The old Shanghai refers to a small area of Shanghai that used to be walled in and remained that way until about 1912 when all but a small section of the wall was demolished. With the advent of the concessions, Old Shanghai became the administrative center until later when it became a shopping complex.
Now it has many restored historical buildings as well as new buildings in a somewhat traditional style that has become one of Shanghai’s main tourist attractions, housing many shops and restaurants.
The “Old Town” is not exclusively old, as you still have a chance to take in the atmosphere if you wander into the quaint side streets.
But, on first viewing walking down the street towards the complex, I’m not sure I’d go as far as to say this is in reality old Shanghai, except for what appears to be a true representation of it architecturally.
The buildings, which are shops and restaurants, are set out symmetrically, with streets, alleyways, and squares which may prove that it was specially built for the tourists, and no mechanized traffic.
The buildings are magnificent, and a photographer’s delight, and you’d finish up having hundreds of photos by the time you leave. All the buildings are exquisite representations of traditional Chinese architecture.
As for buying stuff, remember if you’re not Chinese you have the sucker tourist stamp on your forehead, so be prepared to walk away if the vendors will not bargain.
Nothing here is worth the price tag and in our group discounts like from 130 RMB to 50 RMB and from 1 for 1,200 to 2 for 950 RMB are common.
Here common t-shirts that we can get for 3 dollars back home start at 150 RMB which is roughly 35 dollars. It’s that kind of market.
We end up is a tea room, on the third floor of the meeting point below, and discover all the tour guides sitting around a table counting money, and I have to say it’s the most $50 notes I’ve ever seen in one place. It is, we were told, where they discussed ‘strategy’.
West Lake is a freshwater lake in Hangzhou, China. It is divided into five sections by three causeways. There are numerous temples, pagodas, gardens, and artificial islands within the lake.
Measuring 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) in length, 2.8 kilometers (1.7 miles) in width, and 2.3 meters (7.5 feet) in average depth, the lake spreads itself in an area totaling 6.5 square kilometers (2.5 square miles).
The earliest recorded name for West Lake was the “Wu Forest River”, but over time it changed to two distinct names. One is “Qiantang Lake”, due to the fact that Hangzhou was called “Qiantang” in ancient times. The other, “West Lake”, due to the lake being west of the city
It’s about to get busy, with a number of activities planned, and the warmth of the day is starting to make an impact.
The tour starts in the car park about a kilometer away, but the moment we left the car park we were getting a taste of the park walking along a tree-lined avenue.
When we cross the road, once again dicing with death with the silent assassins on motor scooters.
We are in the park proper, and it is magnificent, with flowers, mostly at the start hydrangeas and then any number of other trees and shrubs, some carved into other flower shapes like a lotus.
Then there was the lake and the backdrop of bridges and walkways.
And if you can tune out the background white noise the place would be great for serenity and relaxation.
That, in fact, was how the boat ride panned out, about half an hour or more gliding across the lake in an almost silent boat, by an open window, with the air and the majestic scenery.
No, not that boat, which would be great to have lunch on while cruising, but the boat below:
Not quite in the same class, but all the same, very easy to tune out and soak it in.
It was peaceful, amazingly quiet, on a summery day
A pagoda in the hazy distance, an island we were about to circumnavigate.
Of all the legends, the most touching one is the love story between Bai Suzhen and Xu Xi’an. Bai Suzhen was a white snake spirit and Xu Xi’an was a mortal man.
They fell in love when they first met on a boat on the West Lake, and got married very soon after.
However, the evil monk Fa Hai attempted to separate the couple by imprisoning Xu Xi’an. Bai Suzhen fought against Fa Hai and tried her best to rescue her husband, but she failed and was imprisoned under the Leifeng Pagoda by the lake.
Years later the couple was rescued by Xiao Qing, the sister of Baisuzhen, and from then on, Bai Suzhen and Xu Xi’an lived together happily.
The retelling of the story varied between tour guides, and on the cruise boat, we had two. Our guide kept to the legend, the other tour guide had a different ending.
Suffice to say it had relevance to the two pagodas on the far side of the lake.
There was a cafe or restaurant on the island, but that was not our lunch destination.
Nor were the buildings further along from where we disembarked.
All in all the whole cruise took about 45 minutes and was an interesting break from the hectic nature of the tour.
Oh yes, and the boat captain had postcards for sale. We didn’t buy any.
At the disembarkation point there was a mall that sold souvenirs and had a few ‘fast food’ shops, and a KFC, not exactly what we came to China for, but it seemed like the only place in town a food cautious Australian could eat at.
And when tried to get in the door, that’s where at least 3 busloads were, if they were not in the local Starbucks. Apparently, these were the places of first choice wherever we went.
The chicken supply by the time we got to the head of the line amounted to pieces at 22.5 RMB a piece and nuggets. Everything else had run out, and for me, there were only 5 pieces left. Good thing there were chips.
And Starbucks with coffee and cheesecake.
At least the setting for what could have been a picnic lunch was idyllic.
China is renowned for its exquisite silk, so naturally, a visit to the Silk Spinning Factory is part of today’s tour.
After that, we will be heading downtown to an unspecified location where we’re getting a boat ride, walk through a typical Chinese shopping experience, and coffee at a coffee shop that is doubling as the meeting place, after we soak up the local atmosphere.
The problem with that is that if the entire collective trip a deal tourists take this route then the savvy shopkeepers will jack up their prices tenfold because we’re tourists with money. It’ll be interesting to see how expensive everything is.
Before we reach the silk factory, we are told that Suzhou is the main silk area of China, and we will be visiting a nearly 100 years old, Suzhou No 1 Silk Mill, established in 1926. Suzhou has a 4,700-year history of making silk products. It is located at No. 94, Nanmen Road, Suzhou, Jiangsu, China.
Then we arrive at the Silk Factory, another government-owned establishment with a castiron guarantee of quality and satisfaction.
The look and feel of the doona cover certainly backs up that claim
And the colors and variety is amazing (as is the cost of those exquisite sets)
We get to see the silk cocoon stretched beyond imagination, and see how the silk thread is extracted, then off to the showroom for the sales pitch.
It isn’t a hard sell, and the sheets, doonas, pillows, and pillowcases, are reasonably priced, and come with their own suitcase (for free) so you can take them with you, or free shipping, by slow boat, if you prefer not to take the goods with you.
We opt for the second choice, as there’s no room left in our baggage after packing the Chinese Medicine.
For the first time on this trip, we encounter problems with Chinese officialdom at the railway station, though we were warned that this might occur.
We had a major problem with the security staff when they pulled everyone over with aerosols and confiscated them. We lost styling mousse, others lost hair spray, and the men, their shaving cream. But, to her credit, the tour guide did warn us they were stricter here, but her suggestion to be angry they were taking our stuff was probably not the right thing to do.
As with previous train bookings, the Chinese method of placing people in seats didn’t quite manage to keep couples traveling together, together on the train. It was an odd peculiarity which few of the passengers understood, nor did they conform, swapping seat allocations.
This train ride did not seem the same as the last two and I don’t think we had the same type of high-speed train type that we had for the last two. The carriages were different, there was only one toilet per carriage, and I don’t think we were going as fast.
But aside from that, we had 753 kilometers to travel with six stops before ours, two of which were very large cities, and then our stop, about four and a half hours later. With two minutes this time, to get the baggage off the team managed it in 40 seconds, a new record.
After slight disorientation getting off the train, we locate our guide, easily found by looking for the Trip-A-Deal flag. From there it’s a matter of getting into our respective groups and finding the bus.
As usual, the trip to the hotel was a long one, but we were traveling through a much brighter, and well lit, city.
As for our guide, we have him from now until the end of the tour. There are no more train rides, we will be taking the bus from city to city until we reach Shanghai. Good thing then that the bus is brand new, with that new car smell. Only issue, no USB charging point.
The Snowy Sea hotel.
It is finally a joy to get a room that is nothing short of great. It has a bathroom and thus privacy.
Everyone had to go find a supermarket to purchase replacements for the confiscated items. Luckily there was a huge supermarket just up from the hotel that had everything but the kitchen sink.
But, unlike where we live, the carpark is more of a scooter park!
It is also a small microcosm of Chinese life for the new more capitalistic oriented Chinese.
The next morning we get some idea of the scope of high-density living, though here, the buildings are not 30 stories tall, but still just as impressive.
These look like the medium density houses, but to the right of these are much larger buildings
The remarkable thing about this is those buildings stretch as far as the eye can see.
A convoluted explanation on the reasons for this memorial came down to it being about the deaths of those involved in the 1923 Erqi strike, though we’re not really sure what the strike was about.
So, after a little research, this is what I found:
The current Erqi Tower was built in 1971 and was, historically, the tallest building in the city. It is a memorial to the Erqi strike and in memory of Lin Xiangqian and other railway workers who went on strike for their rights, which happened on February 7, 1923.
It has 14 floors and is 63 meters high. One of the features of this building is the view from the top, accessed by a spiral staircase, or an elevator, when it’s working (it was not at the time of our visit).
There seems to be an affinity with the number 27 with this building, in that
It’s the 27th memorial to be built
to commemorate the 27th workers’ strike
located in the 27th plaza of Zhengzhou City.
We drive to the middle of the city where we once again find traveling in kamikaze traffic more entertaining than the tourist points
When we get to the drop-off spot, it’s a 10-minute walk to the center square where the tower is located on one side. Getting there we had to pass a choke point of blaring music and people hawking goods, each echoing off the opposite wall to the point where it was deafening. Too much of it would be torture.
But, back to the tower…
It has 14 levels, but no one seemed interested in climbing the 14 or 16 levels to get to the top. The elevator was broken, and after the great wall episode, most of us are heartily sick of stairs.
The center square was quite large but paved in places with white tiles that oddly reflected the heat rather than absorb it. In the sun it was very warm.
Around the outside of two-thirds of the square, and crossing the roads, was an elevated walkway, which if you go from the first shops and around to the other end, you finish up, on the ground level, at Starbucks.
This is the Chinese version and once you get past the language barrier, the mixology range of cold fruity drinks are to die for, especially after all that walking. Mine was a predominantly peach flavor, with some jelly and apricot at the bottom. I was expecting sliced peaches but I prefer and liked the apricot half.
A drink and fruit together was a surprise.
Then it was the walk back to the meeting point and then into the hotel to use the happy house before rejoining the kamikaze traffic.
We are taken then to the train station for the 2:29 to our next destination, Suzhou, the Venice of the East.
The Henan Museum is one of the oldest museums in China. In June 1927, General Feng Yuxiang proposed that a museum be built, and it was completed the next year. n 1961, along with the move of the provincial capital, Henan Museum moved from Kaifeng to Zhengzhou.
It currently holds about 130,000 individual pieces, more of which are mostly cultural relics, bronze vessels of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties, and pottery and porcelain wares of the various dynasties.
Eventually, we arrive at the museum and get off the bus adjacent to a scooter track and despite the efforts of the guide, there’s no stopping them from nearly running us over.
We arrive to find the museum has been moved to a different and somewhat smaller building nearby as the existing, and rather distinctively designed, building is being renovated.
While we are waiting for the tickets to enter, we are given another view of industrial life in that there is nothing that resembles proper health and safety on worksites in this country, and the workers are basically standing on what looks to be a flimsy bamboo ladder with nothing to stop them from falling off.
The museum itself has exhibits dating back a few thousand years and consist of bronze and ceramic items. One of the highlights was a tortoiseshell with reportedly the oldest know writing ever found.
Other than that it was a series of cooking utensils, a table, and ceramic pots, some in very good condition considering their age.
After another exhausting walk, by now the heat was beginning to take its toll on everyone, we arrived at the pagoda forest.
A little history first:
The pagoda forest is located west of the Shaolin Temple and the foot of a hill. As the largest pagoda forest in China, it covers approximately 20,000 square meters and has about 230 pagodas build from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
Each pagoda is the tomb of an eminent monk from the Shaolin Temple. Graceful and exquisite, they belong to different eras and constructed in different styles. The first pagoda was thought to be built in 791.
It is now a world heritage site.
No, it’s not a forest with trees it’s a collection of over 200 pagodas, each a tribute to a head monk at the temple and it goes back a long time. The tribute can have one, three, five, or a maximum of seven layers. The ashes of the individual are buried under the base of the pagoda.
The size, height, and story of the pagoda indicate its accomplishments, prestige, merits, and virtues. Each pagoda was carved with the exact date of construction and brief inscriptions and has its own style with various shapes such as a polygonal, cylindrical, vase, conical and monolithic.
This is one of the more recently constructed pagodas
There are pagodas for eminent foreign monks also in the forest.
From there we get a ride back on the back of a large electric wagon
to the front entrance courtyard where drinks and ice creams can be bought, and a visit to the all-important happy place.
Beijing west railway station is about eight kilometers from the Forbidden City, located at East Lianhuachi Road, Fengtai District. Most trains traveling between south central, southwest, northwest, and south China are boarded here.
This place is huge and there are so many people here, perhaps the other half of Beijing’s population that wasn’t in the forbidden city.
Getting into the station looked like it was going to be fraught with danger but the tour guide got us into the right queue and then arranged for a separate scanner for the group to help keep us all together
Then we decided to take the VIP service and got to waiting room no 13, the VIP service waiting room which was full to overflowing. Everyone today was a VIP. We got the red hat guy to lead us to a special area away from the crowd.
Actually, it was on the other side of the gate, away from the hoards sitting or standing patiently in the waiting room. It gave us a chance to get something to eat before the long train ride.
The departure is at 4 pm, the train number was G655, and we were told the trains leave on time. As it is a high-speed train, stops are far and few between, but we’re lucky, this time, in that we don’t have to count stations to know where to get off.
We’re going to the end of the line.
However, it was interesting to note the stops which, in each case, were brief, and you had to be ready to get off in a hurry.
These stops were Shijiazhuang, Zhengzhou East, Luoyang Longmen, Huashan North, and Weinan North. At night, you could see the lights of these cities from a distance and were like oases in the middle of a desert. During the day, the most prominent features were high rise apartment blocks and power stations.
A train ride with a difference
China’s high-speed trains, also known as bullet or fast trains, can reach a top speed of 350 km/h (217 mph).
Over 2,800 pairs of bullet trains numbered by G, D or C run daily connecting over 550 cities in China and covering 33 of the country’s 34 provinces. Beijing-Shanghai high-speed train link the two megacities 1,318 km (819 mi) away in just 4.5 hours.
By 2019, China keeps the world’s largest high-speed rail (HSR) network with a length totaling over 35,000 km (21,750 mi).
To make the five and a half hours go quicker we keep an eye on the speed which hovers between 290 and 305 kph, and sitting there with our camera waiting for the speed to hit 305 which is a rare occurrence, and then, for 306 and then for 307, which happened when we all took a stroll up to the restaurant car to find there had nothing to eat.
I got a strange flavored drink for 20 yuan.
There was a lady manning a trolley that had some food, and fresh, maybe, fruit on it, and she had a sense of humor if not much English.
We didn’t but anything but the barrel of caramel popcorn looked good.
The good thing was, after hovering around 298, and 299 kph, it finally hit 300.
We get to the end of the line, and there is an announcement in Chinese that we don’t understand and attempts to find out if it is the last station fall on deaf ears, probably more to do with the language barrier than anything else.
Then, suddenly the train conductor, the lady with the red hat, comes and tells us it is, and we have fifteen minutes, so we’re now hurrying to get off.
As the group was are scattered up and down the platform, we all come together and we go down the escalator, and, at the bottom, we see the trip-a-deal flags.
X’ian,and the Xi’an North Railway Station
Xi’an North Railway Station is one of the most important transportation hubs of the Chinese high-speed rail network. It is about 8.7 miles (14 km) from Bell Tower (city center) and is located at the intersection of the Weiyang Road and Wenjing Road in Weiyang District.
This time we have a male guide, Sam, who meets us at the end of the platform after we have disembarked. We have a few hiccups before we head to the bus. Some of our travelers are not on his list, but with the other group. Apparently a trip-a-deal mix-up or miscommunication perhaps.
Then it’s another long walk with bags to the bus. Good thing its a nicely air-conditioned newish bus, and there’s water, and beer for 10 yuan. How could you pass up a tsing tao for that price?
Xi’an is a very brightly lit up city at night with wide roads. It is very welcoming, and a surprise for a city of 10 million out in the middle of China.
As with all hotels, it’s about a 50-minute drive from the railway station and we are all tired by the time we get there.
Tomorrow’s program will be up at 6, on the bus 8.40 and off to the soldiers, 2.00 late lunch, then train station to catch the 4.00 train, that will arrive 2 hours later at the next stop. A not so late night this time.
The Grand Noble Hotel
Grand Noble Hotel Xi’an is located in the most prosperous business district within the ancient city wall in the center of Xi’an.
The Grand Noble Hotel, like the Friendship Hotel, had a very flash foyer with tons of polished marble. It sent out warning signals, but when we got to our room, we found it to be absolutely stunning. More room, a large bathroom, air conditioning the works.
Only one small problem, as in Beijing the lighting is inadequate. Other than that it’s what I would call a five-star hotel. This one is definitely better than the Friendship Hotel.
In the center of the city, very close to the bell tower, one of the few ancient buildings left in Xi’an. It is also in the middle of a larger roundabout and had a guard with a machine gun.
Sadly there was no time for city center sightseeing.
In Beijing Hutongs are formed by lines of traditional courtyard residences, called siheyuan. Neighborhoods were formed by joining many hutongs together. These siheyuan are the traditional residences, usually occupied by a single or extended family, signifying wealth, and prosperity.
Over 500 of these still exist.Many of these hutongs have been demolished, but recently they have become protected places as a means of preserving some Chinese cultural history. They were first established in the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368)Many of these Hutongs had their main buildings and gates built facing south, and lanes connecting them to other hutongs also ran north to south.
Many hutongs, some several hundred years old, in the vicinity of the Bell Tower and Drum Tower and Shichahai Lake are preserved and abound with tourists, many of which tour the quarter in pedicabs.
The optional tour also includes a visit to Shichahai, a historic scenic area consisting of three lakes (Qianhai, meaning Front Sea; Houhai, meaning Back Sea and Xihai, meaning West Sea), surrounding places of historic interest and scenic beauty and remnants of old-style local residences, Hutong and Courtyard.
First, we had a short walk through the more modern part of the Hutong area and given some free time for shopping, but we prefer just to meander by the canal.
There is a lake, and if we had the time, there were boats you could take.
With some time to spare, we take a quick walk down one of the alleyways where on the ground level are small shops, and above, living quarters.
Then we go to the bell and drum towers before walking through some more alleys was to where the rickshaws were waiting. The Bell tower
And the Drum tower. Both still working today.
The rickshaw ride took us through some more back streets where it was clear renovations were being made so that the area could apply for world heritage listing. Seeing inside some of the houses shows that they may look dumpy outside but that’s not the case inside.
The rickshaw ride ends outside the house where dinner will be served, and is a not so typical hose but does have all the elements of how the Chinese live, the boy’s room, the girl’s room, the parent’s room, the living area, and the North-south feng shui.
Shortly after we arrive, the cricket man, apparently someone quite famous in Beijing arrives and tells us all about crickets and then grasshoppers, then about cricket racing. He is animated and clearly enjoys entertaining us westerners.
I’m sorry but the cricket stuff just didn’t interest me. Or the grasshoppers.
As for dinner, it was finally a treat to eat what the typical Chinese family eats, and everything was delicious, and the endless beer was a nice touch.
And the last surprise, the food was cooked by a man.
Instead of making a grand entrance, arriving in style and being greeted by important dignitaries, we are slinking in via an airplane, late at night. It’s hardly the entrance I’d envisaged. At 9:56 the plane touches down on the runway. Outside the plane, it is dark and gloomy and from what I could see, it had been raining. That could, of course, simply be condensation.
Once on the ground, everyone was frantically gathering together everything from seat pockets and sending pillows and blankets to the floor. A few were turning their mobile phones back on, and checking for a signal, and, perhaps, looking for messages sent to them during the last 12 hours. Or perhaps they were just suffering from mobile phone deprivation.
It took 10 minutes for the plane to arrive at the gate. That’s when everyone moves into overdrive, unbuckling belts, some before the seatbelt sign goes off, and are first out of their seats and into the overhead lockers. Most are not taking care that their luggage may have moved, but fortunately, no bags fall out onto someone’s head. The flight had been relatively turbulent free.
When as many people and bags have squeezed into that impossibly small aisle space, we wait for the door to open, and then the privileged few business and first-class passengers to depart before we can begin to leave. As we are somewhere near the middle of the plane, our wait will not be as long as it usually is. This time we avoided being at the back of the plane. Perhaps that privilege awaits us on the return trip.
Once off the plane, it is a matter of following the signs, some of which are not as clear as they could be. It’s why it took another 30 odd minutes to get through immigration, but that was not necessarily without a few hiccups along the way. We got sidetracked at the fingerprint machines, which seemed to have a problem if your fingers were not straight, not in the center of the glass, and then if it was generally cranky, which ours were, continue to tell you to try again, and again, and again, and again…That took 10 to 15 minutes before we joined an incredibly long queue of other arrivals,
A glance at the time, and suddenly it’s nearly an hour from the moment we left the plane.
That’s when we got to the immigration officer, and it became apparent we were going to have to do the fingerprints yet again. Fortunately this time, it didn’t take as long. Once that done, we collected our bags, cleared customs by putting our bags through a huge x-ray machine, and it was off to find our tour guide.
We found several tour guides with their trip-a-deal flags waiting for us to come out of the arrivals hall. It wasn’t a difficult process in the end. We were in the blue group. Other people we had met on the plane were in the red group or the yellow group. The tour guide found, or as it turned out she found us, it was simply a matter of waiting for the rest of the group, of which there were eventually 28.Gathered together we were told we would be taking the bags to one place and then ourselves to the bus in another. A glance in the direction of the bus park, there were a lot of busses.
Here’s a thought, imagine being told your bus is the white one with blue writing on the side.
Yes, yours is, and 25 others because all of the tourist coaches are the same. An early reminder, so that you do not get lost, or, God forbid, get on the wrong bus, for the three days in Beijing, is to get the last five numbers of the bus registration plate and commit them to memory. It’s important. Failing that, the guide’s name is in the front passenger window.
Also, don’t be alarmed if your baggage goes in one direction, and you go in another. In a rather peculiar set up the bags are taken to the hotel by what the guide called the baggage porter. It is an opportunity to see how baggage handlers treat your luggage; much better than the airlines it appears.
That said, if you’re staying at the Beijing Friendship Hotel, be prepared for a long drive from the airport. It took us nearly an hour, and bear in mind that it was very late on a Sunday night.
Climbing out of the bus after what seemed a convoluted drive through a park with buildings, we arrive at the building that will be our hotel for the next three days. From the outside, it looks quite good, and once inside the foyer, that first impression is good. Lots of space, marble, and glass. If you are not already exhausted by the time you arrive, the next task is to get your room key, find your bags, get to your room, and try to get to be ready the next morning at a reasonable hour.
Sorry, that boat has sailed.
We were lucky, we were told, that our plane arrived on time, and we still arrived at the hotel at 12:52. Imagine if the incoming plane is late.
This was taken the following morning. It didn’t look half as bland late at night.
This is the back entrance to Building No 4 but is quite representative of the whole foyer, made completely of marble and glass. It all looked very impressive under the artificial lights, but not so much in the cold hard light of early morning.
This the foyer of the floor our room was on. Marble with interesting carpet designs. Those first impressions of it being a plush hotel were slowly dissipating as we got nearer and nearer to the room. From the elevator, it was a long, long walk.
So…Did I tell you about the bathroom in our room?
The shower and the toilet both share the same space with no divide and the shower curtain doesn’t reach to the floor. Water pressure is phenomenal. Having a shower floods the whole shower plus toilet area so when you go to the toilet you’re basically underwater.
Don’t leave your book or magazine on the floor or it will end up a watery mess.
And the water pressure is so hard that it could cut you in half. Only a small turn of the tap is required to get that tingling sensation going.