I just got back from what might have been my most spontaneous and out there trip thus far! Well, the booking was spontaneous. About 7 months ago, I texted angela asking her if she wanted to go to China on a Groupon deal. Oh, and that she only had 45 minutes to decide. Thankfully, Angela is a homie and she was all in!
If you’ve read this post, then you know all about our feelings toward the groupon deal. (hint: we loved it.) So today, I’m talking about the trip itself + our itinerary for the week!
Our tour was technically a 10 day tour, but some of those days were travel days. For the sake of this post, I am leaving those out.
On our first full day in Beijing, we hit a lot of the classic spots! We started at the Forbidden City. Angela says part of Mulan is there? I wouldn’t know, haven’t seen it. Our tickets to the forbidden city were only $12 and once you are in, you are free to explore as you please! The architecture and history here are amazing. There is also a Chinese art museum inside that you can check out!
After the Forbidden City, we went to Tiananmen Square. You should just google this one on your own. From there, we went to dinner at a cool local restaurant nearby. (Sorry, I don’t remember the name!) All the food is cheap in China, so we dined like kings! I’m talking a whole duck, bowls of rice, noodles, dumplings — it was amazing. And then we paid $12 per person!! WIN.
From dinner, we went to the Pearl Market to go shopping! This was such a fun experience to have and you should definitely check out a market if you go! Don’t forget to bargain!!
Great Wall day!! Can you go to China and NOT go to the Great Wall?! After we spent the morning at the 2008 Beijing Olympics center and a jade factory, we headed towards the wall! We spent the entire afternoon there and let me tell you, hiking up those stairs was the workout I didn’t know I needed! About half of our tour group reconvened at the 14th fortress and we all popped open a beer and chilled before heading back down!
On the third day we had the opportunity to take a free day and explore the city on our own! We ventured out on the subway to the Temple of Heaven! Side note: low-key proud for conquering a subway where all the stops are rambled off in Mandarin! Granted, we had help from 2 guys on our tour group… but still!! After we explored the Temple of Heaven, we headed back to the hotel to catch a train leaving for Shanghai!
The biggest day! It started out at the Lingering Garden — a classical chinese garden. Even in the winter, it was so pretty and fun to explore. From the garden, we toured a silk factory. After that, we took a boat ride on the Grand Canal in Suzhou. This city is dubbed the Venice of the east and rightly so! As we were cruising down the main canal, we caught glimpses of smaller side canals and what our tour guide called “real china”. Next, we hopped on the bus and went to Wuxi, where we saw the Grand Buddha. This is one of China’s largest Buddha statues, standing over 80 meters tall. While we were there, we also caught a fountain show that was at the base of the statue.
This day was super chill! We started off by taking a walk around Lake Lihu, which was the perfect chance to get some fresh air before the bus ride later on. After that, we went to a pearl farm and then made the trek to Hangzhou on the bus. Getting to read my book and nap on the bus was much needed after a few days that were go go go!
When we did get to Hangzhou, about half of our tour group decided to go and have drinks and dinner at a Chinese food market. If there is one story I’ve told the most from our trip, it’s the one from dinner on this night. Our group broke up so we could each go to different restaurants. Angela, 2 guys from our tour (hey Dave and Brian!) and myself chose to check out a hot pot place. In our broken, Google translated Mandarin we tried to order the most popular dish (we figured that would be a safe bet), but instead we think we got one of everything. Oops! When food starting coming out by the trayful (literally so. much. food) we started noticing some particularly interesting dishes. One plate had a some chicken feet on it (the nails were still there). Another had stomach lining — this ended up being pretty good. Yet another had some sort of brain on it. (We found out later it was pig.) We figured why not try it all and started tossing stuff in the pot. It was one of the crazier, definitely funnier, and most adventurous meal experiences I’ve ever had. Right up there with having guinea pig in Peru. 😉
We didn’t stay chill for long — day 6 was packed! The morning started off with a boat ride on West Lake. Unlike the canal tour, this lake was wide open and vast. Maybe it’s the Missourian in me, but I loved it!! After that, we went to a tea plantation and learned about alllll the benefits of green tea. Convincing and I probably should try it, but no thanks on the taste!
From there, we went to Shanghai and walked along the Bund aka the Wall Street of the East. That night, we took yet another boat ride along the Huangpu River. We caught views of the city and all the amazing modern architecture in Shanghai. If you are ever in Shanghai, I definitely recommend doing this!
Our last full day, before heading home! The day started off at the Shanghai museum. I’m not saying the art wasn’t beautiful, I’ve just never been a huge museum person so this wasn’t the most exciting thing to me! We only spent about an hour there, before heading to the City God Temple Bazaar. Talk about a happening place! As a tourist, this is one of the places that felt the most like I expected Shanghai to feel! Bright colors, traditional chinese architecture, electric scooters honking in the street, crowds of people, tons of shops. While I know that might sound horrible to some people, I found so much fun in just taking everything in!
That night, most of our group was free so we all opted to go hang out! First, we went and got dinner at a place that served pasta and hamburgers. 7 days deep in chinese food and we were ready for it, okay? Our tour guide told us that we should check out the local Chinese grocery store while we were out so we figured why not. Now, you might be thinking, how different can I Chinese grocery store really be? To which I would tell you: VERY. Walking in, you can’t help but notice some sort of basket – cable system above you. I don’t know what was happening. Were they transferring groceries from the upstairs to the downstairs? From the produce section to the meat section? Speaking of the meat section… anyone care for a live turtle? How about a bullfrog? Eel? They have it all for you at the local RT Mart.
Finally, our entire group reconvened in the hotel lobby that evening! Over Chinese beer we talked about our favorite parts of the trip, where we are all traveling to next, and just life in general until about 3am.
At the end of every trip, I feel so thankful to get to experience all things I do, but especially this one! China is more unique and foreign than any place I have ever been and the people we shared the trip with will forever be called friends! 🙂