Updated: Oct 27, 2018
Chinese Wall, Forbidden City, Terracotta Army and the Panda reserve in Chengdu. All had been on our mum and dad’s bucket list for quite some time, but had been postponed with discussions on whether or not to do it with us kids aged 2-8, or when we’d be older. But, mum and dad haven’t yet bagged a bucket wish because of us, and they obviously weren’t going to start now. Since arriving to Singapore in 2014, we have mixed up our travels with culture, activities and beach, as mum and dad believe we will actually bring back a piece of Asia with us, rather than a blur of exotic beaches.
However, the trip had been planned with two stressed parents in new jobs, which meant that packing and preparation could’ve been better. Now, the good news is, that mum can pass on the advice that they forgot to read up on! So first - mum gets the pen for the boring info and I’ll come back and tell you about our adventure…
TIPS FOR CHINA TRAVEL
China with a toddler can be a challenge. Transport with children somewhat older also not easy. Travelling as a family of 5 with both ages, doable, if you plan well and are aware of do’s and don’ts.
So first - here’s what to be aware of:
1400 mio. people live in China. This shows, especially with traffic and getting from A to B. So, a good idea is to plan your transportation ahead, rather than getting (or not getting) taxis on a whim and booking a train on the go like us.
If you can get hotels to take you to and from airports and arrange mini-vans/guided tours for your day-trips, it will save you a lot of time!
Also, think of day-trips (from Beijing to Wall), same day- return flight to Xi’an to avoid logging luggage around + time spent on check-in/check-out - although days become longer, most kids like to return to the same hotel, rather than being on the constant move.
Allow break times, Beijing isn’t full of kids-friendly options and days, walking and information overload can be overwhelming for kids. Booking a hotel with e.g. a pool, can make up for this.
Allow more time than what the GPS says to travel from A to B - ask the concierge at your hotel.
Make sure to be in good time at airports and train stations too, as everything takes longer in China (e.g. 2,5 hours from landing in Beijing to arriving at our hotel)
Download the Didi app (as advised by JemaJaunts - we just did it a little too late)
Always bring your destination on a card or a picture in Chinese!
Ask for the driver to travel by taximeter - with a set price they often double the cost (however, often they refuse when you’re a tourist)
You are only allowed 4 people in a taxi in China - although Chris is only 2, we had to go in 2 taxis always.
Bring cash - they don’t accept cards in taxis.
Don’t expect to use seatbelts in the taxis - although they have them, they use a cover for their seats that enables you to get to them. We brought a travel child-seat for Chris, but was unable to use them in the taxis, let alone even a seatbelt for him.
China has selected handicap friendly access - but avoid it at the big sights and underground train if you can or bring a light Yoyo or the likes, as ramps/elevators are scarce. However, for long walks around the city, it’s vital for toddlers as they can get long + Beijing is flat, so easy to navigate with stroller.
Very few people speak English, even at the hotels, it can be a struggle. (spoke to 10 people when ordering room service) Download a translator app for your phone - we ordered many meals through a phone!
ONLINE IN CHINA:
Facebook, Instragram and all Google owned sites can not be used in China. If this is important for you - make sure to download a VPN (VPN express works well on all platforms). Also, always good to have films downloaded on devices, as not all hotels or planes have international films/TV.
Lots of fun and children friendly foods to eat in China, but be aware that different regions have different traditions. E.g. Sichuan food is known for their spicy food, and it’s seriously spicy! Dumplings, Dim Sum, Peking Duck and Fried Rice is often a hit with the kids - but also try a hot pot - Philip loved it, and a fun social thing to do.
Although a guide might get your kids a little impatient at times with their load of information, it can save you a lot of time, as they know their way around, what to prioritise and mix things up to make it more fun (see below for our DAY 3 in Beijing). We loved the advice we had from JemaJaunts using Jason from Coco as our guide.
Be aware that most museums and sights are closed on Mondays.
Best times to go to Beijing is spring and autumn - summer is too hot and crowded and winter too cold. However, make sure you skip the first week of October, a national holiday. We went 13th October, a great time - although the weather forecast cheated somewhat with the 18-21 degrees - it gets cold at night and in the shade, so if travelling at this time, remember trousers, jumpers and jackets for everyone - and GOOD trainers for walking.
Now you’re prepared - let’s tell you a little about our trip through our eyes!
We left early Saturday morning from Singapore and the 6 hour flight + 2,5 hours getting to the New World Hotel in Beijing, meant that we made it there for 5pm. We were super excited, as our 4 year-old cousin, Sophia + uncle, Michael, had made the journey from Denmark to join us on our trip! She’d finished a couple of bags of peanuts in the lounge waiting for us, trying not to fall asleep because of jet lag and we quickly joined her in the feast + left straight away for our dinner out, reserved at DaDong a 1 km. walk away. We probably should have saved this treat for another night where we were all less tired, but I loved it!
DaDong is a chain of restaurants and famous for their Peking Duck and they bring a full duck to you, prepare it at your table + show you how to do the pancakes properly. They were nice, but my favourites were the dumplings, they were so fabulous i had to order extra!
Having just checked in, we were checking out from New World again this morning and off to the Great Wall of China to spend a night. Dad had ordered a nice mini-van with room for all of us, for the 1,5 hour journey to The Brickyard - ordered through them. The Brickyard is an eco retreat near the Wall, that also rent out villas for bigger families like ours. After exploring their drawing wall and their great lunch, we got a 5 min. shuttle to the villa, where we had our own house with an annex that had a great fireplace and cozy living room!
Off again in the shuttle from the Brickyard to the cable car, that takes you up . It was a little hazy, but the view was still incredible. It was fun to walk on the wall, take my own pictures and experiment with getting the depth of the picture, so you could really get the feel of how impressive and big the wall really is! There were a lot of people in the spot where we started, but as we walked from tower to tower, we had it more to ourselves. We got very tired with all the walking, especially Chris, who had to take his afternoon nap on my dad and Michael’s shoulders!
But it was all worth it, because we were about to have so much fun - getting down faster than I’d ever imagined! The Toboggan is a 1,5 km. long slide, where you go cart your way down in high speed! Make sure there’s no-one in front and behind though, it means you can go faster. We loved it so much, that we did it twice, getting the chair lift up this time! Mum and Chris skipped the second round and hung out on the chair swings at the café at the bottom.
A shuttle was ready for us, and took us to the villa. We were hungry at this stage, but having finished all the cookies in the villa, we ventured out in the dark to find the local hot pot restaurant. Not an easy task with no street lighting and no-English speaking by-passers. But we finally found it, and with some great difficulty, we made it through the menu through a translator app and tried our first Hot Pot - a healthy form of fondue, where you drop raw meat/seafood into boiling water and dip it into a variety of sauces. I really loved it - the beef was so yummy and it was fun to prepare it yourself.
Now we were tired and without the possibility of bringing back take-away to our uncle and cousin (she’d fallen asleep before dinner because of jet lag), they went to bed hungry. So, if going for this option - remember to shop beforehand - and perhaps eat your dinner at Brickyard to avoid the dark walk and translation issues.
The villa was walking distance from the Wall, but the weather was not very walkable on our third day. My dad and uncle took the plunge and walked the 40 min. up in drizzle rain and assured us, that it was good we’d decided to come up in the villa instead - the walk was too challenging for us.
We had a shuttle back down to Brickyard, enjoyed the lunch and shuttled back to New World Hotel. A lucky day for transit and lazy - rainy and super polluted day in Beijing with most sights being closed anyway (Monday). So we hit the pool, had dinner at the hotel and just enjoyed some good cousin time!
Pollution had washed away and the morning looked better for our big day of sightseeing around Beijing. Jason met us at the hotel a 9am and walked us to the nearest Metro station, getting the Circle line to Guloudajie station. First we had to work hard to keep down our breakfast, entering the market Jungulouwai Dajie with full headed chickens and pig intestines lined up! Veg and fruit were more appetising, but surprisingly big all of them! … I had to wonder, if they’d had some help growing to this size!
Next was rickshaws, we split up into 4 carriages and it was fun driving around and into the Hutongs - the traditional old housing areas in Beijing. We stopped at our house to do fun activities, like caligraphy painting and dumpling making! Sienna and I had tried it before at school, and impressed the teacher with our signage and mandarin skills! We also had a great lunch there - trying out more Chinese specialities!
Back on the rickshaws, back on the metro and off to a site we’d talked a lot about: Tian'anme Square (biggest in the world) and The Forbidden City! The weather was now perfect, and although there was a lot of information to take in from Jason, it was fun to see the many different palaces, get to know about the 400 year old buildings and also hear that the
he emperors had concubines - a lot of wives, that lived in the city with them!
Jason told us a lot of great stories about Chinese history that I look forward to impressing my teacher with at school! We waited for ages at the bus, as no taxis outside the City, and it was a long journey with tons of people, even though our hotel is only a couple of kilometres from there.
More history and more temples today, but this time without guide, so we could do it at our own pace. Struggling to get taxis, we finally made it to Temple of Heaven, but first we walked through the amazing park where lots of families are doing exercise or family outings. It was pretty impressive, the colours are really amazing!
But enough of old, we were ready for modern - especially my dad, who loved art, was keen to get to District 789, that has museums, galleries and funky cafés. We really enjoyed it, the food, the coffee places, the outdoor fun, the quirky shops and raw buildings. A bit of a way to get there, but worth it!
In the evening we went next door to a Sichuan restaurant we’d had recommended by Jason, but MAN, i like spicy food, but this was SPIIICY! Turned out we’d ordered 3 spicy dishes that were all chili, so Sienna, Sophia and Chris left a little hungry - haha!
Mum, Michael and dad considered the Temple of Summer Palace, but we didn’t. So another attempt to get a taxi, we walked a long way to then catch a ride to Lama Temple and Guozijiian street - much nicer hutong area than the one yesterday, with lots of little shops. We went there to do a kids activity - pottery - , but unfortunately this was closed, so just went for a wonder, found a playground, saw the Confucious Temple and had a great lunch at rooftop restaurant.
We went a bit more touristy when heading to the Nanluogo Xiang Hutong district, but did some good shopping, Sienna got a fan, Sophia a bag and the window shopping was fun. We went back early, so we could eat in time to get to the acrobatic show after dinner!
Sophia, Sienna, Michael, mum and I were pretty excited - our last night together was going to get celebrated in style with a must-do in Beijing. Mum had struggled to get the concierge to book and understand, but assumed she’d succeeded when we went to the Theatre. But at our arrival, the ticket lady immediately asked us I(through her phone) what our mission was…and could inform us, that there was no long acrobatics, but a musical - in Chinese! We were a bit upset, we had rushed the dinner, and now we didn’t have time to make a show somehere else. Mum was mad a the concierge for not telling us this!! We decided to do movie night at our room, and that wasn’t too bad either…
Goodbye to Michael and Sophia, time went so quick! They were heading back to Denmark tomorrow, and we were headed on a flight to Xi’an.
We had a very early morning flight, so left with packed breakfast for the 2 hour flight to Xi’an. Another long taxi drive got us to the new Angsana Hotel, located in-between Xi’an city and the Terracotta Army area. We had a nice lunch, and then headed out to the reason we’d made the long trip here.
Sienna and I had brought our cameras and were really excited. Mum and dad had told us about these solders, as they had seen a small part in the British Museum in London 10 years ago, and had been dying to see the real thing.
As we got there, a guide grabbed us, and we got lured into a tour, but specifically asking her to do it in the order, where we got to see the best last. So we started with the two bronze carriages, the pit 2, the biggest pit where you could see where the soldiers had been excavated.
Then Pit 3, the commando centre apparently and lastly, the huge pit 1, where 1.500 soldiers are standing for us to see.
It was seriously impressive and Sienna and I learned all the facts by heart , to tell in school when we get back. I can’t believe it’s only 44 years ago they were discovered by a farmer, while digging a well, and I can’t believe that there another 6.500 solders yet to be repaired and excavated from another 30 or so pits!
While being inside, the rain had started, and made it yet again hard to get a taxi, but we made it back, all wet though, and decided to go for a hot bath, a film and room service!
Today, the plan was to go and see Xi’an city in the morning, before heading off on a train to Chengdu. But as my mum has already said, distances are long and traffic is bad in China, so our hotel advised against it - especially as we’d need good time at the station before take-off. We were pretty pleased to be honest, because walking distance from the hotel was a brand new shopping outlet! We only managed about 4 shops though, as we were running out of time to get to the station in time. We did have time to take a photo of Chris + new friend, after all, after the hundreds of photos taken of him, it was time we took some back!
Although mum had managed to buy the tickets online (after trying to get the hotel to help for 1,5 hours), the lines to pick up the tickets and to check-in on the train are long and everything takes time. Dad managed to get us some lunch and I was pretty ecstactic to see that mum had bought 1st class tickets - not business, not 2nd, but in-between and it was super comfy! Only think was, that Chris didn’t have a seat, so mum was seatless quite often - as you might not know - Chris is a very bossy 2- year-old! We had hoped to see more of the scenery, but there are actually a million tunnels on this 4 hour trip, so it was mostly at the end we saw the mountains.
Arriving in Chengdu was even more hectic than Xi’an. Chendgu is the Southern transport hub in China and the station is packed with people. After queuing for taxis for ages, the drivers tried to scam us, something we’re getting quite used to. However, were met with pandas everywhere, and as we got to the Crowne Plaza hotel finally and after mum had spoken to 10 different people at the hotel, managed to get some food delivered once again.
And our dessert? A panda tiramisu of course..
An early rise for the reason we were here and to beat the crowds, we left the hotel at 7:30 to get to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base in good time. Dad had booked the hotel very close to the pandas on purpose, so the trip there was short. And we more or less had the park to ourselves in the first 20 min. - and that is something on a Sunday - in a huge tourist attraction in China!
We started off being the junior pandas, they were running around inside, desperate to get out and we saw them being let out by the staff, munching on bamboo!
Then it was the babies, born in the spring, they were still tiny and super cute - most were asleep, but one was running around tripping over itself!
Next were the adult Giant Panda’s - one was playing around and biting a small one, they are really entertaining! And lastly, the red pandas - super quick, they climb up to the top of the trees and from afar they look like a mix between a racoon and a fox, but with cute panda face.
We finished off with a great film explaining the stories about the pandas - how 8 pandas arrived to the centre, and 146 Great Panda’s have been born and bread here and many realised in the wild. Then a well-deserved panda coffee with a lot of panda teddies - incl. Sienna’s new hat!!
The original afternoon plan had been Chengdu town, but the hotel was so nice, that we decided to hit the pool, join Chris in the kids room, go for a walk around the garden, and watch a Chines wedding in the making! We had our dinner i the business lounge and saw the couple get married from the 21st floor!!
A nice way to end the holiday - a Narnia movie in the room - an adventure, just like we’d been on one for the past 9 days…. Now we were ready to get back home - another early morning flight out of Chengdu tomorrow and time to see our friends, auntie and hot hot Singapore!
Videos and more facts to come!