How to summarize our Chinese experience? An unexpected trip, a whole new culture, an awesome adventure!
China was not on top of our bucket list, we just wanted to have a long distance trip and after many research, we discovered how beautiful it was and that it offered a variety of places to explore, so we made it happen. We planned almost every detail so we could tour the country on our own without a guide. It is not something impossible, maybe a little bit hard but if you are well prepared, you will be more than satisfied with the results.
How to get ready for China
A very important step to start with is to download the VPN Express application and activate it before reaching China. Once you get there, you can only start using it, activating it won’t be possible. It will allow you to have access to Google, Facebook, Instagram.. and many more applications that are banned in China.
Once you reach the airport, buy a sim card and let them help you with setting up an internet connection suitable for your whole stay. They will assist you with all the required steps so you can start using it directly. You need to have the internet connection ready to be used anytime.
Getting around and communicating with its people might be difficult as most of the citizens only speak Chinese and all directions are in their language as well. You really need navigation maps in order to move around easily as well as translation apps so you can communicate with people.
The local currency is Renminbi (RMB) or Chinese Yuan (CYN). The exchange rate is controlled by government so you can get the same one almost everywhere. The easiest option is to exchange at the airport, other choices would be the hotel or major Chinese banks. Keep your exchange receipt, you’ll need it to convert your money back at the end of your trip.
September is a great month to visit China if you don’t mind some sun and heat. It’s almost the end of Typhoons season but the weather may vary a lot from a city to another. October is cooler with lower temperatures so it might be a better option for some. Check the weather before your trip in order to prepare accordingly and be ready for any changes.
Plan your journey ahead and book transportation tickets online before reaching China to save time. You can make sure the stations and the timing are correct to avoid any misunderstanding on the spot and to reach them directly without confusion. Many sites tickets can also be booked online so you can avoid waiting in long queues especially when it’s crowded.
We chose a convenient website that helped us book all the needed and delivered all the tickets to our hotel. They gave us all the necessary details, trust me, it’s easier. This step was crucial for our trip.
Two Weeks Itinerary
The first stop was the Capital city full of history and culture. There’s so much to discover out there and planning four days for it would be fair.
The most famous sites are the Summer Palace and the Forbidden City, if you love architecture, these visits will be so interesting. Both are huge and impressive.
Two temples that will introduce you to Buddhism are worth a visit: Lama Temple and Temple of Heaven. At the Lama Temple we learned about praying routines. At the Temple of Heaven, you can witness local people while performing their morning prayers. These Temples are also well designed, colorful and stunning.
China is the home of Pandas, you can see them at the Panda Zone in Beijing Zoo. If hugging one is on your list, take a trip to Dujiangyan Research Center near Chengdu where you can spend the day with one and take care of it. The hug will last for few minutes and it’s not for free.
Keep some time for shopping and wandering around some famous streets like Wangfujing Street and Qianmen Street and to enjoy some famous shows at night like The Chinese Opera Show or The Legend of Kung Fu.
We added one day for a trip to the Great Wall of China which was a must! The Wall has different parts in many cities, you will need to choose the perfect option that suits your plan. Some parts are less crowded than others, some are closer to Beijing but they’re all spectacular and well surrounded by mountains or by lakes..
Check my post “Five Days in Beijing” for more details about what to do in Beijing:
We took the train to Shanghai, the shortest trip is around four and half hours.
After a hectic plan in Beijing, we decided to be more chill in Shanghai and just wander around its lovely streets. The famous Bund is one good spot in this city. We enjoyed nice architecture and buildings all around.
Also visit Shanghai old street and its surroundings for some Chinese experiences. Shanghai French Concession is the area where you will find European shops, restaurants and a museum as it was a former French Concession.
Enjoy some shopping at Nanjing Road, the most famous and busiest shopping street in Shanghai. Stay until it’s dark to witness how crowded it can get and enjoy the colorful neon lights everywhere.
From Shanghai, we went on a day trip to Suzhou which can be reached by a 30 minutes train ride.
It is described as Venice of the East, as it’s full of canals, bridges and tiny streets. Famous for its classical gardens and Tiger hill which is a large beautiful garden with a huge pagoda. It gets its name from the legend of King Wu who buried his father on top of the hill and after three days a white tiger appeared to guard the tomb.
Wandering around Pingjiang road alongside the canals is the perfect way to spend the afternoon, shop for some souvenirs and enjoy the scenery. A boat ride between the canals would be perfect too.
Yangshuo, Guilin, Xingping
These are amazing towns with breathtaking views and nature, you must definitely add them to your plan.
The main connection to these towns is Guilin international airport and train station. The fastest way to reach it from Shanghai is by plane, the flight takes around two hours and a half. The train trip to Guilin is around nine hours. We planned one day and a half between Yangshuo and Xingping. Yangshuo train station is closest to Xingping town that’s why we decided to stay there. You might want to stay in Guilin or Yangshuo depending on the activities you decide to do.
From Xingping, we took a motorbike to spend the day in Yangshuo, they are easily rented and you don’t need a driving license for that. The plan was to go to Li River for a bamboo ride and then wander around West Street. We had a hard time reaching the river but we got lucky we were there right on time for sunset. We got to take the best photos of Fuli bridge. Keep in mind that the motorbike needs to be recharged once you reach Yangshuo because you’ll need the full battery to come back. If it’s not possible be prepared to spend the night there and come back the next day.
West street is the best entertainment for the night. There are many handicraft and souvenir shops, restaurants, bars, and street food. It’s the kind of streets I love the most. It’s full of life and lights.
On the next morning, we went on a 35 minutes hike to the top of Laozhai mountain in Xingping. The start is just on the bay, the track is easy, just be ready to climb some narrow stairs at the top. The view is totally worth it!
To reach Macau, we also took the train to Zhuhai station. We planned one full day which can be enough if your plan is tight.
Walk around the city center and visit its famous sites to enjoy the fusion between Chinese & Portuguese cultures. Anything can be found there such as souvenir shops, churches, temples and restaurants.. Senado Square is the center of it all!
You can enjoy amazing views of the city just in front of the Church of our Lady of Penha or from Macau Tower. The church is easily reached from the city center and it’s in a beautiful and peaceful location.
At night, enjoy some shopping at the Venetian Macau and visit the mini Eiffel Tower at the Parisian Macau. If you’ve never been to Vegas, it would be a great experience.
Check my post “One Day in Macau” for more details about what to do in Macau:
There are definitely many more cities to explore and you really need a lot of time to discover China. Don’t make a full time plan as there are places that are far and you need time to reach them. And also many places are huge and exploring them may take a day if you are the kind of the person that don’t like to miss a single part. Be ready to walk a lot. You may not enjoy Chinese food. This was our case, we found some good restaurants but also didn’t like the food many times since we are not used to it.
Overall, China was a great adventure that cannot be forgotten especially that it introduced us to the Asian culture.