As most of you know, I took a vacation to China last month! My goal is to travel the world so I am slowly checking destinations off of my list. I found an amazing deal for a two week guided tour to China through the company Sinorama and couldn't pass it up! I normally am not the type of person who chooses to purchase guided tours and normally like to explore the different locations on my own but I decided to give it a go and I'm so glad I did. Sinorama was amazing throughout the whole process and there was literally no way I would have been able to see everything that I saw without them! Plus the John, my guide, was great!
On to the things I learned and experienced.
China has so many things to explore!
There are literally so many temples, pagodas, museums, throughout China that it's impossible to see them all in one trip. Along with all of the historical sites there are also so many neat shops and streets that you just want to stop and explore everything.
I ended up loving squat toilets.
Before going to China I was prepared that I would have to get used to using squat toilets but I was pretty apprehensive about it. However, they are actually super easy to use and really are a lot more sanitary. When I got back to the states, I found myself kind of missing the squat toilets. However, the normal Western style toilets were still available at hotels and some restaurants so you only had the squat toilet in public places. If you're going to China definitely bring along toilet paper, public restrooms do not normally have it.
Skyscrapers are EVERYWHERE.
There are a lot of people who live in China, and I mean A LOT! One city that we visited only had 1 million people but the rest were around 6-10 million people, craziness! Due to this fact the government builds skyscrapers to house all of the people. They have been tearing down the small buildings and houses and replacing them with skyscrapers. The only time they keep the original buildings is if it's a historical area. Apparently the government builds the skyscrapers and then people buy them and rent them out. One of the people in our group had family who lived in Wuhan and they said that the average lifespan of a building is 25-30 years. They don't really do maintenance so once the building becomes so bad they tear it down, relocate the residents, and build another building. While driving around you will see a ton of skyscraper frames that are waiting to be finished.
You will be a celebrity!
On my first day we were told that we would be asked to take photos while we were out and about. We all kind of laughed it off and didn't think much of it until it actually happened. Our guide told us that Chinese people who live in the countryside do not get to see a lot of Westerners so it's a big thing when they see us. You will see them stare and watch you and take photos from afar. The ones that aren't as shy will come up and take a photo with you and practice their English. I took photos with children, teenagers, and adults. We also received hugs and kisses and were told we were beautiful.
China doesn't have cemeteries like we do.
In the city they have small plots that people can buy, however, in the country people are allowed to bury their relatives in the backyard. When we were on the train we would see small decorated mounds in the fields and our guide told us those were burial plots.
I exchanged some money when I landed in China but I also attempted to use my Discover card (Discover doesn't charge you exchange fees!) on bigger purchases so I would have cash for the smaller shops. However, I found that the card machines did not really work at a lot of places and it would take them about 20 minutes to get the card to actually go through so cash is really the way to go!
You will need a visa to travel to China so be sure to obtain this well in advance. If you need help with you visa, I recommend iVisa!
Now on to the photos and the locations I went to!
I flew into Beijing so my first stops were all the Beijing staples like the Great Wall!
My first day was gorgeous weather and was still fairly warm. I took some photos in the hotel's courtyard before I headed out with my group.
Our first stop was the Temple of Heaven and Tiantin Park. This place was HUGE. We visited the temple as well as a bit of the park.
Once I saw the temple I went out to explore part of the park. In China, the older people will go to the parks in the morning for their exercise. You can find them singing and dancing and it's a lot of fun. Right after I took the photos below I found a huge group of people singing. They invited me over to sing and took my photo.
Next stop was Tiananmen Square. It's really neat to see all of the different walls and learn how segmented China used to be.
After Tiananmen Square we stopped for lunch and they had this amazing gold throne so of course I had to take a cell phone photo in it!
Next stop was the Forbidden City. It started to rain at this point and got super cold pretty fast! The city was amazing though and my favorite part was the rock garden. Fun fact (or gross fact): they originally got the the red color for their buildings by using animal blood mixed with some minerals. When the Olympics came to China, they repainted the first buildings of the Forbidden City and stuck with the original paint methods so they used animal blood again.
And of course some cell phone shots! If you can't tell I was pretty frozen at this point!
The next day I woke up and was greeted with snow as soon as I went outside. This was a day at the Great Wall and I wasn't really prepared for the wind and cold!
The Great Wall was amazing!!!!! I climbed up one side of the wall and then stopped in the coffee shop for some coffee and cookies to warm up. It was soooo cold that day and super windy so it was unbearable but it made for super light crowds at the wall and we pretty much had the place to ourselves which was awesome!
You can see how windy it is here, just look at my hair! haha
I ended up buying a scarf at one of the shops at the wall since it was so cold so in these photos I look like your grandmother. :)
There's a spot to go under the wall and when you go through it you come to a temple with statues and prayer ropes. I didn't realize what it was at first so I took these photos until a monk told me that photos were not allowed.
The wall was our only stop that day so we went back to the hotel and I did some shopping at some of the local shops and then ordered some room service after I attempted to find a restaurant at our hotel for 1 1/2 hours with no avail. That's the downside of not speaking the native language!
The next day we spent the morning at the Summer Palace. This place is ridiculous and HUGE! I had some free time so I explored some of the trails and then stopped at a tea shop for milk teas.
I was in love with all of the ornate and detailed drawings under all of the awnings and walkways!
After the Summer Palace, I had lunch and then left for Xi'an on a high-speed train. Unfortunately, the train had to stop for a few hours due to the snow so we didn't end up getting into Xi'an until late that night and missed dinner. However, our tour guide was amazing and called up our hotel and had them make some fried rice for us all for when we arrived!
The next day we were in Xi'an we visited the Terra Cotta factory and museum and had lunch. This is where they make all the Terra Cotta statue souvenirs and they also had a lacquer furniture museum.
On the left is one of the ladies making the statues and on the right is the leaning tower at Xi'an which we saw on the way to the excavation site for the Terra Cotta Warriors. It's like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
After our lunch and the factory we went to the excavation site of Xi'an Terra Cotta Army which holds more than 8,000 soldiers. I was really excited for the Terra Cotta Warriors! It is so amazing how they were able to put together all of the statues again! The place was tore down and all the warriors were smashed during the revolution. The site was only discovered when a farmer went to put in a well on his farm in 1974. They are still putting all the pieces together and you can see the people digging out new pieces and putting them back together. The statues were originally painted and you can still see some of the paint on some of the soldiers.
They had some Terra Cotta Caricatures at the entrance so naturally I stopped for a quick photo!
Of course I had to take a phone selfie as well...
The next morning we boarded a plane and headed to Chongqing. We had a quick stop at the panda zoo and then we embarked on our ship for the river cruise portion of our trip.