China 2020 – Itinerary – Shanghai

Our final area to explore will be the city of Shanghai and the surrounding region.

Last stop – Shanghai

From Guilin, we fly to the east coast and the city of Shanghai. It’s a 794 mi / 1278 km journey and the flight should take between 2 and 3 hours.

We should not feel lonely in Shanghai. With a population of over 24 million people, we should have plenty of company wherever we go. I believe it is the second most populous city in the world, trailing only Dehli, India.

We will be staying four nights at the venerable Fairmont Peace Hotel. It is located in the area known as the Bund, which stretches along the shore of the Huangpu River and lies across from the modern Shanghai skyline. The area is renowned for its art deco styling and tree lined streets.

The city is considered very upscale and international in nature. Lots of financial institutions make their home there and we’re told that every luxury brand is represented in the shopping district. You can also find food choices from all over the world! We’re definitely looking forward to the mix of old and new and Chinese and International throughout the city.

The surrounding region will also provide a chance for some day trips. Two areas in particular are Suzhou and Tongli. Suzhou is known for its beautiful gardens and silk production, while Tongli is referred by many as the Venice of China. Both look like beautiful places to visit. Once we have a chance to look at train schedules, we can decide how adventurous we will be.

Shanghai is our last stop, so after what we hope is an amazing experience, we will be flying back to Toronto and then shuffling back to Buffalo.

So that’s a look at our itinerary. Hopefully this little peek will give you an idea of what we’re looking forward to and whet your appetite to also visit or at least follow along with our blog updates. What do you think of the itinerary?

All that’s left is to cross your fingers and hope for sunshine to accompany us on our journey.

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So here we are in mid-March and a pandemic has been declared. While the virus seems to have peaked in China, it is now spreading like crazy worldwide. Italy, South Korea, Iran and the US seem to be the hardest hit areas, with others close behind. But that may just be because so many others haven’t tested their people yet – like the US.

We’re still hopeful, but definitely not stupidly so. There is so much to consider. First and foremost on our minds is if the Chinese even issue a Visa when the US is in the middle of an outbreak. Why would they want to re-introduce the illness from abroad?

Then there is the issue of being quarantined. Will we have to be quarantined when we arrive and what about when we get home? Since we’ll be leaving from Canada, we may have an issue there as well as when we return to the US.

Watching the illness map change daily, I think that our “Plan B” has been changed to staying home. With the whole world a little crazy right now, we might be better off waiting and just enjoying a so-called “stay-cation” and then venture out next year. (Did I really just say that?)

Cross your fingers, say a prayer and most of all — Stay Healthy!!

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China 2020 – Itinerary – Guilin, Yangshou & Longji

Continuing on, we next head southeast to the area around the city of Guilin.

Our itinerary locations are indicated by the stars. Hubei Province and the city of Wuhan are inside the circle.

We will be flying from Chengdu to the city of Guilin. The distance between the two is 855km or 531mi and the flight should take about one and a half hours. The trains between the two take about 7hrs, so that wasn’t a good choice for this leg of the trip.

Over the next four days, we will be moving through a picturesque section of southern China in the Guangxi Province. This region is famed for its beautiful scenery – green fields, caves and interesting rock formations – which border the Li River.

We start off in the city of Guilin where we will be staying at the Shangri-La Hotel for one night. We won’t have much time to really see a lot of Guilin as we leave the next day on a river boat cruise on the Li River to Yangshuo. The cruise is about 4.5 hours and will give us views that promise to be photo-rific! We’ll be staying for two nights at the Li River Resort in Yangshuo. On the fourth day we will drive to the rice terraces of Longji and will stay overnight at the Baike Hotel, before heading back to Guilin.

Guilin has a cultural history of over 2000 years. The city was founded during the Qin Dynasty and was made the provincial capital by the Ming Emperors until 1914.

Guilin and the Li River

Yangshuo rests along the Li River and is described by the Chinese as ‘the most beautiful place in China’. The town is supposed to be very charming with many western-style shops and cafes. While in Yangshuo, we will be partaking in a cooking class at a small, culinary school – which should be interesting and provide a few laughs as I hack my way around the kitchen.

Yangshuo – Photos from Klook

Longji will be our final stop in this region. Longji, the ‘Dragon’s Backbone’, refers to the region made up of five local Zhuang villages set amongst steep rice terraces in the mountains to the north of Guangxi province. The views from Ping An village stretch across the mountains, offering stunning views of the rice terraces.

Longji and the rice terraces – (Stock photos)

After a day in Longji, we’ll be heading back to Guilin by way of a drive through the beautiful countryside. From there, we’ll be off to Shanghai.

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So the novel coronavirus is still expanding as of the middle of Feb. 2020. Many more people have been confirmed to have the virus and there are many people waiting to be tested. While the outbreak is centered in China, the virus has spread around the world with cases in many countries.

We are still hopeful that things will get better in time for us to travel to China in the fall, but my hopefulness is dimming. Most of the airlines have suspended flights to China as have most of the cruise lines – although they are talking about re-opening the casinos in Macau. They are hoping that the warmer weather will help to kill off the virus, as it doesn’t appear to handle heat well.

We have until July before we need to make our final payment. If the travel bans are still in place, we have been talking about possible “Plan B” or “Plan C” destinations and we’ll postpone visiting China until next year.

Cross your fingers for us, and say a prayer for the people in China. Let’s hope this doesn’t keep expanding and threatening everyone in the world.

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China 2020 – Itinerary – Chengdu

Our third stop will be the city of Chengdu in the Sichuan Province.

3rd stop Chengdu

From Xi’an, we’ll catch the Bullet Train to Chengdu. Chengdu is about 658km or 409 mi southwest of Xi’an and the train ride will take about 4 hours. This will be the most westerly location we’ll be visiting.

Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province, and like most other Chinese cities, has a history of 2,500 years or more. The current population is about 12.4 million, making it the 6th largest city in China. It is mostly associated with the arts and craft trade and it is said that despite its size, the pace of life is more relaxed – we’ll see!

We’ll be staying for three nights at the Sofitel Chengdu Taihe, located in the center of the city right along the Jinjiang River. We will be within walking distance of the Tianfu Square, which is the largest square in southwestern China and a starting point for exploring the city.

Our most anticipated highlight will be visiting the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, also known as the Chengdu Panda Base, to visit with the Giant Pandas and other endangered animals. This is not a petting-zoo type of place; it’s more of a ‘watch from a distance’, so I’ll be sure to bring along a zoom lens.

 Photo: STR/AFP/GETTY IMAGES 

Ok, so besides the big, fluffy adorable pandas, we’ll also have a chance to explore the city, visit nearby Leshan – home to the Giant Sitting Buddha and take a short river cruise, visit the Chengdu Museum – famous for it’s puppetry exhibitions and, of course, take in a Hot Pot dinner. There is so much to see, so we’ll have to decide what we can squeeze in.

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So there’s a 600 lb gorilla in the room that is called “novel coronavirus”. Over the last few weeks, the news of a new SARS-like virus has been spreading. This week, the Chinese government took the extraordinary steps to virtually quarantine multiple cities to help stop the spread. I say extraordinary because it is the weekend of the Chinese New Year and millions of people would be traveling inside and outside of the country. This is not only a health issue, but will also be an economic drain as well.

There are thousands of people who are ill in China and there have been many reports of the virus spreading to other countries via travelers returning home. So far, the number of confirmed cases in the US is not high, but many more people are being monitored as this spreads. Vacation aside, we hope that they can figure this out to prevent it from becoming a worldwide pandemic.

We are watching the news and staying in touch with our travel representative to determine if a postponement will be necessary. For now, we are keeping our plans intact, but will be vigilant in deciding what we will do or not do.

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China 2020 – Itinerary – Xian

Our second destination will be Xi’an – capital city of the Shaanxi Province.

To arrive in Xi’an, we will be taking the Bullet Train from Beijing. It’s about 1216 km or 755 miles away and the train trip will take a little over 6 hours. The Bullet trains travel between 250 and 300 km/h, so we’ll be able to relax and watch the scenery zip by.

Xi’an (pronounced Shee-an) has a population of about 8 million, and has always been a significant city. It was originally known as Chang’an, and was China’s ancient capital during 13 different Dynasties. It is also the starting point of the Silk Road – the overland trade route that connected the east and the west for 1,500 years.

We’ll be staying for three nights at the Sofitel Legend Peoples Grand Hotel Xi’an. It’s centrally located and looks fairly close to many of the other sites around the city that we’ll visit.

We are most excited to visit Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site – home to the Terracotta Warriors. I have wanted to visit Xi’an and see them since I first learned about them. They date back to the Qin Dynasty or about 200 BC. It’s thought that they were created to protect Emperor Qin Shi Huang in the afterlife.

The story behind their discovery is fascinating. Back in 1974, a farmer was digging a new water well and was having problems, so they dug down and found pieces of the warriors. Digging around further they discovered that there were many more of these ‘statues’ underground. So far excavations have unearthed over 7,000 – including warriors and horses; with each one having been created with different facial features, so they weren’t just mass produced. I can’t wait to see them in person.

Besides visiting the Terracotta Warriors, there are other places such as the Shaanxi History Museum, the old city walls, the Muslim Quarter, the Big Goose Pagoda, and the Xi’an Drum Tower that we hope to visit.

The food in the region is made with many different spices, usually a combination of Asian and Middle Eastern flavors. Since the Arab traders would come through the city, they contributed to the spices found and used here. With peppercorns, cumin and chili being prominent spices, we will definitely be packing the Tums!

And we will be packing them for sure, as we booked our airfare this weekend: a direct flight from Toronto to Beijing, with a direct flight home from Shanghai to Toronto.

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China 2020 – Itinerary – Beijing

Our first destination will be Beijing, the capital city of the People’s Republic of China.

Our current plan has us flying directly from Toronto to Beijing. The flight will be about thirteen and a half hours and we’re hoping to get business class seats so we’ll be able to stretch out and sleep a bit on the way over.

We will be spending a total of five days in Beijing. Our first two nights will be at the Aman Summer Palace Hotel near the Summer Palace. The hotel provides easy access to the summer palace and is a perfect location for us to start our journey. The Summer Palace dates back to about 1750 when the royal garden was first started. It is recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site.

After two nights, we’ll move on to the center of the city of Beijing where we’ll be staying at the Park Plaza Beijing Wangfujing . While in the city, we’ll be visiting the Forbidden City, Tianamen Square, the Temple of Heaven and the Olympic Park. In addition, we’ll be traveling to visit the Great Wall at a spot that is not so heavily congested with tourists.

There are so many places to visit. As I’ve always been interested in the history of the various Chinese Dynasties, the museums will definitely be on our agenda.

The Wangfujing district, besides being centrally located, is the shopping district in Beijing. As you all know how much we both enjoy shopping, I’m guessing that during our walks we’ll be dodging people on the streets and scoping out restaurants.

Speaking of restaurants, since we enjoy Chinese cuisine, you know we’ll be seeking out a place for a delicious Peking Duck dinner. There are restaurants for just about any kind of food you would like including French, Italian, Indian and American. We’ve also been told that the markets have some great street food that we’ll need to try, though even the Herkeys will probably avoid the scorpions and other insects.

After our five days in Beijing, we’ll board the bullet train and head to Xian.

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China 2020 – Itinerary Planning

Ok, just for the record.. No, we’re not crazy. We are excited though and looking forward to what should be an incredible adventure.

As I mentioned in the last post, we are working with Audley Travel to plan out the details. We are working with their China Specialist, Virginia, and she has been great to work with. In fact, we have already come up with an itinerary that we are super excited about.

Backing up a little, after some discussion about where we would like to go, Sue and I decided that this would be the right time to visit China. We tossed around some ideas about places and things that we were interested in seeing and made a list.

Our list looked like this:

  • Beijing
  • Forbidden City
  • Great Wall
  • Terra Cotta Warriors
  • Giant Pandas
  • Heaven Temple
  • Tiananmen Square
  • Olympic Sites
  • Shanghai
  • Yangtze River

Our next step was to take a look at available options. I love planning out vacations and finding cool hotels and places to go, but there are so many extras with going to China that I thought it would be better if we worked with someone. We knew that we didn’t want to be part of a big structured tour. So, we looked around the web, contacted a couple people who we knew went to China and looked through some tour guides.

I was interested in the offerings from Audley Travel, so I sent an email to request a brochure and call-back. I had included a little info about us, where we wanted to go, the types of things we were interested in and the amount we were thinking of spending. I received a call the next day from Virginia and we talked a little bit about what they could provide. Since we were in the middle of planning for Italy, I asked for a little time to decide what we would do.

We liked Virginia right from the start. Very professional, but also very laid-back. I never felt any pressure to rush our decision. Though I told her we’d decide within the next few weeks, I called back a few days later and said we decided we wanted to work with her and couldn’t wait to start the process.

Armed with a plan to proceed, we started to look more closely at some of the places we wanted to visit and things we’d like to see. We looked at the hotel list that they provided and found most of the hotels that I had looked at were on the list. Documenting our proposed itinerary, we called Virginia back and over the phone in about two hours time, we laid out a preliminary itinerary.

At this point Virginia took over and tossed in some extras to fill in our days based on what we had talked about. A few days later, she sent over a proposed itinerary for us to look at. We were both excited to see things taking shape, but there were a few tweaks that needed to be addressed.

Another telephone conference to discuss the changes was arranged. As some of you know, my back is a problem and I keep looking for bottled water from Lourdes to make it a problem no longer. However, for now we needed to adjust things so hikes became walks or rides. Virginia also suggested a hotel change, since one that we had chosen required a bit of an uphill climb. When we finished, Virginia had an updated itinerary back to us in just a couple of days.

We perused the itinerary and then got back to Virginia with the good news – “Looks great, let’s book it!”

I had been saving my lunch money for a while, so we sent off the deposit and Virginia went to work on her end. Just before we left for Italy, we received an email saying that the hotels were all booked.

With that said, here is the itinerary. Our tour will be for twenty-one days and will take us to Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu, Guilin, Yangshuo, Longji and Shanghai. Everything on our list above is included, plus so much more.

We will have some adventure time on our own, but for the major visits, we will have a driver and an english speaking guide. We will travel from place to place by trains (including the bullet train), planes, boats and car. We’ve included a few fancy dinners, a couple of group dinners at restaurants, and some street food tours.

There will be museums, temples, palaces, monuments, a rice plantation, a tea plantation, a wall – a great one at that, and a visit to see the Terra Cotta Warriors.

Next steps will be to book flights, get our travel visas, check for any needed vaccinations and read, watch and research.

Leading up to the trip, I’ll add some info about each of the locations we will be visiting to peak your interest.

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China – October 2020

Welcome – 欢迎 – Terra Cotta Warriors

One year from today, we will be traveling to China. There are so many wonderful things that we want to see and experience.

Over the next year, I’ll tell you about the process and our itinerary. We are working with Audley Travel to create a personal itinerary for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It will be a self-directed trip with drivers and guides to help us along the way.

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