Sailing through China in 16 Days

Next up on our tour list is our 16 day journey through China on the Yangtze River (Code D16E). The Yangtze River is the longest river in China and the third longest river in the world. The river flows eastward from Tibet, going through southern China before meeting the ocean at Shanghai. Along with the Yellow River, it is the most important river in China, providing millions of people with food, water, and electricity.

Of course, the Yangtze River is most famous for it’s scenery. Many traditional Chinese paintings depict scenes from the river. And the famous Three Gorges are also found along the river.

Cruising along the river is a must for any first time traveller to China. It provides a definite contrast to the bustling city life found in Beijing and Shanghai.

 

The Three Gorges Dam

 

Many may be concerned about how the Three Gorges Dam has transformed the Yangtze River’s scenery. I cannot tell you from personal experience how the scenery has been affected by the dam, as I went on the Yangtze River cruise before the completion of the dam. But our customers report that the scenery is still as magnificent and breathtaking as ever.

Our tour works with Victoria Cruises to bring our guests the experience of sailing along the Yangtze River. Victoria Cruises holds the reputation of having the best staff and accommodations on the Yangtze River.

Day-by-Day Itinerary in a Nutshell

Day 1: USA->Shanghai

Day 2: Shanghai->Wuxi

Day 3: Wuxi->Hangzhou (highlights: Liyuan Garden, pearl farming factory, Qinghe Lane)

Day 4: Hangzhou->Suzhou (highlights: West Lake, local teahouse)

Day 5: Suzhou->Beijing (highlights: Panmen Scenic Area, Garden of Master Net, silk weaving workshop)

Day 6: Beijing (highlights: Palace Museum, Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, Qianmen District, Peking Duck)

Day 7: Beijing (highlights: Great Wall of China, National Stadium/Bird’s Nest, The Legend of Kung Fu show)

Day 8: Beijing->Xian (highlights: Temple of Heaven)

Day 9: Xian (highlights: Terra Cotta Army, Shaanxi History Museum, Tang Dynasty stage show)

Day 10: Xian->Chongqing (highlights: Hanyanling Museum, city tour of Chongqing)

Day 11: Cruising along the Yangtze River (highlights: Fengdu “the City of Ghosts”)

 

Victoria Cruise Ship

 

Day 12: Cruising along the Yangtze River (highlights: Qutang Gorge, Wu Gorge, Three Lesser Gorges)

Day 13: Cruising along the Yangtze River->Wuhan (highlights: Three Gorges Dam Site, Yichang)

Day 14: Wuhan->Shanghai (highlights: Yellow Crane Tower)

Day 15: Shanghai (highlights: Old Town, the Bund, Shanghai World Finance Center Observation Deck, Shanghai Expo Memorial Park).

Our land only prices for next year start at $2,899 with departure dates in May, June, September, October, and November.

 

Qutang Gorge

 

Hope to see you on the river!

Spend 9 days in China’s biggest cities (G9E)

I was asked to talk about one of our tours. Our Classic Highlight Tour (tour code G9E) takes you through in China’s biggest cities. It’s a 9 day tour, with prices starting at $849 for the fall season. Call or check out our website. http://ow.ly/2rp44 Continue reading

Suffocating Heat, Ice Cream, and Tea: Summer in Shanghai

So at the end of my trip I found myself back in Shanghai for the Expo. I’ve detailed my experience there in a previous post, so I won’t go into much more detail.

But, fact of the matter is that Shanghai is disgusting during the summer. Temperatures are in the 80s and 90s, with 60-70% humidity. That means it’s hot and sticky and so, tempers run short. I would recommend to avoid Shanghai at all costs in the summer, unless you have a masochistic quality to yourself, enjoy sticking to passersby, or are a crocodile. Continue reading

The World Expo, or Disney Epcot Shanghai

I got the lucky chance to get a sneak peek into the Expo before it opened. The Shanghai World Expo officially opened the first of May; it’s already had about 17 million visitors out the the projected 70 million. That’s a lot of people.

Some background on the Expo would be a good idea I think:

  • The first World Expo (or World’s Fair) took place in London in 1851,  mainly as a way for Britain to show off how awesome and powerful it was (this was the height of British Imperialism after all). It has long since left that behind and now is touted as a way for countries to come together and share their respective cultures with each other.
  • The Shanghai World Expo is, to date, the largest World Expo in its history. The grounds for the expo span 2.6 square kilometers, which is larger than most small to mid size cities (my dad likes to compare the Expo grounds to the city of Alhambra in northeast Los Angeles).
  • Hundreds of thousands of people visit the Expo each day, so it can get extremely crowded. Lines for the more popular pavilions have taken over 4 hours to get into the building. Many of the pavilions have a shorter wheelchair line.
  • Food is everywhere in the Expo, but again, expect long lines during lunch and dinner time. I’d recommend either bringing your own food or waiting until non-peak hours to eat.
  • Shanghai is disgustingly hot and humid in the summer. Temperatures can climb into the 90s. But the Expo grounds have cooling mists installed everywhere that supposedly lower the temperature inside the grounds.

When I went, the Expo wasn’t opened yet, so many of the European pavilions were closed or not yet finished (which was cutting it close, as I went the week before the Expo officially opened). I got to take photos of the outside of many a pavilion though, and got to go into the China Pavilion. To be honest, the inside of the the China Pavilion is not that spectacular; I’d say just take a picture of the outside and avoid the 6 hour line in front (there is a reservation kiosk for the pavilion in the Asia section of the Expo, Zone B, but they only allow a certain number of reservations a day, and that also has an unreasonably long line). 50,000 people also attended the Expo with me, and already there were reports of food shortages in the restaurants. This problem most likely would have been fixed by now.

The Expo is divided along Shanghai’s Huangpu River; 2/3 of it is located in the Pudong District, while 1/3 is located on Puxi. Pudong has all the big pavilions, so expect lots of crowded areas. When I went, my father jokingly recommended that I take a page out of Chairman Mao’s book and “push when others pull.” Basically, he told me to first go where others don’t want to go and then go to the more popular places, when the crowds die down. So, I recommend taking either the free ferry or the line 10 subway across the river to Puxi, which is much less crowded and, to be honest, more interesting. Puxi’s pavilions are not sponsored by countries, but are either corporate pavilions or pavilions dedicated to the Expo’s theme of “Better City, Better Life.” So there are pavilions dedicated to sustainable development as well as general world history.

The Pavilion of the Future

Inside the Pavilion of the Future

My favorite pavilion on Puxi was the Pavilion of the Future. It’s all about sustainable development; how to improve housing and lower the carbon footprint of the world. They also had an exhibit on the upper floors that deal with the history of industrialization around the world. All very fascinating.

On Pudong, I really enjoyed looking at the UK Pavilion (who doesn’t? It’s like a giant spiky fluff ball) and the Poland Pavilion.

The UK Pavilion

Poland Pavilion

Of course, the China Pavilion is also in Pudong. It’s architecturally impressive, although I found the Macau Pavilion next to it to be much more adorable.

The China Pavilion

The Macau Pavilion: It's a Bunny!

Do you see what I mean?

Of course, there are lots of other pavilions to look at and visit. I would recommend starting at the Africa Pavilion first. There’s a 95% chance that you won’t have to wait in line (my dad likes to say that this is because Chinese people don’t think Africa has anything to offer, so the locals stay away. Totally false). Expect long lines at the European Pavilions and the US Pavilion.

I think the ugliest looking pavilion goes to Japan, it looks like a pink (or purple, when it decides to change color) beached whale with harpoons embedded in its back. I think of a pink Moby Dick that Captain Ahab finally conquered (I’m waiting to find the old captain dancing in joy around the pavilion).

I couldn't take a picture of it properly, so here's one from online

I wasn’t able to go in, since the pavilion was closed. Maybe it has some redeeming qualities inside. I hear that their toilets are amazing.

All in all, the Expo did remind me of Disney Epcot, although not as superficial as the latter. But the ideas are similar: create a mini-country that tells people unfamiliar with your culture what you’re all about, provide a taste of the country’s most popular foods, and sell a couple of authentic souvenirs. The theme of “Better City, Better Life” is also reflected in the “Imagineering” that goes on at Disney’s theme parks.

I’m going back to the Expo at the beginning of July, after I tour the Yunnan province. Expect updates soon. 🙂

Return to Shanghai: Miles of Walking

After Hong Kong I returned to Shanghai for another 2 weeks before heading back to Los Angeles. I spent my time there wandering around Shanghai by metro and on foot. If I haven’t mentioned it before, the Shanghai metro is extremely easy to navigate, and the crowds of people on the subway are manageable. My biggest pet peeve was that there are clearly marked lines on the station that tell you where to stand, so that when the train pulls up the people getting off won’t be blocked by masses of people. Of course, some Shanghainese people ignore these marks and stand right in front of the door, blocking the people getting off the train and preventing others (like me) patiently waiting in line. I know that in cities like New York (FYI: I lived there for 3.5 years), the subways don’t even have markings on the ground and getting on and off the subway is a mad free for all, but here in China they’re trying to create some sort of order to the chaos, and Chinese people just don’t understand the concept of a line. No one’s going to steal the train from you. If you miss this one there’s another train coming in about 5 minutes. I would know, I missed a train once.

I took line 10 (a newer line on the metro) to Xintiandi, which is a redeveloped shikumen area in the eastern part of Shanghai in what’s known as the French Concession. This area was in the list to be demolished, as the buildings, built in the shikumen style (mid-18th century stone buildings built closely together forming narrow alleyways), were crumbling from years of neglect. In comes an American developer, who sees this area for its beauty and decides to change it into a “lifestyle plaza.” Thus, the area’s buildings have become cafes, bars, nightclubs, and shops, mostly catering to young Shanghainese folk and expats. While I found the architecture to be charming (I loved the back alleyways), the stores and restaurants I thought were overpriced. I later came back to eat with my dad and 2 others at the famed DingTaiFeng (there’s one located near me in Los Angeles, I don’t think much of that one) and the food, while very good, was quite expensive. 4 chicken soups, 3 appetizers, a basket of the restaurant’s signature Xiao Long Bao, and  a dessert of red bean “xiaolongbao” set us back about $200. That’s a lot, especially for Shanghai. And especially because I can get the same meal in Los Angeles at my favorite Shanghainese restaurant for about $30.

Shikumen Alleyways

A Lovely Fountain in the Main "Street" in Xintiandi

Later, I ventured out of the area (Xintiandi is actually only 2 blocks) and headed north. I whimsically picked that direction by the way; it looked like it would have more things to do. Little did I know that I ended up on Huahai Lu, one of the busier shopping streets in Shanghai. The streets had the standard large department stores and Uniqlos lining the street, but it also had some designer brands scattered throughout. I saw the Cartier building, a large glass building that reminded me a little of the LV building in New York, and then, coincidentally, the LV store. I wasn’t in the mood to shop (it started raining), and so headed back to Xintiandi to take the metro home. Little did I know, after what I feel like had been a mile of walking, that Line 10 actually closes early. Watch out for that. I had to then make my way back to Huahai Lu, where the next station, on another line, would take me home. Needless to say I was upset, although I accidentally stumbled upon a lovely lake just slightly off the beaten path between Xintiandi and Huahai Lu.

You can't find this in Los Angeles.

Afterwards, I decided to go home. All in all, I think I walked about 3 or 4 miles that day. Needless to say my feet hurt. A lot.

Next: Day trip to Suzhou and Wuxi to visit my ancestral home.