Saturday, May 17, 2014

Top 7 Touristy Spots in China - To Go or to Forego?

As a first time tourist to China, we wanted to see as much as possible.  We hit a lot of the tourist sites and some were more whelming than others.  Here's my list of the top sites in China, and whether they're worth all the fuss.

1.  The Bund/Jin Mao, Shanghai

Shanghai is a very young city that had a cultural come-back in 1989, after China's industrial revolution. Jiang Zemin, a prominent member of the Shanghai Clique, promoted Shanghai as the financial hub of Asia and posed it as the gateway into Asia after China opened it's gates to the rest of the world. The Bund was the center of the financial district : now it resides as a tourist spot in the middle of Shanghai amid the hustle and bustle of millions of people, as a reminder of the economic boom in the early 90's.

The view from the Bund as we headed to the railway station

Now, if you're an economist, or very interested in the history of finance, this is the spot for you. For city views, you can't beat the Jin Mao tower as one of the tallest building in Shanghai.

Neva pointing at the Jin Mao Tower from a cab.  It's the one on the left.

It's about $20 to go all the way to the top and look over the city through a large glass window at 88 stories up.

There's only 2 buttons for this elevator, B1 and 88.  It takes 9 seconds to go 88 stories up.

The problem is the view is going to be foggy if it's a bad pollution day, and most days are bad pollution days.  In the 16 days we were in China, we checked all of the cities we had been in every day.  Shanghai never got below 150 ppm. If neither of these experiences sounds intriguing to you, you may want to forego it as the prices for everything are going to be the highest on the Bund, and Shanghai is already the most pricey city in all of China.

View of Shanghai from Jin Mao Tower.  Pollution was 158 ppm this day.

What to do instead?

Propaganda Poster Museum

A gem hidden outside of the French Concession, nestled in the basement of a residential apartment building, you get all of the post WWII history of China via artistic interpretation through propaganda posters. The powerful images and intense perspective of interesting times was a favorite for me.

Each wall had the different images in chronological order.

Yuyuan Gardens - A favorite tourist destination for nationals, the Yuyuan Gardens is a great spot to escape the concrete jungle and enter into the serenity of abundant foliage, peaceful waters, and hungry coy with mouth agape, anticipating falling corn from casual passersby.  If you're the type who enjoys sitting in the park and taking in the scenery while sipping on some tea, you will enjoy a trip to these gardens.

2.  Terraced Rice Fields, Longji

Going to the mountains in Longji was a nice change from bustling, smoggy Shanghai. The whole family could run around without having to worry about the pollution. The views are pretty, but not overwhelming.

The draw to Longji is the large amount of indigenous people that live there. The Miao, Yao, Dong and Zhong live very modestly and till the terraced rice fields by traditional means.  The grandeur of looking at the fields is from the realization that this massive amount of land is still cared for by the strength of local hands : from the planting of the seeds to the harvesting of the crops.

Horses are the Mao's main source of transportation around the mountainous region of Longji.

3.  Li River Cruise, from Guilin to Yangshuo

You may have caught a glimpse of the back of the 20 yuan bill, it depicts the view of the mountains outside of Yangshuo which can only be seen from the water.

Our very informative tour guide, Bruce, holding a 20 yuan bill with the pastoral scenery matching that which is in the background.

The mist dances with the long train of mountains that tower above the lake.  Four hours of beauty from an extremely touristy cruise ship.  The buffet food was terrible, and the only locals were guides, but the view is a one of a kind and not to be missed; just make sure to bring mosquito repellent, a light rain coat and small snacks.

If you're up to it, you can also get a bamboo raft ride at the end of the cruise in Yangshuo.

4.  Pandas, Chengdu

What's the cuddliest thing you can think of?  A big bear cat?  Well that's the direct translation of what the Chinese call the Giant Panda.

China's national symbol.

As an animal lover, I could not resist this and enjoyed my time taking lots of pictures of these extremely lazy quadrupeds.  To be honest, they do just sit there and chew on bamboo for the most part.  You're lucky if they move at all.

This panda posed only for me. Once I walked away, he sat right back up and chewed bamboo.  Pandas have poor vision and his back was turned when I walked up, so he must have liked my smell...or I got very lucky.

If you have some disposable income, you can pay 2000 yuan (roughly $330) to actually hold one.  That was too rich for our blood, but we still had a good time.  There are red pandas at the sanctuary as well.  They are cute too, but super aggressive and a little scary, I wouldn't want to hold one of those.

If you really love pandas and have the time, there is a panda center 2 hours north of Chengdu where you can volunteer to take care of the pandas.  Mostly you will be cutting up vegetables for feeding, and cleaning up panda poop.  These animals poop as they eat, and they eat continuously from the lack of nutrients in bamboo; but, you will probably have a good chance of getting up close and personal with China's national symbol.

This could be you!

5.  Terracotta Warriors, Xi'an

I know it's tempting to say, "I've seen pictures of that hundreds of times, why should I go in person?" but the amount of art and history in China is seemingly endless and always more impressive than expectations.

The line up of 1000 dug up soldiers.  They were all painted in bright colors originally, but once dug up, the oxidation destroys the color. This is why the remaining soldiers are in the ground still, at least until a good method of extraction is discovered.

Think about this : the terracotta warriors are a hand-made terracotta militia of 6000, including men of different ranks, horses, chariots and weapons. Each piece had its' own cast, each of which was destroyed after the piece was created; one cast, one piece and then back to the drawing board. The level of details from the hairstyles of the generals, to varied facial expressions and features, to  the fingernails and hand positions, is both visually impressive and thought provoking.

The mini horse-drawn chariot built to carry Emperor Qinshihuang's soul to paradise.

6.  Great Wall -Mutinayu section, outside of Beijing

The Chinese say that one is not a true person until they have climbed on the Great Wall. I'm not quite sure what that means, but as one of the 8 wonders of the world, the Great Wall does not fail to deliver.

Standing on the great wall is quite breath-taking as you look down the snaking path as far as you can see, and the wall disappears into the horizon.  It took over 200 years to build and 2500 years later, you can take a cable car to the top and admire the view.

If you are really a fan of running, stairs, and the Great Wall, there are 2 different marathons that take place on 2 different sections of the wall in the month of May...I wasn't ready this year, but my hard-core friend Shannon is, she ran it today!

7.  And the last wonder in China... Neva Jeanne.

That's right folks, Neva Jeanne is a star in China.  We couldn't go anywhere without the paparazzi showing up.  Don't believe me?  Here is a taste.

Neva, with some fans at the Yuyuan Gardens in Shanghai.

The Mao women charge 10 yuan to take their hair down so you can get a picture.  Not for us, THEY wanted a picture with Neva.

She had a line of people waiting for a picture at a stopping point from rafting on the Li River in Yangshuo.  You can stop to get your picture of yourself going down the "rapid" but everyone just wanted a picture with Neva.

The hordes continue in Beijing at the Temple of Heaven, before we went to the Great Wall.

And then on the Great wall. Neva working on international relations and world peace.
Since there are so many  people in China, the personal bubble does not really exist.  People would pick her up and grab her if they wanted a picture.  At one point on the bullet train, she was playing with a woman behind us who ended up pulling her over the seat with Neva's feet holding desperately on to the seat to prevent it.  Neva usually draws attention, but I could have never predicted the response she elicited in China.  The middle kingdom is a fairly safe place, possibly safer than the US, as far as random acts of violence are concerned; we always knew her 'fans' meant well, but the cultural difference can be alarming for an unsuspecting American mother.  So if you have a cute, large eyed child in China, know they may get LOTS of attention, and though it can be awkward, cute kids are a universal language.


  1. Great blog. Neva the attention getter.

  2. Neva would be a star anywhere! The fact she was in China just shows what intelligent people the Chinese are.

  3. "cute kids are a universal language."? ESPECIALLY Neva! I walked several miles on the wall in 1998. Nothing else in the world is that impressive in that way.