I recently had the pleasure of doing a self-drive tour…
Flying through Seattle to get to Beijing was a pretty easy journey, 2 ½ hours to Seattle, then 10 ¾ hours to Beijing. We were met right off the plane by the Ritz Carlton, our Meet/Greet guided us through the airport, then a short 30 minute ride to the Ritz Carlton. Still a bit jet lagged, and not too hungry, we wanted to catch up on our sleep before our touring started in the morning.
The day started with a great buffet breakfast at the Aroma Restaurant, then off to the buses for our morning touring. After a ½ hour ride through the city we arrived at Tiananmen Square, and from there we walked through the square and headed for the Forbidden City. It’s amazing how many people just flow through the area. After dinner we went to the Red Theater for a Kung Fu show. Many people liked it, but it’s something I would do if you had a free night.
The next day our first stop was the Temple of Heaven. Again, it’s amazing how many people just roam through these public areas in Beijing. As we walked through the area we were watching everyone workout, exercise, play games, etc. (something like a Venice beach on steroids)….we continued to walk until we reached the Temple of Heaven, and, while at the top, our guide, Rocky, found a woman practicing Tai Chi, and asked for her to help teach us the movements, so she did. The people are very nice and accommodating here, and, as Americans, they are very interested in us. They seem to watch us walk around, and they like taking pictures of us, too.
From the Temple of Heaven we drove to a Hutong village where each couple got into a rickshaw that took us through the village. We walked the last short bit to the home we were having lunch in. Very small and local, not a tourist place at all, and, at first we were all a little concerned about eating there. We sat at 2 small tables with 8 of us at each. Well, after days of eating Chinese food, today’s home-cooked lunch was the best so far.
Next stop, The Great Wall of China, another 2 hour drive and we arrived at the Badaling entrance to the Great Wall. This is a very special place and something that everyone should visit.
Before leaving Beijing, we did go to the Beijing Zoo to see the Pandas, but, honestly they are kind of lazy and just sit around, something to miss, and not really worth the time. There are other places in China where you are more interactive with the Pandas. Before our flight to Xi’an we stopped a “Soho” type area of Beijing called the 798 Art District. The area is full of funky art stores and clothing stores. Our little group of 6 decided it was time for some Pizza and beer, a little “American” break in the middle of China. The restaurants and cafes in the area are really cool, and they all looked like a great place to eat.
Today we headed to the Museum of the Terra-cotta Warriors. Due to traffic the drive took us almost 2 ½ hours. We visited 3 different buildings and all 3 were great. This really exceeded my expectations, as the entire trip so far…….on the way back we stopped at a very touristy place to have yet another Chinese buffet, the Blue Flyer restaurant. But, we stopped there because it seems to be the best place in the area to eat. Less traffic on the way back so it only took us 1 ½ hours to get back. We did stop by the “City Wall.” From the top of the wall you have a great view of the surrounding city, and, if you rent a bike you can ride around the wall. Today ended with a dinner show featuring songs and dances of the Tang Dynasty. The dinner and show were great and something I would recommend if time permits in Xi’an.
Before heading to the airport we stopped for a visit to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, then a traditional dumpling lunch, then off to the airport for a 1 hour flight to Chongqing (the largest city in the world) to board the Century Legend for our 3 night Yangtze River cruise.
Our first day on the boat was spent cruising the Yangtze River. Late afternoon we did have the chance to get off the ship and walk through town and to the Shibao Pagoda. We walked up 9 floors, for a total of 99 wooden steps, not including some other steps to get to the top. The wooden steps are very steep, hot and crowded, but worth the trip. The bridge to get over to the island where the pagoda is, is a suspension bridge that really sways while you walk on it.
Day 2 on the boat was when we began cruising the Three Gorges region. The first Gorge was the Quatang Gorge, next was the Wu Gorge, where we ended up at the Goddess stream. We got off here and each group went to a small covered Sampan boat where we got to explore one of the tributaries of the Yangtze. We were out for just a little less than 2 hours and it was great to get to see this beautiful scenery a little closer. We also had a local guide on the boat with us that really added to our excursion, as each guide does on each tour. Boarding the boat again we continued down the river. After dinner, about 10:30pm, we began going through the locks to lower us to the river below. There are 5 steps to this lock system and you go from one to the next. It’s truly an amazing place. To get through the entire lock system takes about 3 ½ hours, so much of the night there were the sounds of the lock system.
Our last day, day 3 on the boat, started with a tour of the Three Gorges Dam. We saw the dam, the 5 steps of the lock and the area where they are building the “Ship Elevator.” To go through the lock system is free and takes over 3 ours, the elevator will take only about 40 minutes and there will be a charge.
Back to the boat to cruise the final of the 3 gorges, Xiling Gorge, then off the ship at 3 pm for the 1+ hour drive to Yi Chang airport. All checked in and at the gate we found out, yet again, that our flight was a little delayed. We finally boarded, but were then told there was fog in Shanghai so we would be waiting a little. While still at the gate they began food and drink service, so we knew we were in for a long wait. After almost 2 hours on the plane they let us get off, and over an hour later they cancelled they flight. Uniworld had arranged rooms for us at the Crowne Plaza in Yi Chang, but that was a 40 minute ride away. After waiting for the busses to get back to the airport and then drive and check-in to the hotel, we got to bed about 1:30am and back up at 5am for a 6am departure back to the airport. After checking bags, and going through security we again were delayed, and boarded at about 8am with a planned 8:30am takeoff. Well, due to the flight cancellations last night there was a backup at Shanghai airport again, and, to our dismay, the flight attendants began food service at the gate again…ugh! Well after 1 ½ hours at the gate we finally took off for Shanghai and were at our hotel for lunch at 1pm. Since we missed a day in Shanghai we were now offered a choice of 4 tours. We could only take 1 now since our time was cut short, but we had a choice of all the planned tours. We took the tour to the Old City, (sort of like a huge China town area) where we walked through the streets and shopped. Back to the hotel, we then walked along “The Bund,” the waterfront area of Shanghai and then headed over to Nanjing Road, the “shopping street.” Nanjing Road is ½ cars and then a few blocks away from The Bund becomes a walking street. It’s almost like a 3rd street promenade area with a Chinese flare. We definitely made good use of our short time in Shanghai. We decided to not attend the Acrobatic show and opted for a Chinese dinner at the Waldorf Astoria, where we were staying. We had a great dinner, and a perfect end to a great trip!
– Steve Orens, President