CHINA: Detroit to Shanghai to Xi’An to Beijing (with cruise stops in Okinawa Japan and Busan South Korea)
NOTE: I took many photo’s some of which you’ll see in my video and here on my website. These are only the highlights. I’ll be releasing more via Facebook and Instagram in the coming months.
General planning and travel tips
Cost: Roughly $6,000 including airfare, cruise, & spending cash.
Duration: 16 days (includes 2 flying days).
Time of year: Mid-February to early March. Weather generally moderate and you avoid the summer crowds.
MY ROUGH ITINERARY:
Flew into Shanghai direct from Detroit. Toured the city for 2 days.
Caught a cruise ship and made ports in Okinawa Japan and in Busan South Korea. Then sailed back to Shanghai.
Caught a train to Xi’an (pronounced “shee-ahn”) which I toured for 2.5 days (Terra Cotta Warriors—WOW…).
Caught a Bullet train to Beijing where I toured for 3 days (Forbidden City, The Great Wall—DOUBLE-WOW!)
Flew back to Detroit.
1. Unless you have contacts in China, enlist a local travel agent. They will help you set up the itinerary, line you up with great tour guides and give you useful advice. Let them know what interests you most and advise them of any physical limitations you may have and they will guide you accordingly.
2. If you’re long legged like me, get extra leg room on the flight. This cost me about $140 extra each way which was well worth it on the 14 hour flights.
3. You’ll need your passport to be current with an expiration date at least 6 months beyond your date of departure. You’ll also need a Chinese visa (your travel agent can assist with that but apply for it well in advance—it can take a couple of months and costs about $225).
4. Cash and expenses: Call your credit card company a week or so before leaving to let them know where and when you’ll be traveling. I had no trouble using my VISA card anywhere. Take some Chinese cash for miscellaneous stuff. Through my local bank, I converted $500 into about 3000 Chinese Yuan (RMB) and had some left over when I returned which I easily converted back to bucks.
5. Be prepared for and be open to new cultural and culinary experiences—it’s part of the adventure. It’s why you’re going, remember? If you don’t want the Chinese culture to rub off on you a little bit, STAY HOME!
6. I found the Chinese people I met to be very friendly. You will find them to be as curious about you as you are about them. If you know Chinese or if you have a Chinese language app on your phone, that will be a very good thing. You can still get by, as I did, without knowing or having either one. If I were to go again, I’d make sure to at least have the app. There are many good ones out there.
7. “What’s App” is a very good way to communicate with and send pics to the folks back home for free.
8. Have a good camera or phone that takes great pics and videos. I bought an I-Phone 6 before I left and was glad I did. (I also took a selfie stick which I was a little embarrassed about but was glad I had)
9. On your free time, don’t be afraid to get out and walk around your hotel area. Take a card from the hotel so you can ask for help if you get lost. If you’re up to it you might want to use the subway or a cab. I didn’t and I have some regrets about that but, hey, do what you’re comfortable with.
10. When crossing busy streets in the city (and they’re all busy) remember, whether a motorist or a pedestrian, whoever gets to an opening first has the right of way. Just be wary and keep your eyes open especially for left-turners whizzing through the pedestrian stream.
11. Have fun, push the envelope, and be open to meeting new people. Again, it’s an adventure so expect and enjoy the unexpected!
After landing in Shanghai…
China Customs: took about an hour, no problems. I had one carry-on and one checked bag.
Connections: Met my contact Caroline at the airport. Friendly, high-spirited, good English. She and her driver got me into the city and to my hotel. In all, this took about 2 hours after landing. Great!
Accommodations: Kingstown Plaza Hotel (Superior Queen room) Clean, comfortable, western-style, good buffet breakfast each morning. Friendly staff who spoke enough English for me to get by just fine.
For each of my 2 days in Shanghai I had a driver and guide all to myself. This as a result of going in the low tourism season.
Day 1 -
We drove well outside of Shanghai so I got to see the countryside as well as experience the difficult traffic. (Glad I wasn’t driving). The Zhouzhuang water Village, our first stop, is a sprawling settlement of homes and shops and temples crisscrossed by canals and walkways connected by charming stone bridges all of which celebrate a heritage of Chinese culture going back hundreds of years. The Lingering Garden, our second stop, is large and well-tended and, while I can’t call myself a garden guy, being there gave me a good feel for the importance of peace, solitude and introspection in Chinese life. Got back to the hotel around 5, rested up, then walked about 2 miles from the hotel down to the Bund, getting a good feel for the city and a great view of the Pudong River and skyline.
Day 2 -
Toured a Confucius Temple, took part in a Chinese tea ceremony, had a great walking tour of the city. Lunch in a typical street-side eatery gave me a good feel for the sometimes frantic pace of the city and its burgeoning, youthful, fun-loving population. With a little advice from my guide, I’m getting better with chop-sticks and can highly recommend the noodles and dumplings.
Checked out of the hotel in Shanghai and was driven to the docks where my cruise on the Quantum of the Seas began. This is a newer ship in the Royal Caribbean line and offers everything you’d want in the way of food and fun. Weather was good but balcony sitting was comfortable for only two of the five days. Made ports in Okinawa Japan and in Busan South Korea. Of these two, Busan was the most interesting. The fish market there is something to see (check out that portion of my video). Also, met a few westerners on board who I was able to pal around with, one with whom I still maintain regular contact.
THE TRAIN TO XI’AN
Day 8 -
Returned to Shanghai where I was driven to one of the city’s 3 major rail stations. Boarded a train for Xi’an in the late afternoon. Had “Soft Sleeper” accommodations which gave me a lower bunk in a 4-bed sleeper cabin. If you do this, be sure to get a lower bunk as you have to be something of a gymnast to get into the upper bunks. Shared the sleeper cabin with 2 college guys and a fellow from Nanjin. All were very friendly but no one spoke English. The college guys had translator apps on their phones which proved useful. I had dinner in the dining car which was good (see menu far right) but you may just want to buy food at the station and bring it on board. Slept surprisingly well on the 13 hour trip and arrived in Xi’an on time at about 9am.
Day 9 -
Met my contact at the station and toured the city. Rented a bicycle which I used to ride along the top of the huge city walls. Checked into the Grand Nobel Hotel in the late afternoon (great place, clean, western style rooms.)
Day 10 -
Toured the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and the fantastic Terra Cotta Warrior exhibit. Which took the entire day. Bummed around the city that night on foot.
Day 11 -
Boarded a bullet train (first class) to Beijing. Glided across 650 miles of countryside in a very enjoyable 5 and a half hours. Met my contact at the station who got me to the Sunworld Hotel by about 4pm where I again had good accommodations. On my own the rest of the day. Strolled around the hotel, buffet dinner at hotel, then to bed.
Day 12 -
Did a quick walk-along by Tian’anmen Square followed by a tour of the Forbidden City which is an important cultural highlight in the city. After a great lunch (I’m really enjoying Chinese food by this time) we then went to the lake which abuts the grounds of the Imperial Summer Palace. Back at hotel by five or so where I did some more walking around followed by dinner then bed.
Day 13 -
The Ming Tomb and the Great wall. Boarded a bus with about twelve other tourists and toured the Ming Tomb which was followed by maybe an hour and a half drive up to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. Had lunch near the wall then walked up-hill a ways to a cable-car lift which took us the rest of the way up. Spent about an hour on our own on the wall. This was the highlight of the entire trip. It was a beautiful day, not to cold and the wall was not crowded at all. Back to the hotel by six. Had dinner then to bed.
Day 14-15 -
The last day. Had breakfast and relaxed around the hotel area. My ride came at about 1pm and took me to the airport with time to spare even though the traffic was terrible. The plane was a little late taking off but I still arrived back in Detroit close to on-time. My youngest daughter was there to pick me up. It was a great trip, but I was glad to be back.
A final note:
Through the course of my trip, I had no trouble at all with accommodations or with making connections. This may have just been good luck, but I think it was more the result of my travel agent paying attention to details and to their having good relationships with the tour-guide network in China. After being there for just the short time, I don’t claim by any means to be an expert on China but, if you need more info or if you have comments or questions, please leave them on my contact page. I’ll answer what I can and maybe some of the visitors to my website can handle the others.