Author Topic: Trip to China-Suggestions Welcome!  (Read 3714 times)

cashstasherat23

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Trip to China-Suggestions Welcome!
« on: April 08, 2015, 11:24:06 AM »
For the past couple of years my family has enjoyed quite a nice situation, as my mother used to work for British Airways and we all gained access to her flight benefits when she reached 55. However, the rules of the program stipulate that once a child is 24, they can no longer receive benefits, and guess whose big 2-4 birthday is fast approaching in May? Lucky me!

I have been working on churning cards to begin accumulating miles for when I will no longer be able to travel for 10% of full ticket price, but until then, I am planning one last big she-bang of a trip to make the most of the benefits. The trip will be for my birthday at the end of May, and I figured I'd go as far away as I could, as it may be a while until I can do that again. I've already been to Japan, so I chose China as the destination. My two brothers will be joining me on the trip as well, and we'll be going from May 21 to May 27.

Now I am starting to plan the trip, and hoping that there are some Mustachians here who can provide some insight on the must see and dos of China. Obviously hoping to do this on a budget, but want to make sure that I don't miss anything amazing, as it's not likely I'll be back to China for a while, if ever.

My brothers and I have no problem staying in hostels, although I tend to lean towards an AirBNB when possible, as I like having a kitchen. Is there a certain area of the city that is most central to the sights? Any hostel or AirBNB recommendations?

As far as sights, we certainly plan to go see the Great Wall. We all love to hike, so may end up making a day out of that and spend it hiking the wall. I've heard all suggestions on this one, running the gamut from NEEDING to take a tour or you'll be hopelessly lost to just winging it on public transport to get there.

We will probably take a 1/2 day to tour the forbidden temple and wander the city, seeing the Lama Temple and the Temple of Heaven. Probably will stop at the Beijing Zoo too to see the pandas. Also would like to see the Terra Cotta warriors, and will probably try to fly out to Xi'an and back in the same day, because that seems like a trip worth taking. A Yangtze river cruise would be amazing, but they seem to be multiday affairs. Are there any one day cruises?

Other than that, are there other major things I am missing? I love seeing markets, so any recommendations for a great local food market is appreciated as well!


Albert

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Re: Trip to China-Suggestions Welcome!
« Reply #1 on: April 08, 2015, 02:55:20 PM »
Only six days? You have no hope of seeing more than 1% of what is worth seeing, I'm afraid. But since you seem to be focusing on Beijing I can advise to visit emperor's summer palace (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summer_Palace). I personally found it more impressive than the Forbidden city itself. I was in Beijing on an all paid semi-official trip and not recently, but historical monuments tend not to change much.

dodojojo

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Re: Trip to China-Suggestions Welcome!
« Reply #2 on: April 08, 2015, 03:10:22 PM »
For six days, I would concentrate on 1 or 2 major locations.  In your post, it sounds like you want to do the US equivalent of NYC, Grand Canyon and San Francisco in a week.  It's do-able but I'm not sure if it'll be enjoyable.

klystomane

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Re: Trip to China-Suggestions Welcome!
« Reply #3 on: April 08, 2015, 03:18:43 PM »
Lived in China for 4ish years and have been to Beijing many many times (Xi'an just the one time).

Did three different sections of the Great Wall. Where you go really depends on what your style is. The sections I've been to:
- Badaling is touristy as crap, really short, and fully packed. I hear there's now a McDonald's and other restaurants there for convenience; really commercialized.
- Mutianyu is a little less crowded and a bit more of a hike. A cable car (optional but recommended) takes you up to the section of the wall and from there you hike the actual wall itself.
- Jinshanling/Simatai is a couple of hours outside of Beijing. We took a hostel arranged van with 5 other people and were dropped off at the wall. We had to hike 10km towards Beijing (took about 4 hours) where the same van waited for us and drove us back to Beijing. This was my personal favourite section of the wall and if you like to hike, I bet you will too. The beginning and end sections are nicely restored and look good, but as you approach the middle parts, they're quite dilapidated and completely torn up, so it's a good way to see the contrast between new and old. Sketchy bridges and I distinctly remember a part where I had to perform a pretty sketchy jump. Also, we probably only saw a dozen people throughout the entire 3 hours of hiking; really good stuff.

In all, I would budget about 3 days for Beijing:
Day 1: Tiananmen, Forbidden City, Food street, Beijing downtown etc.
Day 2: Empress' Gardens, Temple of Heaven
Day 3: Great Wall

Flying to Xi'an and back in the same day could technically work if you only saw the main Terracotta army. There are a bunch of other smaller attractions scattered throughout the city as well. If you're interested in seeing those, you may want to consider spending the night.

How's your tolerance with Chinese food (I mean the real deal, not PF Chang's)? China's one of those places where if you're willing to local/semi-local it, it makes more sense to just eat out since it's fairly cheap. Bring some Imodium.

Not sure about AirBNB in China as I've never used it. There are cheap chain hotels that are safe, somewhat clean, and quite affordable, especially if you're going as a trio. Depending on the city, I would say it's anywhere between $20-$40 a night. Some of the more reputable budget hotel brands are Home Inn, JinJiang Inn, and Motel 168. Don't expect anything world class. Call in advance to make sure they can house foreigners (not all hotels do).

Feel free to PM me if you have more questions.


Cheers,

JoJo

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Re: Trip to China-Suggestions Welcome!
« Reply #4 on: April 08, 2015, 06:36:26 PM »
I did 10 days in those 2 cities a couple years ago - is it not possible to fly into Beijing and out of Xian?  That would save you $ and time.  I took the overnight train from Beijing to Xian on a sleeper train.

There are some amazing hostels in the hutongs (old neighborhoods) and they do inexpensive tours out to the great wall & beyond.  There was an overnight camping trip to an unrestored area that looked amazing.

I recommend going to Ghost Street for dinner one night.  I love the photos of red lanterns at dusk.  Pick one of the restaurants that are busy and you can sit out on the street waiting and people watch.

In Xian, if you can get to the Terra cotta warriors first thing in the morning it's cooler and much less people.  I also went out to Hau Shan for a day but it would be pretty hard to do both in one day.



Google "China Scams" as I found China way more scam-y than other places I've traveled.  Don't accept an invite to a tea house or get in a pedicab as they're almost all scams.

China is definitely not my favorite place.  Too many people, ancient sites are over-restored and commercialized, but I'm still glad I went.


Amesenator

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Re: Trip to China-Suggestions Welcome!
« Reply #5 on: April 08, 2015, 10:39:51 PM »
Shanghai expat here who has spent a lot of time in BJ:

In planning where to stay in BJ, give close consideration to distance/travel time from the sights you want to see. Traffic is horrific and so being within walking distance or on a metro line can be a big benefit. You can find good hotels at a decent rate pretty easily, so I wouldn't necessarily assume AirBnB is the cheaper option. Try searching on elong.com (which is owned by Expedia) or ctrip.com.

The possibility of visiting Xian at the end of your tip by taking a train overnight Beijing to Xian and flying out of China from there is a good one. Domestic air travel is regularly delayed for hours at a time (not enough airspace is open to civilian air traffic), and as others have noted, your trip is short, so if you fly to Xian and get stuck in a massive delay you could find your time frittered away.

For ideas on places to eat, you might check www.chowhound.com and also look at expat magazines (e.g., Time Out, That's, City Weekend).  If you like massage, Chinese style massage is delightful, believed to be therapeutic and very reasonably priced. Check the expat mags for places that seem to focus on traditional massage (feet are a big focus) and avoid ones advertising with lots of pictures of pretty girls (which tend to be for massage places that offer a happy ending) - or simply wander the neighborhood of your hotel/apartment. A local place should be able to give you a good 60 minute foot massage (you sit in a recliner, can order a beer and watch Chinese game shows on TV) for $9 - 12.  Fun to do after dinner.


flyingaway

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Re: Trip to China-Suggestions Welcome!
« Reply #6 on: April 08, 2015, 10:46:07 PM »
Lived in China for 4ish years and have been to Beijing many many times (Xi'an just the one time).

Did three different sections of the Great Wall. Where you go really depends on what your style is. The sections I've been to:
- Badaling is touristy as crap, really short, and fully packed. I hear there's now a McDonald's and other restaurants there for convenience; really commercialized.
- Mutianyu is a little less crowded and a bit more of a hike. A cable car (optional but recommended) takes you up to the section of the wall and from there you hike the actual wall itself.
- Jinshanling/Simatai is a couple of hours outside of Beijing. We took a hostel arranged van with 5 other people and were dropped off at the wall. We had to hike 10km towards Beijing (took about 4 hours) where the same van waited for us and drove us back to Beijing. This was my personal favourite section of the wall and if you like to hike, I bet you will too. The beginning and end sections are nicely restored and look good, but as you approach the middle parts, they're quite dilapidated and completely torn up, so it's a good way to see the contrast between new and old. Sketchy bridges and I distinctly remember a part where I had to perform a pretty sketchy jump. Also, we probably only saw a dozen people throughout the entire 3 hours of hiking; really good stuff.

In all, I would budget about 3 days for Beijing:
Day 1: Tiananmen, Forbidden City, Food street, Beijing downtown etc.
Day 2: Empress' Gardens, Temple of Heaven
Day 3: Great Wall

Flying to Xi'an and back in the same day could technically work if you only saw the main Terracotta army. There are a bunch of other smaller attractions scattered throughout the city as well. If you're interested in seeing those, you may want to consider spending the night.

How's your tolerance with Chinese food (I mean the real deal, not PF Chang's)? China's one of those places where if you're willing to local/semi-local it, it makes more sense to just eat out since it's fairly cheap. Bring some Imodium.

Not sure about AirBNB in China as I've never used it. There are cheap chain hotels that are safe, somewhat clean, and quite affordable, especially if you're going as a trio. Depending on the city, I would say it's anywhere between $20-$40 a night. Some of the more reputable budget hotel brands are Home Inn, JinJiang Inn, and Motel 168. Don't expect anything world class. Call in advance to make sure they can house foreigners (not all hotels do).

Feel free to PM me if you have more questions.


Cheers,

I think this is a good 3-day list for Beijing. Chinese street foods are something you need to experience. If you get food problems, Imodium does not work, you really need Amoxicillin (you can buy it in Chinese drugstores without a prescription).

Flying between Xi'an and Beijing within a day will be very challenging, as the airports are far away from the city centers.

lhamo

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Re: Trip to China-Suggestions Welcome!
« Reply #7 on: April 08, 2015, 10:54:46 PM »
The high speed train between Beijing and Xi'an is great -- takes about 4.5 hours, departing from Beijing West station -- that station is far from the main airport, so if you have a flight to catch on the way back be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to get to the airport.

I personally like Xi'an much better than Beijing, though taxis are easier to get in Beijing (Xi'an taxis are poorly regulated and it shows).  If you spend a night in Xi'an I would recommend trying to be by the muslim quarter/drum tower.  There is an AMAZING dumpling restaurant right across the pedestrian street from the drum tower, where you can get an elaborate multi-course meal of dumplings made in all kinds of exotic shapes like ducks and geese, etc.  A bit expensive for dumplings, but worth it in my opinion.  And then you can wander the pedestrian areas around the drum tower/muslim quarter.  Good souvenir shopping and street food sampling.  Try the salt roasted walnuts -- my first visit I only bought one pound, now I buy up to ten to bring back for friends and family. 

If my work stress is winding down by late May maybe I'll try to coordinate a little MMM Beijing get together -- expatartist and I are both here for a bit longer, and there are probably others as well. 

shanghaiMMM

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Re: Trip to China-Suggestions Welcome!
« Reply #8 on: April 09, 2015, 05:48:44 AM »
Get to Shanghai, Beijing's more civilised little brother :p

From a tourist's perspective, my mum and dad didn't like Beijing - huge, grey, full of traffic. They loved Xi'an a lot. Take from that what you will!

I'm a little worried that 6 days will be a blur of traffic, train stations and airports, no way to extend the trip?


markbrynn

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Re: Trip to China-Suggestions Welcome!
« Reply #9 on: April 09, 2015, 05:59:41 AM »
If you're active (sounds like you are) and not afraid of a bit of (mostly slow moving) traffic, then I suggest renting bicycles in Beijing. Traffic is pretty bad (for cars), but on a bike you get to see all the madness of the city. There are lots of other cyclists, so safety is pretty reasonable. From the city center it's even a pretty reasonable ride out to the Summer Palace.

Regarding Great Wall, my wife and I took the local bus and had no problems (with a little research). Careful of the seemingly official people complete with uniform and badge that tell you that the bus isn't running and try to sign you up for something else. Agree with earlier post that there are a number of scams going. Not to hard to avoid, but you need to be skeptical.

There's plenty to see in Beijing for 6 days, so you don't have to travel onwards. On the other hand, I understand the desire to see a bit more when you might not be back for a while (if ever).

Shamantha

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Re: Trip to China-Suggestions Welcome!
« Reply #10 on: April 09, 2015, 06:39:11 AM »
Enjoy your visit, I think China is a magnificent country. Which is not the same as a fun country... I would stay longer if I were you, if at all possible, such a long way to travel for such a short time!
In Beijing, definitely go see the Summer Palace, I agree with Albert, it is more impressive than the Forbidden City. For the wall: Mutianyu is the best compromise for easy to reach and still not too many tourists (on a good day). I would not make a day trip hiking out of it, as it is quite monotonous, half a day is quite sufficient to get the feeling for it.

Temples: I myself love the Lama temple, like it better than the temple of Heaven, as it feels more like a true temple and less like a tourist attraction due to the locals visiting.

I would avoid Beijing Zoo at all costs. It is a very sad place with animals who do not have enough living room or natural activities, very close to (if not actual) animal cruelty.

Shopping: For souvenirs and other stuff: haggle, it is expected. And do not try to just get 10% off, try to pay only 10% of the asking price, they really try to get you to pay outrageous prices which seem quite reasonable from a western point of view but are extremely high by Chinese standards. If you like nice clothes: have some suits tailor made for you, they can do that in a couple of days and the quality is great (depending on the tailor of course), at a fraction of the cost you would pay in Europe or the US.

cashstasherat23

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Re: Trip to China-Suggestions Welcome!
« Reply #11 on: April 09, 2015, 07:49:17 AM »
Wow, so many amazing suggestions!

First of all, I know its an ambitious trip, so I'm glad some expats can offer a bit of perspective on what is realistic.

First of all, flying into Beijing and out from Xi'an sounds like a great idea. The only issue I can see is that we are limited in the flights we take, as they need to be a partner airline of British Airways, and we will be flying standby, so will all depend on how flights look out of Xi'an, but it is definitely something I will look in to. Overnight sleeper train sounds like a good idea as well.

I am really the limiter on the length of the trip, as I can only take so many vacation days. My brothers are both in college, so have more flexible time. I have a few extra days that I could use, but as I will probably take another trip later in the year, I am hesitant to use them all on one trip. (One reason I am barreling towards FIRE-I need more travel time!) My plan is that we will fly out Thursday night, so that we can take an overnight flight to Beijing and arrive Friday morning, not losing a day on travel. Of course, this all depends on flight availability, and I could comfortably add two days to the trip without using up all my days for the year.

Mutianyu sounds like a great compromise on the Great Wall. We'll still get to see it, but will have plenty of time for other activities.

I am not sure about my tolerance to real Chinese food. The kind I've had has ever only been of the General Tso's chicken variety :)
The food is what I am most excited to taste though! Always my favorite part of any trip, and I am certainly willing to eat local. The Xi'an Dumpling place sounds AMAZING...will definitely try if I make it there.

Bicycles is a great idea! I was thinking we'd use a metro system to get around, but biking sounds like a great way to see the city.

The Summer Palace looks spectacular. Definitely adding that to my list as well. 

Shanghai would be great, and I think the initial plan was to fly into Beijing, and out from Shanghai, but talk about ambitious! We have scaled it down quite a bit, but already I know I will have to return to see more of this enormous country!

Thanks again everyone for all of your input! I will be sure to check back in as I solidify the details of this trip further. Would love to have a MMM meetup too!