2016 China Tour Hosted by Air China and Express Travel Group By Monica
On Friday 21st October 2016, Eight retail agents from Victoria and New South Wales, and myself, departed Melbourne on a 7-day tour of China. As a first time traveller to the Chinese mainland I was extremely excited. Walking the Great Wall of China had always been on my ‘list of things to do’. This experience was included in our itinerary, and it did not disappoint.
Upon arrival at Melbourne Airport we were greeted by Irene Yin from Air China and Vinh La from Express Travel Group. Irene commenced our introduction to the Air China experience by Inviting us to use the Air New Zealand airport lounge. Air China are a member of Star Alliance so you can access the lounges of partner airlines. On our flight to Beijing we travelled in economy class. The service and food on-board were both very good. In-flight we were provided with options for both western and Asian cuisines as well as Chinese and English inflight entertainment.
After 11 hours, we landed to schedule in Beijing. Beijing Airport itself was a highlight. This is one of the world’s busiest airports. The newest terminal, terminal 3, is extremely modern, easy to get around and provides signage in both English and Chinese. Visually the roof incorporates colours in both light and dark tones, including red, the Chinese colour for good luck. There are also many displays which represent various attractions within the city. The best part about Terminal 3 is the food service area which is called the ‘global kitchen’, all culinary options are available. The list goes on (did I mention the rail link into the city centre?).
Three words to describe my initial thoughts of Beijing; BIG, CLEAN AND GREEN? Not sure what I was expecting but I did not imagine there to be so many tree lined streets. Sure, the city is so developed that you find it hard to comprehend the endless horizon of high rise and concrete, but, I could not help but also notice the effort to try and counteract that by expansive planting that visually creates a green streetscape. It was a very pleasant surprise.
I must also mention our incredible guide from CBT Holidays, Jacky Wan or Jacky Chan as we all fondly called him. Over the next 2 days Jacky shared with us his knowledge of Chinese culture, history and architecture. He also introduced us to the term ‘Big Nose’. Chinese people refer to white western folk as big nose because according to them, our honkers are massive! Following Jacky around for 2 days was one of the highlights of this trip. We were all very sad to say goodbye to our tour guide extraordinaire.
Here are some of the highlights Jacky shared with us in two days;
First stop breakfast. The first of 7 Chinese breakfasts on our trip. We ate in a 4 story ’24- hour breakfast restaurant called Jin Ding Xuan. The feast included no less than eight options of dumplings of various kinds, Chinese tea and soft yummy fresh pork buns.
Just when I thought my day could not get any better we were zipped off to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. This was a pinch yourself, selfie kind of moment. Jacky had pre-warned us to wear comfortable shoes. Glad I listened, as it took us more than 4 hours to
explore this incredible world heritage listed site. It was worth every blister. Still recovering from breakfast, we were then escorted to Mi Xia Restaurant. This reminded me of a hip, Armadale eatery. Again, very nice. No afternoon Siesta for us. Back on the bus and off to our hotel for a 1-hour kip. The evening included some more incredible food and then off to the Beijing Li Yuan Theatre for some Chinese Opera. Hmmm, not sure how to describe this. If you are in Beijing, I highly recommend you go. It must be seen to be believed. The traditional costumes were amazing.
Hotel: Jianguo Hotel Beijing, Chaoyang. Beautiful 4-star hotel. Similar standard as a 5-star hotel in Australia. Very traditional foyer with a magnificent Chinese water garden. I would highly recommend an inward facing balcony room. Views over the tranquil water garden are very soothing after a big day of sightseeing.
Day 2: 5:45am walke up call L
Could not eat a dumpling this morning. Body craving toast. Jianguo Hotel provided. J Coffee too. Back on the bus and off on our two-hour road trip to the Great Wall. Again, Jacky spent a substantial amount of time sharing wonderful stories about life in China whilst stopping to point out attractions along the way. Wonderful to see ‘The Birds Nest’ and the Olympic rings from the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
We arrived at a section of the Great Wall just after 9am. Very excited to actually see it. After photos and selfies, we commenced our climb. This is when the group started to break up as the wall challenges all fitness levels. The path is unsteady under foot and extremely steep.
For those who were not up for the climb, the view from the bottom was still amazing and best of all, there was a coffee shop serving tea (??) for those who could not make the journey. I pushed myself and made it to the upper gift shop where I purchased a fridge magnet and sat and enjoyed the view.
Back on the bus and away we went to the Summer Palace. Surprisingly this was my favourite attraction on the entire trip. Probably because you leave the chaos of the city and disappear behind the city gates to the most beautiful tranquil garden and lake. Once inside Jacky had organised a special surprise for us. We were greeted by Eric, a Tai Chi specialist who guided us through a Tai Chi session. My Chi was most definitely balanced after this experience. We said our goodbyes to Eric and headed down the 700-metre-long corridor to our awaiting Dragon Boat to take us out on the lake.
Having one of the best days ever is tiring stuff. Back on the bus to our hotel. Quick rest and change and then off to Beijing’s best duck restaurant to enjoy the traditional dish of the city, Peking Duck. Da Dong Restaurant is a very well-known Beijing duck restaurant. So well-known that the King of Cambodia, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton have all been patrons there.
Food highlight for me.
Back to Beijing airport for our flight to Chengdu. Air Asia provided good on-board service. Initially, Chengdu took a while to grab my attention. Very different to Beijing, warmer too. Upon landing the city was blanked in a misty haze, but the temperature was warm and balmy. Chengdu only enjoys around 65 days of sunlight a year and today was not one of
them. Chengdu is in the South West Sichuan province of China. Our first stop was the Panda Research Centre. This is the base for giant Panda breeding. The centre started with only 6 giant pandas who were rescued from the wild. Since 1987 that number has increased dramatically. I was shocked to discover that there are fewer than 1800 pandas alive worldwide. So, lovely to see the Red Panda’s too.
That night we visited the historic alleys of Jinli Ancient Street. Market stalls and hawker food and historic architecture helped me develop a fondness for Chengdu. The traditional food is spicy hot, lots of red chillies used in most dishes. To end a great day, we enjoyed a traditional Sichuan Hot Pot on Jinli Street. Traditional Sichuan Hot Pot dinner is a cross between sushi train and Korean BBQ.
Hotel: Tibet Hotel Chengdu
A 4-star hotel with a Tibetan theme. Very spacious rooms which included an entry foyer, king bed and bathroom with a separate bath and shower. The highlight here was the incredible breakfast buffet. Everything you could imagine and want, both western and Chinese was catered to.
Today we took a two hour drive out of the city through a more regional landscape to Mount Quingchen. Mount Quingchen is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is believed that this is the birthplace of the origins of Taoism. The day was enjoyed hiking through tropical mountains with fresh waterfalls, hill side villages, and temples. Some of the highlights included catching the dragon boat across the lake at the top of the range and then catching the cable car to the top of Mount Quingchen. That evening we ate at a traditional Tibetan restaurant (more chillies). I am pleased to say that I was named the person on tour who could tolerate the hottest Sichuan Hot Pot. My initial uncertainty about Chengdu had completely eased. It has so much to offer.
Today we boarded another flight with Air Asia to Shanghai. Wow! This city is incredible. So, modern and growing bigger and bigger by the second. It has to be seen to be believed. Eight ‘big nosed women’ in Shanghai had one longing – time to shop. We were released like a pack of wild animals onto Nanjing Road for 2 hours. If you can picture a pack of drooling hyenas released onto the savannah, that was us, scooping and devouring every sale sign in sight. With business class seats booked for our return journey, there was no end or limit to the destruction we could cause. I know we did other things on this day and ate wonderful food too, but sadly all I can remember is the shopping J
Hotel: Central Hotel Shanghai. 5-star hotel close to Nanjing Road. Deluxe suites have a separate bedroom with King bed, lounge room and large spacious bathrooms with both shower and separate bath. Fantastic location right in the heart of Shanghai’s best shopping district.
A day at the happiest place on Earth. Shanghai Disneyland. This Disney offering only opened
its castle doors in July 2016. Having been to other Asian Disney’s including Tokyo and Hong
Kong the thing that impressed me about this one was the free Disney town just outside of the main gates. Those who either don’t want to go inside or can’t afford the ticket price can still enjoy shopping and dining and some Disney entertainment (on selected days) just outside the main gates. I was not brave enough for Tron but it did look good. My pick of the day was the Incredible Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Soring Over the Horizon was another favourite. As the mother of two girls I could not leave without a visit to the Frozen show.
Hmmm, totally in Chinese, no idea what they were saying but Olaf was pretty cute. The park is massive. We arrived at 9:30am. Our bus was the last bus in the car park at 9pm and we did not even feel like we scratched the surface.
Our last day. Today we got to discover the Bund and view some of the colonial architecture from early British Settlement in Shanghai. Today was very overcast so our trip to the top of Shanghai Tower, although interesting, was disappointing due to cloud cover. I think this would be wonderful on a clear day. After this we spent a few hours exploring the old city of Shanghai and spent an hour walking through the ancient Yu Gardens. This is a must when visiting Shanghai as it provides an opportunity to experience the history that is not immediately apparent in this modern city.
Our seven-day tour of China was sadly over. To help lessen the disappointment Air China and Express Travel Group were treating us with Business class seats for our return journey to Melbourne. Very much enjoyed the Air China business class lounge in Shanghai. The business class cabin and service of Air China was very good, flat beds, great food and amenities. The best part about flying with the national Chinese airline was feeling immersed in Chinese culture from the minute you board your flight in Melbourne.
This trip has inspired me to one day see more of China. Jacky Chan mentioned the China Ice and Snow tours that sound amazing in Northern China. Who knows I might even venture further one day to Inner Mongolia or maybe even Tibet.
Panda Research Centre, Chengdu
The Great Wall of China, Beijing
The Forbidden City, Beijing and Jinli Ancient Street, Chengdu