We planned the China part of our trip before we left the States in February. With the long visa process and us not speaking or being able to read any Chinese we knew we would need all the help we could get in China. We contacted Dolores at Global Express Travel in Tampa and she took care of everything. We told her what sites we wanted to see and she picked out the perfect tour for us with Gate 1 Travel. She has also been a big help booking flights and a second Gate 1 Tour (Kenya) for us while we traveled.
First up let's introduce the amazing travel group we had. Our tour manager was beyond amazing. She shared her life story with us: she was the second daughter of two children (listening to her tell about how badly her father wanted a son was so heartbreaking), her changing Chinese traditions (college educated), teaching her family how to share their feelings, learning about her work at an adoption agency, and hearing about her life in Beijing now. She's hands down the sweetest and nicest woman you will ever get to know.
The rest of our group consisted of Sandy (special needs teacher/instructor), Adam's Family (Dale, Debbie, and their son Adam), Frey and Shay (mother and son from Mexico), Ollie and Denise (world traveling story tellers), and John (only lasted the first day then bounced). We had a great time over the next two weeks with this group.
Here is what we did on our China Tour:
Great Wall of China
We started the trip visiting the 2000-year-old Great Wall of China, one of the most amazing structures ever built by man, and nearly 4,000 miles long. We arrived and began the hike up the very uneven steps. This was when I really started to miss my cardio workouts. But I quickly realized I wasn't the only one that needed to sit down because I couldn't breath. We hiked up two or three watch towers before being satisfied with the views. It was unreal to see this wall span across the landscape and we were only looking at a very small portion of it. Major highlight and it was only day one!
Peking Duck Dinner
We were treated to a welcome dinner with Peking Duck. Who knew I Iiked roasted duck?!? The chef brought in multiple roasted ducks and began carving it right in front of us. We were then given a demonstration of how to enjoy it. You wrap the duck, veggies, and sauce in a super thin pancake and roll it like a burrito. It was perfect. After we stuffed ourselves with duck they began bringing out the other course. We had to tell them to stop we were so full. This was a reoccurring theme during lunches and dinners on the trip. The food never stopped.
Forbidden City & Summer Palace
We spent the day at Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. Tiananmen Square is the largest public plaza in the world, built at the height of the Ming Dynasty where the Chinese emperors once lived.
The Summer Palace was not far for Tianamen Square. The palace was surrounded by lakes and beautiful gardens. The walkway surrounding the lake had some of the most beautiful details and story tellings.
Dumpling Dinner in Xian
We decided to partake in the optional dumpling dinner offering 20 delicious varieties of dumplings. No one needs to eat that many dumplings but we did. Thank goodness we didn't have anything else to eat besides dumplings. We had vegetable, meat, and sweet filled dumplings. Dumplings that I have never even heard of. We now have some great ideas to bring back to the States with us.
Exercise at the Park
One morning we visited Xingqing park. We joined the locals in their morning exercise of Tai Chi. Some of the ladies were in their 70's coming to the park each morning to do their exercises.
We then made our way towards the music where we found a band set up and a large group of men and women were dancing with fans and umbrellas.
We then ran into a singing group who invited us to come sing a song with them. We were pulled to the middle of the circle and introduced and told they had a special song they wanted to sing with us: Jingle Bells. A fun morning hanging out with the locals.
We visited the archaeological site of the Terracotta Warriors, a collection of life-size soldiers, horses and chariots that were entombed with China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. The site is still being excavated today but there were still 9,000 warriors to visit. These warriors were each more the 200 lbs, 6 foot tall, different facial expression, and different hair style making them all unique and resembling his actual army.
Tang Dynasty Show
We attended a dance performance by the Tang Dynasty Troupe along with dinner. The show was perfect for anyone of any language. The side monitor displayed what each act was about. While there were no words exchanged during the show the actors easily portrayed each act through dance and the band.
Leshan Stone Buddha
We took a short ferry ride to the famous stone Buddha which stands at nearly 230 feet high and dates back to 713 AD. Huanglongxi. Stop here to explore the stone paved streets and ancient, wooden houses of this traditional village, constructed during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Chengdu Panda Research Center
The Chengdu Panda Research Center is a facility dedicated to the preservation and protection of the pandas. Due to many factors, including habitat destruction, pandas have become an endangered species. These pandas were beyond adorable. We also saw a few red pandas. These red pandas look more like large raccoons and less like pandas.
Sichuan Cooking Class
We decided to take our own adventure and booked a cooking class one evening. Chengdu is known for its spicy Sichuan cooking and we were excited to learn a few recipes. We learned how to make twice cooked (crispy) pork, sweet and sour pork (did you know the sauce isn't suppose to be orange colored?), spicy tofu, and pork filled dumplings. Everything, even the tofu, was yummy.
She even tried to teach me how to fold the dumplings a few different ways. While she wasn't very successful, the dumplings didn't look too bad once they were cooked. Can you tell which one is hers and which is mine?
Yangtze River Cruise
I was really excited for this part of the tour for a few reasons; it was my first river cruise, we were going to get a chance to rest our feet after days of walking, and we were going to get to visit the dam and take the ship elevator down. The ship had lots of fun activities throughout the day. Rose even taught us how to play mahjong one rainy afternoon. The ship made its way through the three gorges. The views were unbelievable.
The ship elevator was hard to imagine till you were in it. Simply speaking the ship drove into the elevator, was locked in, they reduced the water in the elevator to bring us to the water level after the dam, they unlocked us, then we drove out. The process took a hot minute but was super cool to be part of.
Once we took the ship elevator through the dam we proceeded to take a tour of the Dam site. The three Gorges Dam is almost six times the size of the Hoover Dam. It was neat to see it from both sides.
Shanghai City Tour
We had flight issues the night before on our way to Shanghai and did not arrive till the wee hours in the morning and decided to cut our Shanghai tour short. We took a walk along the Bund where we saw old Shanghai buildings and across the river was new Shanghai buildings.
We also visited the Jade Buddha Temple, built during the Qing Dynasty to enshrine two beautiful jade Buddha statues given as a gift from Burma.
Shanghai Dumpling Cooking Class
After the tour was over we decided to stay an extra day in Shanghai and take a dumpling cooking class. I was most excited to learn how to make soup dumplings. If you haven't ever tried this type it is essentially meat and onion filling along with soup inside the dumpling! I always wondered how the soup got in them. Do they inject them? Well we found out that the soup is actually frozen soup cubes that melts once you steam them. Genius. It was so simple. I cannot wait to make these at home.
China was by far one of my most favorite countries on this trip. Gate 1 tours was amazing as well. I know for a fact we wouldn't of seen half the stuff we did if we planned on our own. The language difference and the lack of google maps/internet would have been too difficult to get around. I would recommend this tour to anyone thinking of going to China.
Check out the Galleries page to see more pictures of our China Adventure.