After treating ourselves for the holidays we wrapped up things in Hong Kong and headed for Mainland China for a two-week tour of sightseeing. We underwent the painful process of getting visas while we were in HK (something we would NOT recommend) and headed to Shanghai with no idea what to expect.
We had been looking forward to getting to China for quite some time. Not just because of the sights, but also because Nolan’s Mom & Aunt decided to come meet us!!! We were excited to see them and to get to see a new part of the world with familiar faces.
Full account of experience is below and don't forgot to check out our photos!
Before meeting Mom & Aunt Nancy, the two of us headed to Shanghai for a quick two nights. We were greeted with severely poor weather due to torrential rains and fog. We barely saw the iconic skyline one sees in all the pictures.
We realized pretty fast though that Shanghai seemed to be an international foodie destination. We knew we would be in China for two weeks so we covered a lot of cuisines to fill our tanks: Canadian-style deli, Chinese lunch, Italian dinner, etc, etc. We also explored the French quarter of the city in the freezing rain, but we did not last very long…
The sheer size of Shanghai was something we definitely could not even describe. Home to over 24mm people it is sprawling to say the least and impossible to cover in two days. We spent most our time in the Bund and enjoyed our first taste of China, but the next stops truly made the trip for us…
Beijing – The City
We headed to China’s capital next and linked up with Mom & Aunt Nancy in the airport. We were so pumped to see them! We have been living out of our backpacks for a long time now and there is nothing better than seeing familiar faces! We were so happy to be with a few members of our family and get to spend the next 10 days with them discovering China.
Our first morning we hired a guide to take us to see the major sights in Beijing. We started at Tiananmen, toured the Forbidden City, had a traditional Chinese lunch (lots of dumplings!), saw the Summer Palace, drove by the Olympic Village and wrapped things up with a traditional tea house. It was a long day, but it was awesome! Seeing Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City was absolutely wild. The size and extravagance of the complex amazed us. We also were able to tack on a Chinese acrobatic performance before a Peking Duck dinner. We definitely slept well that night….
The next day the ladies did some shopping in the crazy “malls” that sell everything from fake handbags to every kind of tchotchke you can think of. Nolan smartly skipped that one. We then had a driver take us out to Great Wall where we would spend the next two nights.
Everyone has seen countless pictures of The Great Wall of China, but nothing can prepare you for seeing it in person for the first time. We saw it driving to our hotel as one of the major interstates cuts right through. It is truly breathtaking to see the snake-like wall winding in all directions across the mountain range.
The thing we realized right away, which pictures cannot do justice, was the steep inclines. This wall was not built on flat sections AT ALL. It almost was as if they chose the steepest grades to build the thing on and to think they did it thousands of years ago is truly shocking.
We stayed at a hotel near the wall that actually had its own section! That is the other thing we hadn’t realized: The Great Wall is not one continuous structure, it is broken up into various sections. That being said, these sections span over 13,000 miles!!!
We spent a full day exploring various sections of the wall such as the Badaling section, which is the best preserved and most complete, and it was breathtaking. It also happened to be one of the coldest and windiest days we have experienced since leaving home, but after climbing the steep steps for awhile, you warmed right up! It is magnificent on a clear day to see just how far the wall goes. It truly is a marvel that is beyond words.
Perhaps the best part of our trip, was getting to go to the section near the hotel one evening before sunset. We had the whole thing to ourselves and got to take it all in alone as the sun went down. It was truly an amazing experience.
We have seen some amazing architectural marvels since we have left, but this one was on a whole other level simply due to where they chose to build it. How they constructed this massive wall on the steep grades of the mountains is beyond us. This has to be on everyone’s bucket list!
We decided to take a two-hour flight to the city of Xi’an after Beijing primarily because this is where the famous terracotta warriors are. We had heard a ton about them and seen many pictures. Furthermore, we had a few people say they were not to be missed while in China. All that being said, we were a little apprehensive given the travel day just to get there.
The terracotta warriors surround the tomb of China’s first Emperor, Qin Shi Huang. They were made of clay and were buried around his tomb in order to “protect” him in the afterlife. Farmers discovered the soldiers in 1974 while digging a well and the excavation began. So far they have uncovered over 8,000 soldiers in addition to hundreds of horses, chariots and cavalry.
On our full day touring we headed right for the complex where the warriors stand and immediately we realized this trip was well worth it! It is hard to describe the scene when you first arrive at the main chamber. There are literally thousands of replica soldiers standing at attention right in front of you. To think these were made just to protect a tomb is beyond words!
The crazy thing about the entire experience is realizing these soldiers sit in one section surrounding Qin Shi Huang’s tomb. Scientists are still not sure what else is out there! The other crazy part is that every single soldier has a unique face and features. Amazing!!!
We were all blown away at the experience and when you combine that with the Great Wall, China was a massive success!! We spent the rest of our day checking out Xi’an’s other sights including the ancient city, the Wild Goose Pagoda and the crazy Muslim Quarter with its hundreds of food and souvenir stalls.
We were not at all sure what to expect when we headed to mainland China. We had a lot of mixed feelings about traveling there between the tough visa process, the strict policies and the tons of Chinese tourists we have met on our travels (not saying American ones are much better). That being said, the country is so rich in history it was remarkable to see it all up close and we are certainly glad we went.
Yes, of course there were parts we did not like and at times the people could be tough to handle. However, that is no different from any other place we visited. Would we rush to go back? Probably not if we are being honest. But, again it was totally worth doing if just to see the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Terracotta Army. We are so glad we went and the fact that we got to experience it all with our Mom and Aunt was super special.
Off to Japan for a new adventure, can’t wait to speak next week!