summer Palace. At the jade factory we learned about one of China’s most symbolic and important materials and watched artisans at work, carving this emerald stone into works of art. The Summer Palace was the former holiday retreat of the Qing emperors and is a stunning example of Chinese garden style. The Summer Palace incorporates the Fengshui notion of ‘Mountain’ and ‘Water’. A favourite resort of the Empress Dowager Cixi, the Summer Palace is home to a stunning Marble Boat and the Long Corridor, one of the longest outdoor passageways in the world.
In the evening we went to a Chinese acrobatic show. Chinese acrobatics incorporates many forms of dramatic art, including acrobatics, contortionism, juggling, plate spinning and much more.
Bejing to Xi’an
In the morning we are told to meet at 5.30am to avoid the traffic. You also need to check in for a domestic flight two hours prior to departure due to the rigorous security. All battery packs, iPads, laptops and so on must be carried in the carry on luggage. The flight is two hours to Xi’an. We fly with China Eastern – they are good. We got a meal served and a comfortable flight.
George our guide was born in Xi’an so he is our local guide here. He is so proud of his home town. Xi’an has long played a pivotal role in China’s extensive history and has been a thriving hub for cultural exchange, economic trade as well as national politics for centuries. Home to some of China’s most ancient sights, diverse architecture and delicious fares, Xi’an is a must-see destination.
Xi’an ancient city wall
On arrival we take a walk on the ancient city wall where you can hire bikes to ride around. Dating back to the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century, the Xian ancient city wall is one of the best preserved urban fortifications in China. The wall’s ideal location and layout gives visitors a bird’s eye view over this fantastic city. Follow the locals’ example and take a bike to get an ever more spectacular experience.
In the evening we have a feast of traditional Shui Jiao dumplings and a performance of Tang Dynasty dancing. Xi’an, previously known as Chang’an, was an important cultural and historical centre in not only China but in the known-world. The Tang Dynasty dancing show is an exciting exponent of this prosperous society and keeps alive the splendour of this period. From November to March the Tang Dynasty music and dance performance is not available on all evenings.
Xi’an to Chengdu
Another very early departure to avoid the traffic to spend the morning viewing the life-sized Terracotta Warriors. The Museum of the Terracotta Warriors and Horses is located more than one hour drive outside of Xi’an. Within the museum area the warriors can be seen in three different ‘pits’, which are active archaeological digs. The site is large and takes approximately two and a half hours to explore.
The Terracotta Warriors
The Terracotta Warriors are one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, this unearthed terracotta army is comprised of over 7,000 soldiers, horses and chariots. The army was built in life-sized form by thousands of workers and designed by Emperor Qin Shi Huang to defend himself in the afterlife.
After this visit we went to the Xi’an Art Ceramics and Lacquer Exhibition centre to see smaller models of the warriors being made. Here we saw smaller versions of the enigmatic Terracotta Warriors being created.
Bullet train to Chengdu
We later made our way to the train station to catch a bullet train to Chengdu. China’s symbolic western capital and the residence of the country’s most lovable black and white bear, Chengdu has an abundance to offer. A fast-paced economy which is bringing China’s west into the 21st century; it is no wonder that Chengdu’s appeal is growing year on year. As the gateway into Sichuan Provinces large collection of sights, as well as Chengdu being its own trove of historical and cultural treasures, Chengdu is a must visit on any trip to China.
We had very comfortable seats on the bullet train that reclined a long way back. The train takes four hours (normal train takes 14 hours) and we get a reasonable meal on board. The ride was smooth and quiet and a lot cheaper than flying.
Chengdu to Leshan
We depart at 8.30am to travel two hours south of Chengdu stopping at Huanglongxi, a local market with interesting food such as scorpions and centipedes on skewers! We continue to Leshan, where the world’s largest stone-carved Buddhist monument is, the Leshan Grand Buddha and take a boat ride in front of the statue.
Leshan Grand Buddha
The Leshan Buddha was built in the ninth century under the direction of Haitong, a monk who felt the presence of Buddha would help calm the waters below so that shipping vessels could make their journey safely. Amazingly, once the structure was completed, the waters below did calm, some say due to the Buddha’s presence, others to the large amount of rock removed in order to carve the Buddha, which resulted in the current in the waters changing. The Buddha remains watching over the waters below; no position gives a better view of this structure than from a boat ride along the river.
Named after the Huanglong River which flows through this historic town, Huanglongxi houses a number of traditional buildings, dating back mainly to the Qing Dynasty. Home to picturesque temples and idyllic water vistas, Huanglongxi is a beauty spot famous with directors who use the area for its stunning scenery.
After lunch we return to Chengdu and have some free time to wander around before we meet for a Sichuan meal in the evening. Sichuan cuisine is famous for its use of Sichuan pepper and chillies. These spices from the area are known for their ‘mala’ (numb and spicy) flavours, which seem to cool and heat your mouth at the same time. Famous dishes include kungpao chicken, twice-cooked pork and spicy Sichuan hotpot.
Our local guide Penny meets us at the hotel then we depart early to avoid the crowds and visit the Giant Panda at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where you can learn about China’s celebrated bear. It is not guaranteed that you will be able to see the feeding of the younger pandas, as this only happens at the start and end of each day. Sightseeing involves approximately one and half hours on foot and there are electric carts offered by private vendors that can be organised at your own expense.
With over 80 pandas holding residence, the Chengdu Panda Research Base is equipped with the latest technology and research materials to gain a further understanding in how we can protect the panda and maintain, if not increase, its numbers. The park is set up to resemble the mountain and forest regions in north Sichuan, the original home of the Giant Panda, with extensive bamboo trees and large green spaces. Red Pandas, the Giant Panda’s lovable cousin, and flamboyant peacocks too roam the park, making for an interesting mix.
After lunch we visit the Matchmaker’s Corner where you can watch parents lay advertisement letters to find a match for their children. Then we visited a traditional tea house.
The final day in China
On our last morning we have our own time so we do a bit of last minute shopping. We are transferred to the airport to arrive three hours prior to departure to complete customs and immigration. We are fortunate enough to all get business class on Cathay Dragon to Hong Kong then also from Hong Kong to Auckland. It was fabulous – lie flat beds, fantastic food and drinks and wonderful friendly staff with great English!
- Hong Kong Airport has four business class lounges. The closest lounge to where the Hong Kong-Auckland flight normally departs from is near gate 65 called The Pier.
- Make sure you take a roll of toilet paper as the majority of toilets are crouch toilets.
- Take enough cash for tipping the guides, drivers, etc.
- Credit cards are not widely accepted in shops.
- China does not have access to Facebook, Google, Messenger and many others. A good app to download is “WeChat”
Interested in experiencing China for yourself? The experienced team at World Travellers Riccarton can help you plan the adventure of a lifetime to all of these incredible sights. Drop us a message or give us a call to start organising your trip today!