In November 2018, I spent a week in China brushing up on my knowledge of this enormous but endlessly fascinating country. I stayed in two cities – Beijing and Xian, and from these bases, visited some amazing attractions.
Tiananmen Square – one of the largest public squares in the world which is said to hold a capacity crowd of over one million. It houses not only the monument to the Peoples Heroes but is also the final resting place of Chairman Mao himself in the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.
Forbidden City – a UNESCO World Heritage site and centre of the sacred Chinese empire for 500 years. It is a vast complex of over 900 beautifully decorated gates and pavilions covering 180 acres.
Hutongs – a traditional suburb built in the 13th century which reflected the Chinese system of Feng Shui with four hutongs joined together around a central courtyard. The grey buildings and roofs were not as colourful as the imperial buildings with their bright colours and gold trimmings. Here we joined a local family for lunch crowded around a table in their front room and were entertained by the man of the house on a traditional Erhu which is a bit like a 2-string upright violin.
The Great Wall – 1.5 to 2 hours away from Beijing where we were greeted by beautiful blue skies that framed the wall bringing to life all the pictures I had seen before. The climb was very steep and the steps are all different sizes but you can go at your own pace stopping along the way. Arriving early was a good idea as it meant we missed the crowds.
Summer Palace – a holiday retreat for Emperors where the beautiful gardens are set around a huge manmade lake with decorated arches and pagodas dotted around. Walking The Long Corridor, one of the world’s longest outdoor passageways – intricately decorated and leading to the Marble Boat Tea House was a must.
Temple of Heaven – set in a 267-hectare park this is one of the most perfect examples of Ming architecture, created as a place of worship for the Emperors. Local people were relaxing and playing chess here – I even joined in some Tai Chi.
Terracotta Warriors – one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the 20th century found by a local farmer. Over 7,000 life sized soldiers, horses and chariots buried with the Emperor Qin Shi Huang to defend him in the afterlife. Chengdu – As the train finished its 3-hour journey from Xian to Chengdu, I thought the pandas and Chengdu would be a bit of an anti-climax after everything else we had seen. I was wrong!
The Panda Conservation Centre has over 80 pandas, varying in age. The park is set to resemble the mountain and forest regions in North Sichuan – where the Giant Pandas are from – with extensive bamboo trees all around. I spent so much time just watching these fantastic creatures play and eat. The nursey was a treat watching the baby pandas try to walk, climb and play.
The food in Chengdu was also very different to the other cities. It was far spicier with the influence of Szechuan peppers (although a little too spicy for me as I like milder flavours).
One of the biggest surprises for me was the sheer size of Chinese cities are, making journey times longer than you expect. For example, the population in Chengdu is 14 million: almost double that of London!
Time Difference: +8 hours
Currency: Yuan: £1 = approx. ¥9
Flying Time: 10-12 hours
· Pack tea bags, coffee, biscuits, sweets and crisps as there are not many places that serve British style tea and Chinese snacks are very different to what we are used to with a lot less sugar.
· China is a shopper’s paradise and great value for money: credit cards are widely accepted so take a suitcase bigger than you need to bring your shopping back!