Fun Facts About The Great Wall of China For Kids Of All Ages

Fun Facts About The Great Wall of China For Kids Of All Ages

When you visit Beijing, you really have to visit the Great Wall of China, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Along with 50 million other people who visit annually, you will need to make this pilgrimage to one of the greatest man-made structures ever built. If you are lucky, you won’t feel like the other 50 million people are right there with you on the Great Wall. Here are some fun facts about the Great Wall of China as well as some tips if you are visiting the Great Wall of China with kids.

Fun Facts About The Great Wall of China For Kids Of All Ages

The Great Wall stretches across the Chinese countryside.

Facts about the Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China has been subject to many stories including the cherished urban myth that you can see it from space. You can’t. The following information is accurate though.

Why was the Great Wall of China built?

The Great Wall of China was built to protect the Chinese empire from invading nomads. It started off as a series of earthen ramparts probably as early as 771 BC.

China’s first emperor, Qin, Shi Huang (of Terracotta Army fame) took the idea of a defensive wall and ran with it. He had finally united the country and was tired of invasions. Over the course of 20+ centuries, these early efforts were then turned to stone and then joined together to form the Great Wall.

The wall was built with battlements and turrets and housing for soldiers.  These soldiers had enough supplies to defend the Wall in case of a siege.

Fun Facts About The Great Wall of China For Kids Of All Ages

The Great Wall with its garrison buildings.

All these defence mechanisms don’t work though if you have a traitor in your midst. In 1644, one of the defending generals opened a gate and let the Manchus inside. They formed the Qing Dynasty which lasted until the early 20th century.

How long is the Great Wall of China?

Most people agree that the Great Wall of China is approximately 13,000 miles long. The wall runs from the Bohai Gulf north of Beijing abutting the Yellow Sea until the Jinguyguan Pass in the West. It goes through 15 regions of China.

Most of the Great Wall that is extant today dates from the 15th century. This remaining portion is about 5500 miles.

Parts of the Great Wall was subject to erosion and some of it was destroyed by people who used the wall for building materials for themselves. During the Cultural Revolution, things that were old were not respected. For example, the city wall around Beijing was destroyed to make room for traffic. A similar lack of interest in preserving the Great Wall meant large parts of it were destroyed.

The Chinese government only focused on the conservation of the Great Wall of China in 2006.

Miscellaneous Fun Facts

  • In 2000 for the Chinese New Year celebrations, Jackie Chan led 10,000 people on a Dragon Dance on the wall.
  • The first European to mention the Great Wall was the Portuguese explore, Joao de Barros in the 16th century.
  • The Great Wall is held together with a strong rice flour mixture. Yes, rice.
  • The Great Wall of China is only called that by Westerners. The Chinese have several names for it, such as Long Wall.
  • The Great Wall was built with forced labour. Possibly, a million people at a time were used in the construction.
  • Many of the labourers died but no human remains have ever been found in the Great Wall.

Great Wall of China Images

Fun Facts About The Great Wall of China For Kids Of All Ages

One of the towers at The Great Wall of China

Fun Facts About The Great Wall of China For Kids Of All Ages

You can see how wide those steps were.

Fun Facts About The Great Wall of China For Kids Of All Ages

The view of the surrounding countryside from The Great Wall of China

Fun Facts About The Great Wall of China For Kids Of All Ages

A view from one of the Wall arches

Visiting The Great Wall of China

There are three main spots near Beijing to visit the Great Wall of China – Mutianyu, Badaling and Jinshanling.

  • The closest section of the Great Wall to Beijing is Badaling. Easily accessible by public transportation, it is also the most popular and crowded. At Badaling,you can take a cable car to the top.  This section of the Great Wall was rebuilt in its entirety in 1958 for tourists.
  • The Mutianyu section of the Greta Wall was opened in 1988. Approximately 2.5 hours by car from Beijing, it is less crowded than Badaling. You can walk, take a cable car or a gondola to the top. From one of the sections you can take a toboggan ride down to the bottom.
  • The Jinshanling section is another 1 hour past Mutianyu. It also has cable car facilities. Our guide told us that there wasn’t much between the Mutianyu and the Jinshanling sections in terms of crowds.  Apparently the Jinshangling section is better for photographs but it wasn’t worth it for us to make the kids sit in the car for an extra hour each way.

The Great Wall has had many famous visitors from ex-Presidents (Clinton, Obama) to the Queen of England.  When Justin Bieber visited in 2013, he made his body guards carry him up the steep bits.

Walking the Great Wall of China

I can tell you that walking the Great Wall of China is tough going. Unlike Justin Bieber I did not have enough to carry me. The steps are high in parts and you will feel it in your thighs.

Fun Facts About The Great Wall of China For Kids Of All Ages

The steps are steep!

The Great Wall is a series of up and down fortifications. I didn’t realise there really is no flat bit!

The Great Wall of China For Kids

My kids found the Great Wall fascinating. They were clambering over rocks like goats. We were told to take the children to Mutianyu because they would enjoy the toboggan ride down. There are single person toboggans or double rider ones. With young kids, we took the double rider toboggans.

Fun Facts About The Great Wall of China For Kids Of All Ages

Probably one of the best things about the Great Wall for kids to enjoy

When To Visit

Spring and autumn is a good time to visit the Great Wall.  In winter, temperatures drop and there can be snow in places. We went in March and there was still evidence of snow.

The best time to visit is either or late in order to avoid the crowds. Now that the Chinese have rediscovered their love for the Great Wall, it is a very popular for domestic tourism. As such, try and avoid Chinese holidays such as Labour Day in May, Chinese New Year and National Day in October.

Where To Stay

We stayed in Beijing at the Red Wall Garden Hotel, an upscale boutique hotel in a hutong in the centre of the city.

Our friends who are expats in China actually went camping at the Great Wall of China at Jinshanling.

Tours of the Great Wall of China

Context Tours has a tour of the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall of China which takes a full day.

You can also pick from a selection of guided private and group tours of any of Badaling, Mutianyu and Jinshanling either to the Great Wall by itself or together with other sites. There really is a lot of choice!

Further Reading

Matt Damon’s 2017 movie The Great Wall was a flop even though it was directed by the same Chinese celebrity who created the Beijing Olympics opening program. Even the Chinese people we talked to thought it was terrible.

This site generates income via partnerships with carefully-curated travel and lifestyle brands and/or purchases made through links to them. More information may be found on our Disclosure Policy.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

How can you get street art in an authoritarian country like China? Pretty easily. Just limit it to certain areas so it’s technically sanctioned. Win/Win for the people who are given the illusion of freedom and for the government who is still in ultimate charge. In our time in the capitol of China, we found several places to visit in Beijing which could easily have been a young urbanite hangout in any number of cities around the world.  For example, the street art and the contemporary art galleries in Beijing congregating around the 798 Art District and the craft beer and boutiques in the hutongs.  Is this really Beijing? Yes, it is.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

Places where the young and hip hang out in Beijing

798 Art District

You get lots of contemporary art galleries and street art at the 798 Art District in Beijing.

The history of 798 Art District

The buildings in the 798 Art District are part of a former industrial unit that built machinery for the military.  The Chinese government gave numbers (like 798) to its factory buildings so that no one knew what was being made inside. Of course, if it started with the number 7 you knew it was stuff for the Chinese military!

The buildings were created in a Bauhaus style by the East Germans who were brought in to joint venture the works. The buildings were huge with lots of light through large windows. The factory opened in 1957 to much fanfare in both China and East Germany.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

The Bauhaus inspired warehouse spaces ooze Industrial-chic.

In its heyday, the 798 Art District had more than 40,000 workers living and working in the area.  The factory had a reputation for being one of the best in China. The workers were encouraged to have after-work activities such as music and book clubs as well as a healthy dose of Maoist indoctrination to wash it all down. During the Cultural Revolution, you got Chairman Mao’s words of wisdom painted on the walls.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

Original Mao slogans which are now more ironic-chic for the trendy Beijing crowd

In the 1980’s the factory was abandoned under Deng Xioping’s reforms known as “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.” That’s what you have today – this weird hybrid system of rampant capitalism by the few, a growing middle class that like to shop until they drop and an authoritarian government that lets little things slide when it suits them.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

The 728 Art District is full of contemporary art galleries in Beijing

Beijing or Brooklyn?

The Bauhaus-inspired huge warehouse spaces and cheap rent were perfect for contemporary artists to take over. With a bit of industrial chic, ironic (but original) Maoist slogans and wide streets, the area became dotted with street art, art galleries, boutiques and cafes. We went on a weekend and the whole place was alive with trendy young things.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

My daughter getting the paparazzi treatment even in the trendy 728 Art District in Beijing

We ate At Cafe which was the first cafe in the 798 Arts District. In keeping with the Chinese theme that it’s who you know that counts in modern China, the owner of the At Cafe is the sister of one of the original co-founders of the 798 Arts District.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

An artfully distressed wall at the At Cafe

There are other cafes and restaurants as well. And, coffee shops. It’s cool to drink coffee so there are a lot of coffee shops many with Western names (i.e., Cafe Flatwhite,  Voyage Coffee)

The cool crowd sit at outdoor cafes in their sunglasses people-watching and playing on their smartphones. It honestly could be anywhere young, urban and hip – London, Brooklyn or  even downtown Los Angeles.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

Looking out over the 728 Art District

My kids loved one cafe which we thought was a cat cafe. Unfortunately, the cats were only in the window and we were not allowed to touch them. For those of you worried about the cat’s welfare, there was a store person in the restaurant window playing with the cats. Once again though, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting – a cat cafe that wasn’t a cat cafe.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

The 728 Art District has lots of art which is free and open to the public.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

Head To the Hutongs

If you think about it in terms of London, the street art and art galleries of Shoreditch would be the equivalent of 798 Arts District. Although Shoreditch is very cool with lots of street art and art galleries and tourists, the area has become somewhat unaffordable for actual up-and-coming artists. Just like in London where the street artists have started moving into Hackney, the Beijing scene is diversifying into some of the hutongs.

Hutongs are the alleys in Beijing formed by the sides of the courtyard houses that line them. These courtyard houses and streets originated from the Yuan Dynasty (the late 13th century) and later dynasties.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

You can have a nice new high rise with plumbing or a hutong with communal bathrooms – I know what I’d pick!

In China’s rush to modernisation, hutongs were not considered optimum housing. Even though they were centrally located, courtyard houses were small, crowded and lacked plumbing. It’s not uncommon to see neighbourhood toilets in a hutong. In the mid-20th century, there may have been over 3000 hutongs in Beijing. Now, there are only about 1000 hutongs surviving.

Some hutongs though have become trendy places to visit in Beijing. For example, Doujiao Hutong in the Dongcheng District, is home to Beijing’s first microbrewery, Great Leap Brewing (opened by American expats). Fangjia Hutong has an up and coming hipster scene and an active night life. The area around Gulou (near the Drum and Bell Towers) is another popular area – Houhai Bar Street (the name says it all) and Baochao Hutong is more diverse with a boutique hotel, restaurants and retail therapy on offer.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

This is an American craft beer we had in the Fangjia Hutong

Fang Jia Hu Tong

We decided to visit the Fang Jia Hu Tong in the Dongcheng district. Known as for its up and coming hipster scene, looking around you can definitely see this hutong is a neighbourhood in transition.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

When did innovation become rock & roll in China??

There are pockets of gentrification in Fang Jia Hu Tong but you still see some of the old timers hanging around their homes. In the evening, Fang Jia is a popular place for Beijing hipsters and expats to hang out.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

One of the cafes in Fangjia Hutong

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

Music and dancing in Fangjia Hutong

We ate at local hipster joint Ramo with its huge windows and Tolix seats.  It has a great view of the action outside and good food and beer. What more could you want?

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

Older residents hanging out in Fangjia Hutong

Practical Information

The 798 Arts District is definitely more of a daytime venture than Fan Jia Hu Tong at least as it currently stands. On the other hand, things in China seem to move at the speed of light so who knows where the trendy places to visit in Beijing will be in a year’s time?

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

Where to find street art in Beijing China

We took a driver and guide to the 798 Arts District and to the Fan Jia Hu Tong.

If you want to stay in the 798 Arts District, the Gracie Art Hotel offers boutique hotel accommodation.

We stayed at what is considered the best of the renovated courtyard hotels in a hutong in Beijing – the Red Wall Garden Hotel in the Wangfujing area. We loved it so much that we stayed there on both our visits to Beijing.

Context Tours do a Hip Hutongs tour if you would like a walking tour and deeper understanding of how hutongs are changing with the times. You can also do a rickshaw ride tour around a hutong or take a walking tour of the shopping area in Nanluoguxiang hutong (part of Gulou mentioned above).

This site generates income via partnerships with carefully-curated travel and lifestyle brands and/or purchases made through links to them. More information may be found on our Disclosure Policy.

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

I love meeting people and hearing their stories. People’s lives are endlessly fascinating to me.  In China, this nosiness presented a problem because we couldn’t speak the language. Luckily, we got on well with Joe, our Abercrombie & Kent tour guide from Guilin who was a professor at a local university. He was curious about people too and ready to engage with them readily. Many of the people we spoke to lived in the countryside in and around Guilin in Guangxi province. They were more willing to speak to us than the sophisticated city dwellers.  Through their stories, we pieced together glimpses into modern China that provided a fascinating look at a country and a culture in transition.

Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent.

– Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

That Small Matter of Communication

English in Schools

Chinese children take English classes in school from the beginning. To graduate from university, you need to pass an exam in English. Without the opportunity to speak in English, many graduates are better at written English than spoken English.

Education in China is free for 9 years for elementary school and middle school. Parents need to pay for their child to attend nursery school, high school and university. It’s not a surprise then that many of the wait staff at restaurants can not speak English. You both muddle along as best you can.

My children were in stitches of laughter at one restaurant. The waitress put her face inches from mine and spoke to me in Chinese very slowly, clearly and loudly. I felt it was divine retribution for the bad habit Americans have of doing the same thing in English when they travel abroad.

Yet, no matter even if she used language for a toddler, I still wouldn’t understand her Chinese. In the end, with the use of hand gestures we were able to order a tasty meal. And where was my husband during this conversation? Hiding in the corner hoping the waitress wouldn’t turn her attention to him!

English Corner in Guilin

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

Jake, the English name of a 12 year old boy, learning English in Guilin, Guangxi Province.

We met Jake (pictured above) at English Corner, a meeting place for locals who want to practice their English, at Guilin’s Seven Star Park. Needless to say, having native English speakers in their midst set off a flurry of excitement and photo taking.

Jake was speaking to my son who is only a little younger than him. They discovered they both used to play the video game Minecraft but have now moved onto Terraria. He was shy at first but his mother insisted he speak to my son. She was not letting this opportunity go!

My daughter was surrounded by a group of excited girls and my husband spoke to a recent university graduate who was an English teacher. Everywhere we met, people wanted to speak to us even if they only said a few words.

Check the TripAdvisor reviews for Guilin’s Seven Star Park

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

A photo with a stranger isn’t complete unless you touch them.

My children found the conversation easy but the endless photo-taking harder. Living in a country with a 1.3 billion, the Chinese have a different concept of personal space. They really will get in your face to talk to you or to take your photo.

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

My daughter getting the paparazzi treatment at the 728 Arts District in Beijing.

The Voluntary Return of the One Child Policy

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

Cosseted Chinese children and their attentive parents and grandparents.

China’s one child policy which started in 1979 was ended in 2015. In its 36 years, however, the law affected an entire generation’s numbers as well as attitudes.

The one child policy may be officially gone but we sensed a reluctance among people to have more than one child. As someone explained to us, life in China is expensive and another child means a bigger car, more school fees, maybe a bigger home etc.

We saw a lot of families with two children where the oldest child was a girl. Joe confirmed our suspicions that people were willing to have a second child on the chance that they would have a boy child. If a family already had a boy, then the chances are that they would not expand the family. It reminded me of blackjack – do you hold or do you take a hit? You could get another girl and then go bust.

 

via GIPHY

The Effect on Family Life of Having Only One Child

We saw so many grandparents out and about with their one child. I can see how  the Little Emperor Syndrome is a real factor because you had 4 grandparents and 2 parents doting one one child. Both my in-laws and my parents have four grandchildren each – even with all these extra kids our kids are spoiled by both sets of grandparents. I can’t imagine the situation if all four of the grandparents only had one of my twins to coddle.

Examples of Child-Rearing Differences

For example, with six adults on hand, children were carried around if they couldn’t walk. We hardly saw any strollers. Babies and toddlers were hand-carried instead. Traditionally, chubby babies are believed to be successful and powerful when they grow up. Needless to say, we saw a lot of fat, spoiled babies.

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

This little girl was dancing for our entertainment that I didn’t even notice her brother’s split trousers until I looked at the photo.

On the plus side, grandparents are really involved in their children’s lives. Many of them prefer the old ways of child-rearing, such as, for example, a disdain for diapers.

We saw children running around with what is called “split-pants”  – their trousers are split in the front and back so that the kid can easily go to the toilet. Apparently, it’s more prevalent in the countryside, but we did see it in Beijing, too.

High Divorce Rate

The collapse of the usual large family structure has been cited as a reason for the increasing divorce rate in China. For example, the Beijing the divorce rate of 39% is actually higher than you would expect if you consider that it is only the younger generation getting divorced.

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

The whole process of getting married is a big business. Our tour guide told us he only goes to his friend’s first marriages.

Traditionally, Chinese families lived together. If your parents and in-laws are nearby, then they would expect to live with you. One big (un)happy family. If the average flat was about 80-100 square meters (approximately 1000 s.f.) with three bedrooms, then you can only imagine how difficult life can get with 8-10 people living together. Don’t forget that spoiled child either!

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

A grandchild is taken to the park to play Uno with his grandparents friends. I love this mix of old tradition and new game.

In fact, the spoiled child may be a reason for the high divorce rate. The Little Emperor syndrome doesn’t go away when the child grows up. Both partners in a marriage have spent their entire life thinking the world revolves around them. Such an attitude is not really conducive to the compromises that long-term marriage requires.

Urbanisation in the Name of Progress

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

The last of the fan makers in Fuli village near Guilin

This lady has a fan making store in Fuli village in Guangxi which was known for its makers of fans and coffins.  Yes, interesting combo.  The traditional coffin making businesses of the village died during Chairman Mao’s time when he dictated that the dead be cremated instead of buried.

She makes the fans and her grandparents do the painting. Now the fan-making business is under threat because the government is confiscating the old village houses in order to modernise the town to attract tourism.  It’s being done in the name of progress but is it really a land-grab to give real estate opportunities to developer cronies?

She told us her family are still negotiating the price of their house which she showed us around.  The large house (easily 2000 square feet) has been in their family for five generations since the Qing Dynasty. The premises doubles as the family home and fan store/workshop. They will be relocated into the usual Chinese small modern flat. Without a store front and fan making premises, she’s not sure that her family can continue in the business.

Forced Relocations

Outside of Guilin, we saw a large apartment complex that was lying empty.  The buildings had been constructed to house 300,000 people from a village relocated due to the Yangtze River Dam but then they had been taken elsewhere.

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

The Yangshuo Light Show complete with traditional sanpan wooden boats rowed by fisherman on a lake.

We saw a show in light show at night in an open-air theatre in Yangshuo celebrating traditional Chinese agricultural life. The irony? They relocated a traditional village that had stood at the location to create this open air theatre.

Check the TripAdvisor reviews for Sanjie Liu Yangshuo Evening Show

The relocated farmers were compensated for their land and moved into the town of Yangshuo itself.  The government provided a lump sum payment but no training for an alternative form of livelihood. So, people who have been poor farmers all their lives  are suddenly given a chunk of change. Of course, they blow through the money quickly and then are left scrambling around trying to earn a living.

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

A Chinese tourist dressing up in a rural Chinese minority outfit.

Around the Yangtze, the government wanted to build a dam to provide energy to the population. The motivation for the forced relocations around Yangshuo are to create a centre for domestic tourism. In fact, 90% of Guilin tourism is domestic. The landscape is renowned in China and even features on the 20 Yuan bill.

You can see developments for resorts aimed at Chinese domestic tourism sprouting up everywhere. The area around Yangshuo used to be rice farms and sugar plantations. Now, China imports 60% of its rice from Thailand because so much of the land has been converted for other uses. The former farmers are all catering to the tourist trade now which is the biggest game in town.

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

Showing off the traditional weaving methods to Chinese tourists.

The Elderly in Modern China

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

A 100 year old woman in Fuli village near Yangshuo in Guangxi province.

This lady told us she was almost a 100 years old.  She didn’t know exactly because she was never educated. She is also one of the more than 50 million illiterate people in China many of whom are over 70 years old.

She also claimed to have never been sick because she would treat her symptoms with Chinese medicine herself.  She told us she was our children’s age when the Japanese started filtering through her province before the full-scale invasion.

We saw signs of traditional Chinese medicine everywhere. Chinese medicine seems to be an accessory to help modern medicine cope with the sick population. For example, we were in Xingping, a small city of 620,000 near Guilin with a high-speed train connection to Guangzhou and ultimately, Beijing. Yet, there is not one Western doctor in the entire city. The nearest hospital is in Yangshuo which we were told wasn’t that good. You needed to head to Guilin itself to get to a good modern hospital.

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

Snake wine is used to treat rheumatism. A live snake is dropped into the jar with bees along with rice wine to make snake wine.

Subtle and Not-So-Subtle Propaganda

Many people in Guangxi are still bitter about the Japanese invasion in their province from World War II. The cit of Guilin was flattened to a pancake by the bombing. On touristy West Street in Yangshuo, we saw a sign saying “No Japanese Welcome Here”. It’s safe to say feelings about the Japanese still run high.

Some of these sentiments are fanned by the hours of Chinese soap operas throughout the week. On pretty much every television station, there are soap operas about the Japanese invasion during World War II. We are talking 64 state owned Chinese television channels!  There is a joke that there have been more Japanese killed on television soap operas than in the battles in China. It suits the government though to give the people a common enemy that isn’t them.

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

When my daughter refused to use the public squatty potty, this kind woman let us use the bathroom in her house. She interrupted her watching a Chinese soap opera about the Japanese invasion.

Joe told us about his grandmother who had died a few years ago in her late 90’s. She had been married 5 times before the age of 20! She was married at the age of 4 as the fourth wife of a local warlord, then again at age 10, age 12, age 16 and age 20. Her husbands kept dying off because they were all warlords. Her family would just marry her to another one. The 5th husband that she married at the age of 20 was a farmer and she went on to have four children by him. Her feet had been bound in the traditional custom of wealthy families as well.  During the days of the Cultural Revolution, the local authorities would troop her out in front the crowds so that she could recount her tearful tale and denounce the old ways.

Currently the age of retirement is age 55 for women and 60 for men. Older people seem to have an active lifestyle. They help with the care of their grandchild. They meet up in parks to play traditional Chinese games or to exercise.  For example, older people congregate in the park around the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.  Entrance to the park is subsidised for local residents.

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

Senior citizens meet to socialise at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

Frank, our Beijing travel guide, told us he offered to pay for his parents to join a local health club. They refused his offer. Not only did his parents like the social element of exercising at the park, they also remembered the grinding poverty during the Cultural Revolution and did not want to spend the money.

What Did We Think?

We thought the Chinese we met were incredibly resilient. The government is subtle in its authoritarianism. The Chinese have survived emperors, the Japanese, the Cultural Revolution and now are coping with the new ’socialism’. They have learned to bend with the wind so as not to break. I really wish I could have spoken Chinese to speak to people directly. As always, things get lost in translation but we learned enough to appreciate the Chinese people and their culture.

We were told by Frank to read [easyazon_link identifier=”0143121316″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]On China[/easyazon_link] by Henry Kissinger to understand modern China better. Interestingly, he has read both the Chinese version and the English version. The Chinese version just eliminates the whole section related to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Reality is, after all, what we  make it through our own filters.

This site generates income via partnerships with carefully-curated travel and lifestyle brands and/or purchases made through links to them. More information may be found on our Disclosure Policy.

 

 

 

A Two Week Highlights of China Itinerary for a Luxury China Tour

A Two Week Highlights of China Itinerary for a Luxury China Tour

China is such a huge country that where do you start when you only have two weeks to visit? We faced this dilemma recently and have suggestions for you if you are looking at a two week highlights of China itinerary. We travelled as a family and also in relative comfort so that this itinerary is suitable if you intend a luxury China tour. For example, we took internal airline flights or high speed trains within China.  You wouldn’t be able to cover the same distances otherwise. Our two-week trip covered an area of over 2000 miles.

 

Our China Itinerary

We chose to spend a minimum of 3 days in each place we visited. Travelling with kids in a foreign country can be exhausting. We felt we needed this amount of time to really enjoy our experience.

A Two Week Highlights of China Itinerary for a Luxury China Tour

A two week itinerary covering Beijing. Xian, Chengdu and Guilin with options for a Yangtze River Cruise and Shanghai.

We had spoken to friends who have visited China and/or lived in China as expats and knew that travel in the country would not be smooth sailing. We opted to have our trip organised by Abercrombie & Kent who were excellent. They arranged all the tickets, transfers and guides as well as guiding us through the visa process.

Having used Abercrombie and Kent previously on a trip to India, we were equally impressed this time. Abercrombie and Kent are our go-to agency for real hassle-free holidays. They leave other upscale travel agencies we have used on occasion, such as for example, Scott Dunn for skiing in Val d’Isere, in the dust.

Beijing

We started and ended our time in China in Beijing.  We spent a total of 5 days in Beijing – 3 days in the beginning of the trip and 2 days at the end. Although we would have liked to fly out of Shanghai, we benefitted from (relatively cheap) tickets to Beijing thanks to the American Express British Airways Companion flights.

British Airways Companion Tickets

With the BA companion flights, you get a free companion flight if you spend a certain amount on your American Express card every year. My husband and I both have individual cards on which we accrued points.  We were both able to get companion vouchers so each of us could take one child.

A Two Week Highlights of China Itinerary for a Luxury China Tour

First class fare on British Airways is served with real cutlery and a table cloth.

At the end of this post on British Airways miles, you get a good explanation of how the American Express card works. What this writer doesn’t say is that you are able to get one non-household card per adult member of the household (so you can double your companion vouchers like we did). And, obviously you are going to maximise those free flights which usually means the longest direct flight in the highest seat category you can find.

Using British Airways Avios points and the American Express companion vouchers, we flew round-trip from Heathrow to Beijing in first class paying just the taxes for each ticket (about £500). Our children got to fly first class for the first time and they loved it! We told them not to get used to it though.  Even if we have four vouchers, we may want to use these tickets for 2 different flights for ourselves!

Sightseeing in Beijing

Beijing is the location for several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace and The Great Wall of China. Mao’s Mausoleum in Tiananmen Square is being refurbished and not open to tourists currently.

A Two Week Highlights of China Itinerary for a Luxury China Tour

Contrary to what I had thought, there are blue sky days in Beijing. The Temple of Heaven dome shown here is an iconic symbol of the city.

Beijing has plenty of diversions to offer tourists – we went to the theatre to see Chinese acrobats, caught a demonstration of the Kung Fu masters of the Shao Lin temple, wandered though the 728 Arts District and took a rickshaw ride through a hutong. One of the highlights for my kids? The largest Apple store in Asia.

Accommodation: Red Wall Garden Hotel in Beijing

In Beijing, we stayed at the Red Wall Garden Hotel in the centre of the city. This boutique hotel is located in a converted courtyard house in a hutong and was absolutely charming. We loved the location right near the Beijing equivalent of Fifth Avenue which meant we could walk to good restaurants nearby without having to wrangle a taxi.

A Two Week Highlights of China Itinerary for a Luxury China Tour

The outdoor bar in the candlelit court yard of the Red Wall Garden Hotel in Beijing.

Check out the Red Wall Garden Hotel reviews on TripAdvisor. It really is as good as the reviews say.

Check TripAdvisor Reviews Now!

Chengdu

We took a domestic flight from Beijing to Chengdu. We spent a total of 3 days in Chengdu which we thought was an appropriate length of time. If we had another day we would have been able to see the giant Buddha in Leshan which is the world’s biggest stone Buddha.

Tourist Attractions in Chengdu

People come to Chengdu to see the giant pandas. The area, however, has much more than just pandas even though they are indeed adorable. We went to two panda centres in Chengdu (including volunteering at a panda research centre). Although the panda visits were designed to keep the children happy, my husband and I enjoyed it as much as they did.

A Two Week Highlights of China Itinerary for a Luxury China Tour

A greedy panda double fisting bamboo shoots as payment for cooperating for tourist photos.

In addition to pandas, Chengdu offers lots of great street food, Szechuan opera, city centre parks, etc. We also did a day trip to QingCheng mountain which is where the religion of Taoism started.

A Two Week Highlights of China Itinerary for a Luxury China Tour

An actor in the Szechuan Opera who plays a comedic henpecked husband.

Accommodation: Shangri La Chengdu

In Chengdu, we stayed at the Shangri La Hotel. As you would expect, the Shangri La Chengdu was large, spacious and comfortable.  The hotel’s central location overlooking a river that meanders through the city was not only convenient but attractive.

A Two Week Highlights of China Itinerary for a Luxury China Tour

The view from our room at the Shangri La Chengdu of Chengdu cityscape.

This hotel probably had the best wifi of all our hotels which no doubt was helped by the fact that Chengdu is considered a major technology hub in China.

Check TripAdvisor Reviews Now!

Guilin/Yangshuo

After an internal flight from Chengdu to Guilin, we spent 4 days in Guilin and Yangshuo in rural Guangxi province.

Occupied by the Japanese during World War II, Guilin itself got flattened to a pancake during that war. A forward-thinking city mayor redesigned the city with attractive lakes and walking paths. The Reed Flute Cave in Guilin is easily one of the  most impressive caves we have ever visited.

Tourist Attractions in Yangshuo

Yangshuo is about 2 hours from the main city of Guilin. The Chinese government has spent a lot of effort on promoting Yangshuo for domestic tourism and the changes are apparent.

The countryside was beautiful and a welcome respite from all the city experiences we had previously. In Yangshuo, we spent a lot of time biking around the countryside, river rafting and visiting the rice terraces in the mountains. The mountains are also home to some Chinese minority tribes who were interesting to meet. We definitely could have spent more time just hanging around Yangshuo.

A Two Week Highlights of China Itinerary for a Luxury China Tour

Chinese minorities were pushed into the mountainous regions by the Han majority where they created these epic rice terraces.

Accommodation: The Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

We stayed at the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat which also has well-deserved great TripAdvisor reviews. Although the rooms are on the small side for a family room, we enjoyed everything else about the hotel. Frankly, we also didn’t spend that much time in the room.

A Two Week Highlights of China Itinerary for a Luxury China Tour

The view from the terrace of our room at the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat.

The location was very peaceful – once again with beautiful riverside views ringed by the weirdly-shaped karst mountains. We would have drinks or meals watching the locals push tourists along on bamboo rafts. The food was excellent as well. The hotel also had good WiFi which was a bit of a surprise considering WiFi in the cities had been so woeful.

Check TripAdvisor Reviews Now!

Xi’an

Our last internal flight in China went from Guilin to Xi’an. The city of Xi’an in Shaanxi province has a history that goes back thousands of years. One of the old Imperial capitals, Xi’an is known for the terracotta Army of the First Emperor dating from the 2nd century BC, considered by many to be the biggest archeological find of the 20th century.

A Two Week Highlights of China Itinerary for a Luxury China Tour

A Terracotta Army stands to attention ready to march for eternity.

Tourist Attractions in Xi’An

Other than the world-famous Terracotta Army, the city of Xi’an has lots of other sightseeing opportunities which tell of its position at the crossroads of history for thousands of years. For example, Banpo Village is a Neolithic archeological treasure trove from 5000-3000 BC.  There is also the Great Mosque of Xi’anGreat Mosque of Xi’an which is the oldest and largest mosque in China and a testament to the city’s participation in the Silk Trade.  Moreover, unlike in Beijing, the Great Mosque of Xi’an is still in existence around the historic part of Xian allowing you to walk or cycle around it. Just to give you an idea of scale, this city wall is wide enough for 6 chariots to travel abreast!

A Two Week Highlights of China Itinerary for a Luxury China Tour

I had not expected the Xi\an City Wall to be so wide.

Accomodation: Xi’an Hilton

We chose the Xi’an Hilton because of its central location in the historic district of the city. After being wooed by the boutique charm of the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat, we were a little disconcerted to find ourselves back in a large hotel chain. Although we were on the special executive floor, we had the same view as everyone else – rows of shabby-looking Chinese tenement apartments.

A Two Week Highlights of China Itinerary for a Luxury China Tour

Sunset lends a misty pastel hue to the view of urban Xi’an from the Xi’an Hilton Hotel.

The best part of the Xi’an Hilton was probably the grand hotel lobby. Our rooms were spacious with comfortable beds. The buffet breakfast and dinner were nothing special. Luckily we were near lots of restaurants so we just ate elsewhere. The location was indeed excellent.

Check TripAdvisor Reviews Now!

Transportation Within China

At almost 4 million square miles, China is a vast country to visit with attractions spread out over the country. For example, the distance from Beijing to Chengdu (our first visit outside of the capitol) is almost 1000 square miles. We had a choice of a 3 hour non-stop flight or 20+ hours on a train. We obviously picked flying!

Domestic Flights in China

China has 20 domestic airlines providing regional flights. We took 2 flights on Air China and 1 flight on Sichuan Air. We had no problems on any of our internal flights although we had been warned that delays may occur. There are so many planes in the air that departure and arrival slots at the airports are tightly slotted. We were not adventurous enough to try any of the in-flight meals!

Chinese Bullet Train

We returned to Beijing from Xi’An by high-speed train. We had First Class seats which confusingly are really what we would could consider business-class seats. They are spacious seats with 2 seats on each side of the aisle. There is complimentary snack service but no WiFi.

A Two Week Highlights of China Itinerary for a Luxury China Tour

A Chinese Bullet Train sits at the station in Xi’an.

The really luxurious seats on the Chinese bullet trains are called Business Class seats. These seats are wider (only three across an aisle) and can recline practically flat. Our train from Xi’an to Beijing had only one carriage of Business Class seats.

Abercrombie and Kent arranged for Red Cap service for us. We had a porter (with a red cap) take our bags and arrange them on the train before we boarded. On our exit, the porter was waiting to unload our bags. We found this little extra touch a real bonus because our suitcases had gotten heavy by this stage of the journey!

We found the train service, especially the high-speed train service, in China excellent. The Chinese government has plans to extend the service throughout the country by spending $509 billion on train infrastructure through 2020.

Other Options for This China Itinerary

We felt we had seen enough of China to see some of its highlights. Ideally we would have flown into Beijing and out of Shanghai. With our British Airways tickets, we needed to fly in and out of one airport.  I have no regrets about having missed the Yangtze River cruise though.

A Two Week Highlights of China Itinerary for a Luxury China Tour

A two week itinerary covering Beijing. Xian, Chengdu and Guilin with options for a Yangtze River Cruise and Shanghai.

Shanghai

If we had flown out of Shanghai, we would have been able to visit China’s financial centre. I would have allocated at least 2 days for Shanghai. Known for its food scene, I would have loved to do a Shanghai food tour of the markets as well as dine in the French Concession area.

Yangtze River Cruise

In one version of our China itinerary, we considered a Yangtze river cruise. This version would have been possible if we had cut some of our stays down to 2 days each.

The shortest Yangtze cruise is 3 days. The cruise would fit into the timetable right after Xian because the departure point of Chongqing is located nearby. We would have taken the Yangtze Explorer which is considered an upscale option for a Yangtze river cruise. W would have stopped to see one of the relocated villages and the Three Gorges Project Dam.

We felt this variation including the Yangtze cruise was too rushed for our family. We would have had less time at some of the other destination which we really wanted to explore in further detail.

Check TripAdvisor Reviews Now!

Moreover, we spoke to people who had experience with this cruise and said it was a fairly standard cruise experience. My kids would have gone stir-crazy with 3 days on a boat. Unlike some of the Caribbean cruise lines, there are no water slides, kids clubs etc on the Yangtze Explorer. Traditional Chinese morning exercises would not have cut it for them.

A Two Week Highlights of China Itinerary for a Luxury China Tour

We met this group of women who were visiting Chengdu from Harbin China who were fascinated with our children. After trailing in front of us taking photos for an hour, we gave up ignoring them. We agreed to pose with them if they would just stop taking photos of us.

In addition, trapped on a boat they probably would have been subject to having their picture taken with an endless stream of Chinese tourists. As it was, my children were a bit startled by how often the Chinese wanted to photograph them. I asked my daughter why she hated it so much because she is generally an easy-going child. She said that no matter how friendly everyone was, they made her feel like a freak show attraction. Fair enough.

Our Opinion On our China Itinerary

Even though we thought we were taking it relatively easy, we did find ourselves exhausted by the end of the 15 day trip. Getting on a plane every 3 days even for a short internal flight can be wearying. If we had more time, we would have planned a beach holiday at the end of this trip just to unwind. On the plus side, we did love our trip to China and would do it again in a heartbeat.

We did not receive compensation of any form, monetary or otherwise, from any of British Airways, Abercrombie & Kent, the hotels. etc mentioned in this article. This post does contain affiliate links for which the full disclosure policy can be found here.

 

A Kid-Friendly Beijing Noodles Recipe

A Kid-Friendly Beijing Noodles Recipe

I’ve got a guest post from Sheryl, the creator of Hot Chiu Condiments, on one of her favourite quick and easy recipes.  You may remember that she told us all about her Westernised take on that Filipino comfort dish, Chicken Adobo.

Sheryl was inspired by two Chinese dishes. The first dish, Zha Jiang Mian, (fried sauce noodles) is a very popular noodle dish made throughout China in different variations. Basically noodles with meat, most commonly pork mince, and vegetables, this dish is also popular in Korea.  In fact, it is so popular that it is considered one of their fast-food, comfort foods.  If you wanted to create fried sauce noodles in the traditional manner, this recipe from The Woks of Life is a pretty good one but it does take 40 minutes.

The second dish that inspired Sheryl, Niu Rou Mian, is Taiwanese Beef Noodle soup. People think the background for this soup was Chinese soldiers who fled from the Communists to Taiwan in 1949.  You can have this soup dark (with soy sauce) or light (without soy sauce).  It is considered the national dish of  Taiwan.  Taipei even has its own annual Beef Noodle festival.  Restaurants can simmer this soup for hours in order to get the taste right.  But who has time for that at home, right?

Sheryl has combined these two dishes to create her kid-friendly Beijing Noodles recipe.  As she says, this quick and easy recipe ‘marries culture with convenience’ and is a firm favourite with her children.  I made it for my kids as well and they pronounced it ‘yummy’.

A beijing noodles recipe that has been modified to be kid-friendly

I’ve also created this version for my children which has broccoli and peas with chicken (all I had lying around the house when I was in a hurry).  Otherwise, the recipe is entirely the same.  I love the fact that this recipe has endless variations depending upon what meat and vegetables your children will eat (and you have handy!).  Most people always have garlic, eggs and soy sauce readily available as well.  Culture and convenience indeed!

a kid-friendly beijing noodles recipe

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A Kid-Friendly Beijing Noodles Recipe

When we’ve been out all day and our kids are yelling for food like hungry nomads, I’ve got literally 15 minutes tops before they start chewing the walls from hunger. Here’s a full-proof recipe that I got from fridge to table in 15 minutes flat.
Total Time: 15 mins // Serves 2

child eating noodles
Ingredients
Fresh Egg Noodles
1/2 cup mince pork (or substitute with tofu, chicken, lamb, beef or prawns)
1/2 cup each of frozen peas and corn
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 cloves garlic
1 egg

Beijing Stir Fry Noodles
Method
1. Heat up the wok and oil generously
2. Crush the garlic with a garlic crusher directly into the wok
3. As the pan is searing hot, immediately stir in the mince pork (or your choice of protein) until brown and separate well with a wooden spoon or spatula
4. Throw in the peas and corn and stir for half a minute
5. Make space in the middle of the work and crack in the egg. Stir it up with everything until the egg looks cooked and dry (about a minute)
6. Lastly, stir-in the noodles, splash soy sauce over everything, mix it up for one last minute and serve!
Enjoy!

Beijing stir fried noodles

Beijing stir fried noodles made with beef, tofu and green peas

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I hope you enjoyed this recipe for Beijing Stir Fried Noodles. It’s a good variation on stir fries which are my go-to specialty for when I am running out of time and need to feed the kids during the weekdays.  I always use Hot Chiu stir-fry sauce but it’s also good to have another stir-fry option in your back pocket.

You can follow Sheryl over on her Facebook page for Hot Chiu where she regularly puts up photos and recipes highlighting her amazing cooking skills.

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This post is linked up with Monday Escapes.

 

Travel Monkey