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Old 09.09.2010, 15:17
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Tell me about China

I am flying to China in a few weeks time (September) for a holiday.
We are flying into Shanghai, then taking the train to Beijing and then onto Xi'an before flying back to holey cheese land from Shanghai.

I know there are some people on the forum who are either Chinese or who have travelled to China a few times, so I thought I would ask for advice.
What should I be seeing, what will the weather be like, what is good to eat (or conversely what should I avoid), what are the trains like etc.

EDIT: To be more specific

I have heard a lot about local beer, and in particular black beers which are supposed to be good - comment
Pick pocketing, I don't like money belts but I have been told it can be bad in Beijing and Xi'an
Should I be taking shorts?
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Old 09.09.2010, 15:37
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Re: Tell me about China

Shanghai...great city and place can drive you crazy (traffic, buildings, bridges etc...). Visit the french concession (old district).

Maglev train from airport to city is worth trying (400km/h).
If you have time go to Suzhou and Hangzhou.
There are many tourist scams especially with taxi and young girls wanting to practice english.
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Old 09.09.2010, 15:38
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Re: Tell me about China

Planty, the weather will be pleasantly cool in Shanghai and Beijing during this period. A light jacket and scarf for the evening should suffice.

Of course in Beijing the must-dos are the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven and the Great Wall.

For the Great Wall itself, there are 3 gates - Ba Da Ling, Mu Tian Yu and Si Ma Tai. The first being the closest, and most touristy (smells of pee!!!!) to Beijing City. I've visited all three and I love the Si Ma Tai Gate best. Its rustic, least preserved and definitely the most accurate picture of how the Wall was really like back then. But of course its the furthest (2 hours by car from Beijing city) and physically most challenging. Not really recommended if you are travelling with children. I will dig up my driver contact who took me out there - it was a one day trip and cost me approx 150 chuffs in total (if I remember correctly) - if you are keen to visit that gate. He was a great guide but cant remember if he spoke English. Very reliable and none of those hidden "extras", or surprise trips to the shopping warehouses where he gets a commission. Lots of them do that so beware if you are booking private taxis for the day.

Some other tips I can give you for Beijing:

1. Visit the hutongs - you can easily arrange for the tours on the Net.
They are fast disappearing as the government is modernising the city. But it was fantastic experience, experiencing the authentic Beijing.

2. Visit Hou Hai (The Back Lakes) after you're done with the hutongs. Full of bars and great restaurants. My ex colleague took me there in the evenings and it was absolutely heaving. Soong Chi Ling's (wife of Sun Yat Sen) former residence is also located there.

3. Peking Duck: the roast duck in Dong Cheng district is the best duck I've ever tasted in my life. Restaurant is called Da Dong. Alternatively, the famous chain Quan Ju De is pretty authentic. Go google and go to their flagship restaurant (7 storeys high!) if you can.

4. Take taxis. They are dirt cheap. Do try and get the chinese version of your destination and show it to the drivers. Hotels will have them - get the concierge to tell the driver where you want to go. Some of them can be unscrupulous, taking you on longer rides if you are a foreigner (I am Asian and they tried it on me just because my Mandarin didnt have a Beijing accent). And ALWAYS ask them to turn on the meter and say that you want a receipt at the end when you get on. The receipts will have the cab driver's licence details if you feel like you've been taken on a longer route and some drivers miraculously, and suddenly "dont speak any English" when there's a dispute.

I cant rave enough about Beijing. I've been there a few times - thrice for work and once for leisure. Will definitely go back again in a heartbeat. Cant say that Shanghai holds the same magic and charm for me unfortunately. In their haste to modernise and keep up with the Western world, alot of its old charm's lost. The must-sees are the Bund, Yu Yuan (Garden of Contentment) and Jin Mao tower for stunning views of the city. Will add more if I can think of anything else.

PM me and I am happy to show you the pictures.
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Last edited by summerrain; 09.09.2010 at 15:56.
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Old 09.09.2010, 15:46
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Re: Tell me about China

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I am flying to China in a few weeks time (September) for a holiday.
We are flying into Shanghai
My daughter (age 20) flew to Shanghai a few months ago, she said she absolutely hated the place and would never go again. Her list of complaints was long.

Personally, I've never been there.
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Old 09.09.2010, 15:54
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Re: Tell me about China

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My daughter (age 20) flew to Shanghai a few months ago, she said she absolutely hated the place and would never go again. Her list of complaints was long.

Personally, I've never been there.
It depends what you're looking for. I think Shanghai is more for feeling the beat and pulse of "new/modern china" and to make good shopping deals.
If you want more of cultural aspects, then go outside Shanghai to Suzhou or Hangzhou, or Beijing.
I found Beijing great and you see more chinese diversity in terms of population, but people are more closed, conservative than in Shanghai. I liked Shanghai for the human dimension.
Planthead where is your interest? If you want I can provide you with a document from Univ. StGallen that we used to prepare our trip (cultural, historical, economical background). If you need to make business suits, I have also a good address
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Old 09.09.2010, 15:57
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Re: Tell me about China

Not much to see in Shanghai except of "generic modern towers". Is it a guided tour or are you on your own?

If you are flexible, I would leave Shanghai behind quickly (the city is really cool, but not in a touristic way and "lifestyle" is something very hard to experience in a couple of days...). I would rather visit the far more historic Suzhou nearby - very nice gardens and parks to visit.

I spent four weeks in Beijing on my first trip to China and went there another five times - I believe I still miss some tourisitic sites. While the forbidden city, summer palace and great wall are the top three every tourist needs to go to, my personal favourites are:

- yonghegong: a huge and very impressive Tibetan Buddhist temple. Probably not what a good communist would visit first, but seeing the century old ties between the Chinese emperor and the Dalai Lama puts some perspective into some of the frankly uninformed myths I heard over here - and the Buddha is if I remeber correctly the largets carved out of a single tree and very impressive.



- beihai park: a huge park in the city center - if you climb to the pagoda and the weather is nice you have a great view over the roofs of the forbidden city

If you do want to go for some drinks: Bars are a pretty new concept in China as you would traditionally drink with a dinner in a restaurant. Every tourist guide will first mention "Sanlitun" as it was the first "bar street". Houhai park is a far nicer place to go out in the evenings.
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Old 09.09.2010, 16:01
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Re: Tell me about China

I spend 2-3 months/yr in Xi'an (have done since 2008).

I never had any problems in Xi'an with crime or criminality - nor in Beijing or Shanghai. (I hear that the majority of crime is performed in Shenzhen - but my sources wouldn't want me to quote them)

My Chinese friends on the coast refer to Xi'an as the "wild west". I lived in Shenzhen for 1 year in 2002. Since then, Shenzhen has changed rapidly, to become more Westernised. Xi'an in 2010 reminds me of Shenzhen in 2002.

Culturally, I've been disappointed with every city I've visited in China... but the people, without exception, especially in the outback, have been nothing but friendly.

Only one piece of advice. But it will save your life...
  • In Xi'an, look both ways before crossing, especially on one-way streets. Ignore the pedestrian green signal at crossings, traffic lights are merely a "recommendation", not an instruction. I'll take a rain check on the beer that you'll owe me when the first juggernaut whizzes past your nose, going the wrong way...
/GD
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Old 09.09.2010, 16:11
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Re: Tell me about China

The Summer Palace in Beijing was a highlight for me.

Oh, and don't forget to catch a few episodes of Sexy Beijing before you go! http://www.sexybeijing.tv/new/default.aspx (thanks Hsiang).
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  #9  
Old 09.09.2010, 16:11
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Re: Tell me about China

Summerrain's post sums Beijing up. I couldn't have put it better.

I agree with vwild's daughter. They haven't left much worth seeing in Shanghai. Apart from the Bund, it's just another city in Asia. Some of the things summerrain left off the Shanghai list are the Shanghai museum, though the best museums for Chinese artifacts are the Palace Museum in Beijing and the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Depending on how long you're in Shanghai, a day trip to Hangzhou would be worthwhile.
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  #10  
Old 09.09.2010, 16:15
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Re: Tell me about China

Not been to Xi'an. Beijing is a fantastic city - just do everything summerrain suggested.

If you have time and want to see the Chinese desperately trying to express themselves, go to the 798 Art District. Loads of galleries; cool, interesting, educated people to chat to (who won't just shout "HELLO! HELLO!" all the time.

Don't go to Badaling to see the great wall; pick one of the other two loctions summerrain listed.

Shanghai wasn't my cup of tea, but I would still go there just to eat. Eat steamed dumplings in the old town. Skip the French Concession area (imo - but most people seem to love it). Make sure if you do take the Maglev train you check the times; at some times during the day it doesn't run at full speed in which case I imagine it'd be a disappointment. If you don't have time to see the 798 art district in Beijing, Shanghai copied it with "M50 Creative Community".

Trains are great. If you're on your own, go for a "hard sleeper" and get to know people.

Eat, eat and eat. Eat everything. Shanghai specialities are the steamed dumplings (in pinyin: xiao long bao) with soup inside. Yummy. In Beijing, it's the duck (Da Dong is still highly rated) but dirty street side stalls also do great food. Have a "jian bing" for breakfast. It's like a crepe, but with fermented bean curd paste I love it.

Xi'an is meant to be famous for jiaozi (another type of dumplings - moon shaped) but I don't see how they'd be different to the ones in Beijing. However, as I say, I've never been.

一路平安!
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Old 09.09.2010, 16:20
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Re: Tell me about China

Shanghai... great food and girls everywhere (in the hotels, on the main streets) asking foreigners if they want a massage. Btw, stay away from some of the shadier massage parlors and hair-cut places. Get a massage at a "nice" place, though - it is worth it!
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Old 09.09.2010, 16:23
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Re: Tell me about China

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Xi'an is meant to be famous for jiaozi (another type of dumplings - moon shaped) but I don't see how they'd be different to the ones in Beijing. However, as I say, I've never been.
Absolutely! Jiaozi! But only eat the ones that float.

I was even invited to someone's house in Xi'an, where his wife taught me to prepare Jiaozi - that's how friendly it gets in Xi'an - take along a few small gifts with you (z.B. Toblerone), for when it inevitably happens to you, too.

I think that "hotpot" is also a famous Shaanxi dish (effectively, a fondue, but with boiling water, rather than cheese...).

/GD
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Old 09.09.2010, 16:28
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Re: Tell me about China

Ive lived , gave birth and worked 4 years in Shanghai..lots have been said on here about this city.. what I 've missed is the Expo 2010..if you can get some ticket go there. September will still be a nice and warm.. not so humid so perfect! if you have time go to the fabric market and get as few things done..but it's obviously better if you can go with someone who knows...
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Old 09.09.2010, 16:32
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Re: Tell me about China

I have been in both Beijing and Xian and really loved both - but Beijing was better. I saw no sign of crime - but tourist traps are a plenty.

I would like to recommend the hotel that I stayed in, it was in the Hutong area which was just fantastic, I saw the area with the 5 stars and it was surrounded by pizza hut etc - not my cup of tea.


http://www.bbgh.com.cn/index.html

This place was great, after you have done your sight seeing have a drink in the bar at night, it is just adorable, enjoy China!

Last edited by panda; 09.09.2010 at 16:32. Reason: major typo
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Old 09.09.2010, 16:33
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Re: Tell me about China

Here are the pictures of the Si Ma Tai gate - as you can see, we almost had the whole place to ourselves despite getting there near noon. Was the most amazing feeling. Very different from the Ba Da Ling gate (even Si Ma Tai was crowded) where you get harassed to buy post cards, local momentos, people peeing wherever they like.

And a tip if you plan to go to this one: take the cable cars (see third picture below) where it will take you to the middle tower. There are a total of 12 towers so you can either choose to descend either way. It was closed because we were there in the dead of winter (whole lake froze over) and we had to climb from the first tower.

FML





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Old 09.09.2010, 16:34
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Re: Tell me about China

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Planthead where is your interest? If you want I can provide you with a document from Univ. StGallen that we used to prepare our trip (cultural, historical, economical background). If you need to make business suits, I have also a good address
I am mainly there to look at history. I've got a list of British history stuff I want to see. Any info you have is always welcome.

Edit: That is a little colonialist, any history really and food.

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Is it a guided tour or are you on your own?
Just me and the misses wandering around. Trains are already booked but other than that I have arranged nothing (apart from hotels)

There is the world trade fair in Shanghai as well I think, which I will go have a look at.
Thankfully we aren't planning on staying in Shanghai for very long, which sounds like the right decision.

To be honest it is the spitting I am dreading.
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Old 09.09.2010, 16:37
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Re: Tell me about China

Foodwise: The cities have everything and I would not only go for the "touristic specialities". My favourite Jiaozi place was in a street that hade to make space for a new shopping center - this currently happens a lot... so more general:
- The obvious roasted duck
- Dumplings, lots of them and all varieties (espeically in Shanghai while I still recommend to check out Suzhou instead...)
- In Northern China lives a big Korean community and you can find Chinese-Korean BBQ everywhere in Beijing and more north (so I guess in Xian as well). I absolutely love it.
- There are tons of specialities, in Beijing you have to try the hot pot (which I believe is originally Mongolian)
- I had some great lamb stews that are a speciality of the Chinese Muslims. (The restaurants are not as common as hot pot or Korean ones, but you can spot them by the Arabic-looking signs and decoration...)

Edit: Colonial history would obviously be then Nanjing instead of Shanghai. It is nearby. I found the museum for the 1937 massacre very moving and unlike many other war-related stuff very taste- and tactful.
http://www.nj1937.org/english/default.asp
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Old 09.09.2010, 16:38
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Re: Tell me about China

I spent a week for business in Hangzhou - superB! - not sure that it's a really accurate Chinese experience, but the lake is gorgeous, the shopping is fun (even at tourist rip-off prices - I paid $8 for a set of real silk (tested when we got home) pyjamas for my daughter...

The food's fabulous. The pollution is the worst you will see anywhere in the air, but Hangzhou is pretty clean on the ground.

I find the chinese people generally very polite, and I love the way that even though there's millions of people, they don't bump into you...not like India or even Europe...20 people can get into a lift compartment and no one pushes or jostles, and everyone makes sure that everyone else can get out again...at least, that was my experience, although I was 30 weeks pregnant at the time so perhaps I was somewhat of an 'exhibit'....

Did I say how much I loved the food !

Shanghai, is incredibly overwhelming...all other advice given is accurate - make sure you have the address of your hotel or destination written in Chinese characters, and if possible, book a reliable tour guide.
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Old 09.09.2010, 16:53
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Re: Tell me about China

If you are on a street market selling snacks, ask for chòu dòufu. A unique experience.
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Old 09.09.2010, 16:55
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Re: Tell me about China

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To be honest it is the spitting I am dreading.
Join in. Its extremely liberating.

Just remember to be on the alert for the throat gurgling "currrrrrrr" sound and be quick to jump out of harm's way. hur hur hur
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