My last post about China focused on how it is a very confused place. It is part communist, part capitalist, but none-the-less, it is still an amazing place to visit. This post is going to offer you 10 must do trips/ activities if you ever end up in China, even for a short trip like the one I took.
1. Hike the Great Wall of China
One of my favorite parts on this trip was going to the Great Wall. While most tourists go to the section of the wall that is located a short drive outside Beijing, we took a bus a few hours and hiked a section of the wall that was not restored and thus not frequented by tourists. Along the hike, which took most of the day and way quite a workout, I did not see any other foreigners but was able to see some amazing views and even stop by a small village at the end of the hike to eat lunch.
2. Take Trains Between Cities
We spent time in both Beijing and Shanghai, and we used the
high-speed rail system to travel between the two cities. When I first heard of Chinese trains, my mind conjured up something that was far worse and even slower than Amtrak in the US, however the trains turned out to be a great part of the trip. The high-speed rail network in China is only a few years old and is very modern, clean, and fast. From Beijing to Shanghai, we took a slower (200 kph ) overnight train that took about 11 hours. There were four bunks in each cabin, and after negotiating with a few locals my three friends and I were able to get a room to ourselves. On the way back to Beijing we took a bullet train, going 300 kph, that took about 5 hours. We had tons of room to spread out, the seats were comfortable, there were outlets and even a food car, and the views of the Chinese countryside were amazing.
3. Check Out ALL the Markets
China is known as being a center for world manufacturing, and in turn there are lots of really good deals to be had in China. There are the typical tourist markets in Beijing like the Silk and Pearl markets, but there are also a number of lesser known markets that are a must for anyone looking for a deal. If you are a glasses wearer there are a few massive glasses markets in both Beijing and Shanghai that are basically 5-6 story malls with hundreds of glasses vendors offering custom unbranded glasses for as little as $10, and they will even grind your prescription lenses for you while you wait. Be sure to check out the antique market in Beijing, and the electronic markets as well, and make sure to bargain (especially in the tourist markets where vendors will start off offering you something for 2000 RMB and then eventually drop down to less than 200)!
4.The Shanghai Jewish Museum and Surrounding Neighborhoods
During World War II Shanghai became home to a large Jewish community. While the community no longer exists today, the European character of the neighborhood that they build still does. The Ohel Moshe synagogue is now a beautiful museum and the surrounding neighborhood makes for a very nice walk.
Called the Venice of Asia by some, Suzhou (pronounce soo-joe) is a city with hundreds of canals crisscrossing it with numerous gardens and traditional Chinese building. It is an easy forty minute train ride from Shanghai and when you arrive by bullet train to this city that most people have never heard of, you are greeted by a train station that is bigger than any I have ever seen. We spent the entire day there, and could have easily spent another day. If you do go, make sure to check out the Humble Administrator’s Garden and just walk around.
6. Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, and The Summer Palace
Three of the most popular attractions in Beijing are a must see for anyone who is there for the first time. It is possible to see Tienanmen Square & the Forbidden City in one day, but make sure to dedicate an entire day to the Summer Palace. Also there are tons of other historical sites throughout the city, including countless temples and more modern sites like the 2008 Olympic Site.
7. Get the Best View in Shanghai
While Beijing is more historic, Shanghai is much more modern and urban. In the center of Shanghai are a bunch of really tall buildings including the Shanghai Tower (which will be the tallest building in Asia when it is completed this year). The World financial center offers some of the best views in the city from its 100th floor viewing deck, but it is quite expensive. We decided to take that money and go to the 96th floor bar and enjoy some drinks with and awesome view of the Jin Mao Tower, the Pearl tower, and the rest of Shanghai. The rooftop bar of the Ritz Carlton also offers some amazing views.
8. The Bund
The Bund is the promenade that runs along the Shanghai waterfront, offering you a great view of the city’s skyline. It’s a great spot for a stroll, and is not far from a number of markets and parks.
9. Art Zone 798
Located in a lesser known northern part of Beijing is Art Zone 798. It is an abandoned industrial complex that now houses many art galleries, coffee shops, and small shops. It is not the first thing that comes to mind when one things of a Chinese tourist attraction, but it is one of the many representations of how China is changing.
10. Walk Around & Meet Up with Locals
I tried to walk around as much as possible and thus was able to see many parts of the cities that most tourists do not. This allowed me to get some great pictures, met some cool people and learn more about the local culture, and it really made the trip that much better.
If you want any details on anything that I discussed above or any tips for your trip please feel free to contact me.