Xi’an – China

One of the most visited cities in china has an amazing mix of old and new, the streets are perfectly manicured and people generally have a smile on their face. The beautiful wall surrounding the city is its crowning jewel, something you don’t want to miss whilst in China. Xi’an is also the perfect place to start a trip along the old Silk Road trail.

Things To Do:

The Warriors

The terracotta warriors draws thousands of visitors each month, and is one of China’s most visited attractions. There are over 6,000 (not all on display) of these individually hand crafted statues, they are all life size and each one is slightly different.

Take the 306 bus from the south eastern corner of the railway station, you’ll see a red flag and a line of people to indicate the bus stop. It costs ¥7 each way. When you get there (you’ll know when to get off), cross the road and work your way through the restaurant street and towards the car park, entrance tickets cost ¥90 during low season and ¥150 during peak season.

The Wall

The city Wall also attracts large numbers of visitors, the city has since expanded well past the wall but the original structure is well maintained and has been fully restored to its former glory for tourists and locals to enjoy.

There are two ways to enjoy the walls, the first is to climb to the top and either walk or cycle the perimeter. Tickets cost ¥54 per person (or ¥40 during a national holiday) and a full loop is around 9 miles.

Your other option is to walk through the beautiful and relaxing park that surrounds the wall, it’s free and there is a lot more shade to shield you from the intense summer sun.

Where To Eat:

China has been one of our favourite places for street food, in fact we haven’t eaten indoors for a few weeks now!

The Muslim market behind the Drum tower was one of our favourite markets so far. Make sure to try the biang biang noodles (basically just pasta) which are local to the Xi’an region. You’ll know when you find them because you will hear the bang bang from them being made, hence the name.

Getting There:

There are shuttle buses to and from the airport right up till 2am, if you arrive between 2am and 5am you will need to take a taxi, we were just past the walled city and paid ¥180. The journey took around 1 hour with zero traffic.

The railway station it at the north east corner of the walled city, its walking distance for most backpackers but if you have a big suitcase a taxi may be better.

The Xi’an council are busy building a huge subway system around the city, there is currently only 1 line running north to south but expect more routes to be opened soon.

Where To Stay:

I’ve never written a bad hotel review on my blog, rather than be negative I prefer to just leave this section blank, however I must strongly advise you NOT to stay at the You Rui Inn.

We were relocated by Hotels.com to the Skytel which was a really nice hotel, but not budget by any means (thank goodness we didn’t need to pay for it! It’s around £55 per night) and in the perfect location just steps away from the main South Gate and the bell tower.

We visited Xi’an for a second time, on our way from Jiayuguan to Beijing and we stayed at the Jinyuan Furun hotel, finally a hotel I was happy with, it cost £25 for one night and even though that’s slightly higher than our usual budget the location was perfect, (and Xi’an is generally a little bit more expensive anyway). The sign is all in Chinese so make sure you look at a photo of the outside before you arrive.

Zhangjiajie – China

Zhangjiajie (also know as the floating mountains of Pandora – geeky movie reference there) is becoming increasingly busy since it burst onto the world tourism stage as the set for the 2009 Avatar movie and it’s so easy to see why, the dramatic landscape is like nowhere else on the planet.

But don’t be put off by the crowds, the park is absolutely massive and the Chinese do not like to walk. By skipping the free shuttle bus routes and walking instead you will be almost guaranteed to have at least a few hours in near peace. The park is well maintained and has plenty of information so it’s difficult to get lost.

Tickets:

Entrance to the park costs ¥248 per person, which is expensive but your ticket is valid for 4 consecutive days. (There is no ‘one day ticket’ option.) they take your finger print when you first enter so there’s no chance to pass on your card to someone else.

Your ticket includes unlimited free bus rides around the park. If you want to use any of the cable cars or the elevator then that will cost you extra. There’s no need to pre-book tickets, just show up on the day and you will be fine.

Where To Eat:

Food in the park is just as good as anywhere else in China and only slightly inflated, of you would pay ¥15 anywhere else then expect to pay ¥20 inside the park. We didn’t mind because it was so tasty and there are plenty of options.

In Wulingyuan there’s an amazing food truck parked outside the Xing Hong hotel every night from 6pm, we ate there 4 nights running (creatures of habit when we find something we love), he charges ¥15 per meal and portions are massive.

Free Maps:

Zhangjiajie is HUGE, and as google maps is out of the question in China it’s really worth picking up a good map, you can pick one up almost anywhere in town, but they are all slightly different which can be confusing.

The airport have an English version as well as a Chinese version which is handy when you first arrive. It gives you a good overview of the whole area not just the park though it does lack a lot of detail.

Our hotel then gave us a much more detailed map of the Wulingyuan area including inside the national park with bus routes etc included. It also had the place names both in English and Chinese all on one map. Make sure you stop by to pick one up.

How Many Days Do I Need?

I’ve already mentioned the shear size of this park, there’s a reason all tickets are valid for 4 days. We spent 3 days walking around the park and only seen around half.

If you choose to use the free shuttle buses you will see more of the park in less time but won’t get the same experience. A well planned route could be done in 1 day but if you have the choice, try not to rush this unique paradise.

Getting There:

The 402 bus will take you from the airport to the railway station for ¥1, the bus doesn’t come right up to the terminal so you’ll need to walk a minute or two to get to the bus stop but it’s easily visible, you can’t walk past it. We got off the bus to early but the station is well sign posted so we managed to travel the rest of the way on foot.

The bus station is adjacent to the railway station on the western side, shuttle buses to the Wulingyuan district (east entrance) leave about every 15 minutes and take just over an hour, they cost ¥20 each way and don’t have bus numbers or signage, staff at the bus station will show you where to go.

From Wulingyuan the last bus back to town is 8pm, though the bus station closes at 6pm, after that buses just wait by the roadside instead of inside the station.

Where To Stay:

The tea house Inn was pretty newly renovated, rooms were clean and even had balconies. It was only 5 minutes walk from the bus station and 10 minutes to the park entrance. We were really happy with this hotel and can’t recommend it enough. We paid £18 per night through hotels.com.

I hope this covers everything you need to plan the perfect trip to Zhangjiajie, let me know if you have any questions.

Ashleigh

xxx

Shanghai – China

The perfect mix of old and new, this mega city is home to more than 24 million people! There’s never a dull moment in Shanghai.

You could come to Shanghai and spend a fortune, swanky restaurants and expensive tourist attractions are on every street corner, but it is possible to do Shanghai on a budget, I’ve listed our favourite free (or as close to free as possible) things to do in Shanghai below.

Free Things To Do:

The Bund is number 1 on every travel guide to Shanghai, it’s easy to see why. The views are amazing, you have old shanghai on one side and the beautiful glittering skyline of Pudong on the other side of the river. We visited Day and night, both times were really busy and we had to take these photos over the top of other people’s heads.

A walk along the East side (Pudong side) of the Huangpu river also offers great views but it’s less crowded. To get across the river you will need to use some form of public transport. The cheapest and most fun way to get across is to use the public ferry (not one of the expensive sight seeing ferries) it only costs 2¥ and you get a great 360 view of the Shanghai skyline. The subway is less interesting but also affordable, a one way ticket costs 3¥. There is a tourist tunnel that you can walk through but at 90¥ each I thought it was an absolute ripoff. (We took the ferry and even though it wasn’t technically free it was only 23 pence which is why I’ve included it in this list.)

The Shanghai 1930’s street is a representation of what a typical street in Shanghai would have looked like at that time. They also have some interesting facts about daily life during the 1930’s on the wall in English for visitors to read. You’ll find the street in the People’s Square subway station.

People’s Park was closed for renovations during our visit but we have on good authority that it’s a must see destination in Shanghai. Our friend who lived in Shanghai for 7 years recommended it to us.

The Shanghai urban planning exhibition is only free if you buy a ticket to any of the other major attractions like the various observation decks around the city etc. Otherwise you will need to pay 30¥ to enter, so I’m cheating putting this one on the list but it’s really worth the £3.37. It’s crown jewel is on the 3rd floor where there is a massive scale model of Shanghai as it is today, test your geography skills and see if you can spot your hotel. (The Green Tree Inn is on there!) They also have a great 360 degree movie which made me a little sea sick but was interesting to watch.

Tianzifang heritage area is a maze of old streets recently renovated into a tourist paradise, the narrow alleyways hold all sorts of treasures including souvenir shops and restaurants, all contained in traditional old houses.

Nanjing Road is the opposite to Tianzifang, step into the neon light future and find a good place for a coffee overlooking the street. It’s a great place to people watch and see where China’s future is headed.

Where To Eat:

There’s a small row of around 6 restaurants opposite the Frazier Residence, they are local authentic restaurants at very reasonable prices and most menus contain pictures. We had an absolutely delicious meal there (the name was in Chinese) for much less than in other areas of town.

Getting Around:

The subway system in Shanghai is one of the best in the world, its extensive and has A/C. Trains run every few minutes and a single ticket costs between 2¥ to 5¥ depending how far your going. The subway is crazy busy during rush hours but any other time it’s fairly relaxed.

Getting There:

Getting to the city from Pudong airport is really easy, the cheapest option is to take the metro, but it’s really slow. You also have an option of a high speed Maglev (magnetic levitation train – wow!) which can get you into the city in just 8 minutes. One way tickets cost 50¥ or a 80¥ for a return. It will drop you off at Longyang Road subway station and it’s easy to get anywhere in the city from there.

If you arrive after 23:00 the trains will have all stopped for the day, there is a night bus that operates from 23:00 to 05:00. If you take a taxi it will cost between 120¥ and 160¥ depending on what part of the city you’re staying.

Where To Stay:

We stayed at the Green Tree Inn next to Tangqiao subway station, the rooms were clean and modern and it’s handy for getting around but there is a night club on the ground floor which plays loud music all night so I’d give it a miss if your a light sleeper. Luckily for me I sleep like the dead.

We paid £13 per night by using our hotels.com reward points but rooms usually cost around £35 per night, which is pretty good value for Shanghai.

Guilin – China

Believe it or not but we hadn’t actually planned a trip to Guilin on the first draft of our China itinerary, we ended up there by mistake, but some things are meant to be and we had such a good time in Guilin.

Things To Do:

A cruise along the Lijiang river is a must for anyone visiting Guilin. It costs ¥65 per person and lasts around 90 minutes. Boats leave all day from the jetty behind the elephant hill.

Elephant hill park is the main attraction in Guilin, and we actually didn’t go. The price put us off, ¥70 per person and we had already seen most of it from our boat ride. The park did look very nice from the boat and there is a walkway to the top of the hill.

We visited the seven star scenic area for ¥70 per person, (seriously the parks in China aren’t cheap!). It was a really beautiful park, the highlight is camel mountain which really does look like a camel, and the beautiful man made waterfall in the centre of the park.

Shanhu lake (finally, a free park!) was stunning especially at night, the area is fairly big and it will take you over an hour to walk all the way around all four lakes.

Zhengyang pedestrian street is the main shopping are in town, there is also an amazing indoor food market, I have no idea what it was called but I’ve put a photo of the entrance below.

Getting There:

From the airport there are shuttle buses every 30 minutes into the city, they cost ¥20 each way but won’t drop you off in the middle of town, you’ll still need to walk 20 minutes or so to your hotel. Operation hours are 06:30 to 21:30.

Where To Stay:

The Guilin 0773 Grand Hotel is a funny name but a really good hotel, the rooms were clean and modern, the wifi was good and the shower was powerful. It’s with a few minutes walking distance to the main tourist attractions and there are lots of food choices around. We booked through trusty hotels.com for £23 per night.

Chengdu – China

Chengdu was our first stop in China, we loved everything about the city and it made us really excited to see what else this amazing country has to offer.

Chengdu feels like a very new city with an ‘up and coming’ feel to the place. It has a lot of greenery and heritage streets. The perfect balance between nature and man, as well as old and new.

Things To Do:

Obviously my number one is the panda research centre in Chengdu, I absolutely love anything to do with conservation and wildlife. The centre is a non profit organisation who are doing their best to prevent these magnificent creatures becoming extinct. Almost all the pandas born in captivity are released into the wild. Entrance costs ¥58 per person and a taxi from our hotel cost ¥48, we got there early and spent the whole morning there.

Chengdu has lots to do outdoors, on a sunny day visit one of the many beautiful parks around the city or stroll along the Jinjiang River. Our favourite parks were people’s park, best for families and Baihualan park best for a peaceful stroll. Both free to enter.

For a taste of ‘old Chengdu’ visit the perfectly restored wide and narrow alleys. The buildings are exactly as they used to be although they now hold souvenir shops and restaurants. Both ally’s are pedestrian only.

Tianfu square sits right in the centre of the city, apparently it represents the four forces of nature, fire, ice, water and earth. I couldn’t see the resemblance but it’s a nice place to relax and there is an underground shopping mall which has a really good food court. The main shopping district is a few minutes east of the square. The Anshun Lang Bridge is really pretty especially if you do a night time walk along the river.

Wuhou temple costs ¥60 to enter. We were lucky enough to meet a lovely student inside who wanted to practice his English so he gave us a free tour of the place. Theres actually quite a few temples within the same complex and worth checking out if your in the area.

The Dujiangyan scenic area and irrigation system is one of the first in china, apart from the system itself there is also a really picturesque old town and a high up observation platform. Entrance to the viewpoint costs ¥90 per person and there are daily shuttle buses from the city centre for ¥29 per person. It takes around 90 minutes to reach by bus but it’s worth it for a great day out.

Where To Eat:

We ate mainly at local cafes during our 5 days in Chengdu, they were all small hole in the wall types and the names were only in Chinese, I couldn’t direct you to any of them, half the time we didn’t even know the street names, sorry! However they all cost around ¥12 for a good meal and were all the same great standard so you probably won’t go wrong with any of the cafes around.

We did visit the Chunxifang Tangsong Food Street which was pretty cool, it’s an indoor food street set out like a traditional old Chinese street. The food was great and there are lots of choices.

Getting There:

There is a metro line that runs directly from the airport to the city, though it’s not 24 hours (last train at 11pm). A taxi will cost around ¥120 depending where in town your staying.

Getting Around:

The metro system is very easy to use and really cheap, fairs are from ¥2 to ¥5 depending where your going. The system isn’t fully up and running yet as it’s fairly new, currently only 3 of the 6 lines are in operation but expect more in the near future.

Where To Stay:

Sam’s cozy hotel was amazing, the rooms were spotless and the location was good. We only paid £15 per night including breakfast through hotels.com. Also, their free map was really good, we used it during our whole trip to Chengdu.