Posted by: Talie Morrison | August 4, 2017

China – April 2017

This blog post will be totally out of order because needless to say – I went to China before I broke my leg!   Thank goodness it didn’t happen over there.  But a lot of you have asked about the trip and wanted to see the photos….

My Kiwi friend, Dianne, and I planned this trip way back in March of 2016.   She had heard about the trip from others who had gone with this company (Sinorama)  and they all raved about the trip.   China was big on her to do list (not exactly on mine – but why not….), so we started the research, etc. a full year before we went.   Actually, I will have to admit – I let her do all the research and just told her to tell me where to send the check!

China is a pretty big nut to crack!   There is not a lot of English spoken even in the biggest tourist attractions, and a lot of the Chinese are illiterate so having things written down (one of my best tricks when I don’t speak the language) doesn’t work all the time over there.   So it seemed like a good idea to go with a tour group.

This was Dianne’s work up on the China Map

Now – we know that a guided tour is not one of Talie’s favorite ways to travel.   I know with a tour you get to see a lot, and the English translations and descriptions give you a lot more information than you get just wandering around. But you miss the adventure of trying to figure out a totally different country – how they do things and how different they are. The price you pay: following around the little red flag – moving in a group – going for what I call “compulsory shopping” in the silk shops, jade shops, etc. doesn’t light my chimes!   On the other side of the equation, let me tell you what we got: Airfare round trip from Auckland, 3 or 4 internal flights in China, bus transport in between, a trip on the high-speed train, English-speaking guides everywhere we went, porters to carry our luggage, and 20 nights in 5 star hotels!   All the meals (except 4 or 5 were included). It was amazing.   Price:   NZ $4026 (That’s $2937 US Dollars). Pretty incredible!   So maybe, Talie, you can bend your rules this once and go for it this time (just don’t get used to it!)   Dianne and I had decided from the “get go” not to sign up for the “extras” which included things like “dumpling dinners”, acrobatic shows, water shows, etc.   Being on our own on those nights, we could actually wander around the city or countryside and have a little of our own adventure!

It was a long flight (of course) from Auckland to Shanghai and then a couple of hours and another flight on to Beijing where we met up with the tour.   I noticed a booth that was selling “SIM cards” so my first purchase was a Chinese SIM card for my iPhone.    I have used foreign SIM cards before and been happy with them.   I purchased one that didn’t include voice calls, but included data for texting.   The real beauty of having a local SIM card is using the other options on your phone.   (Once I was dropped in the middle of Kathmandu by a taxi that couldn’t get “through” – I used my maps on my iPhone to find my way to my hotel!).   So with the China SIM card, Dianne and I could see where we wanted to go, and (mostly) how to get there.  I felt a bit more secure that way.

Sinorama whisked us out of the Beijing airport and off to our first 5 star hotel!   Very nice!   Beijing in the springtime is gorgeous!   Of course the cherry blossoms were blooming – all the trees had fresh new green buds and leaves.   I was surprised at how clean the public spaces were – the medians on the roads were manicured and beautifully planted.   From what I understand, China is planting trees in any open space to counter their “footprint” on the planet.   I didn’t notice very much in the way of air pollution, so either we were there at a good time, or it is working…

The streets of Beijing – no “old clunkers” out there!


A free “gym” on the sidewalk

The Old and the New

Lots of color!

That first night Dianne and I were on our own – so that was pretty fun in Beijing.  We located a park on my iPhone map and worked our way over to it.  Crossing 6 lanes of traffic was be a bit challenging – and we had to take a rather long detour to find a bridge over the road. The park was great – there were people exercising – TaiChi, playing ping-pong, playing cards, paddling around in the lake, and enjoying the beautiful trees and gardens.   We never felt lost since we knew right where we were on the map  (of course, we also got a card with the hotel’s name on it, just in case!). I love being able to just wander around foreign cities and actually see the locals doing what they “do”.

After the park,   we found a little spot for dinner (it was crowded, which usually means the locals like it and it must be good food!).  We pointed to the photos to tell them what we wanted to eat, figured out how to pay in Chinese Yuan, found a table and we thought we were in good shape.   The meal came and it looked delicious.   Yikes!  One drop on my tongue set my whole body on fire!!!!!!   I didn’t know you could make food that spicy!   Dianne was able to pull a few noodles out of the broth and eat them, but I couldn’t even do that.   So I had the rather bland dumplings which was our other dish.   The next day, we got our guide to write (in Chinese) “Not Spicy” (and hoped the people in the restaurants would be able to read it!)   After that we used those Chinese characters whenever we ordered.   Except if we were at Colonel Sanders Fried Chicken (it is amazing that there are KFC’s all over the world – even in China (possibly even more than McDonald’s).   When you order chicken at a KFC over there, they give you little disposable plastic gloves so you don’t get your fingers greasy! Interesting

Tengu thought those lions were scary!

I was absolutely amazed at the cleanliness of everywhere we went.The infrastructure around the cities was amazing.   The roads were well taken care of, like I said,  the green belts were trimmed, weeded, and well cared for.   There was basically no trash on the streets. Now – I know we were being shown the parts of China that the Chinese Government wanted us to see – I am sure our tour was subsidized by the government (why it was such a great price) – but still it was impressive how clean everything was.   We did get on the subways and wander away from the beautiful parts of the cities.   I always felt safe – never threatened even after dark.   Of course we were cautioned about pick pockets – but you find that everywhere – USA or China!   Everyone please note: I did NOT lose my passport in China!   Yahoo!

And THEN:   20 nights in 5 star hotels!   Definitely a bit different from sleeping in GrayJay off in the desert!   I still love you GrayJay, but I think I might be able to force myself to sleep in these big fluffy beds with showers and tubs in the bathrooms. Definitely a “pampered” trip.   Now I know how my mother used to travel!

Our first 5-star hotel!

Our first day of touring in the Beijing area, we went to see the Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven.   The next morning, we took the bus about 1.5 hours outside of Beijing to the Great Wall.   It was one of the “big ones” on my list of things to see.   And it was very impressive! The Chinese built this wall as protection from the Huns and other Nomadic tribes – it never completely fulfilled its purpose (let’s see – and our President wants to build another wall?   If it didn’t work way back then, what makes him think it will work now? – Ok, Talie, no more politics!) I loved the Great Wall – of course, where we were had been refurbished and reinforced but it was still very impressive.   We had about 2 hours to spend there – and of course, Dianne and I had to go to the “top of the hill”.   Lots of steps!   I wished it had been a blue sky day, but it was a bit cloudy.   Even so, it was pretty awesome to actually know that I was walking on the Great Wall of China (which can be seen from space!).   We also went to the Ming Tombs (where 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty are buried – 1368-1644).   When I go to foreign countries, I realize how very young America (and New Zealand) is.   There is human history that goes WAY back!

Really on the Great Wall!

This was where we were on the wall

From Beijing we took a flight to Xi’an.   There we visited the Summer Palace and the Imperial Garden in the Qing Dynasty. And the next day, we went to the Terra Cotta Warriors excavation.   Now that was AMAZING. To quote Wikipedia:

The figures, dating from approximately the late third century BCE,[1] were discovered in 1974 by local farmers in Lintong DistrictXi’an, Shaanxi province. The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots and horses. Estimates from 2007 were that the three pits containing the Terracotta Army held more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remained buried in the pits nearby Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum.[2] Other terracotta non-military figures were found in other pits, including officialsacrobatsstrongmen and musicians.

The whole area is huge – and the amount of warriors (which are life-sized) is amazing.   I was very happy to be able to see this amazing sight!

They even had Terra Cotta Horses

The photos don’t do it justice as to the hugeness of the place!

You can see where the logs rested on the dividers

After seeing the warriors, we took another internal flight to Wuhan.   From there we got on a cruise boat for 4 days on the Yangtze River.   It reminded me quite a bit of the Mississippi or Ohio Rivers.   Lots of barges carrying coal or oil or other heavy materials.   But it was very relaxing and beautiful to cruise on this beautiful large river.   We had a lovely room, and (as in most cruises) there was lots of great food.   The way the large group of Sinorama travelers were divided up was first by bus:  we were in Bus 2;  then by table – we were table 7.   So when we organized ourselves to get back on the bus or whatever event:   we were checked in by “Bus 2?” and then “Table 7?”   It was pretty funny.   But the best part of this was that our “Table 7” group really connected.   We laughed and carried on at each meal and enjoyed getting to know each other.   It was pretty fun.   From what other people say, this is an unusual situation – but we were very lucky and now have more wonderful friends from around the country – we covered New York, Arizona, California, Colorado, and New Zealand (I have already been to Phoenix to visit Ed and Rhea!)

Table 7!

The Yangtze River was beautiful, with steep mountains coming right down to the water level.   We were blessed with lovely weather and enjoyed several shore excursions.   The most amazing part of the journey was the new Three Gorges Dam – which is the world’s largest hydroelectricity project.   To get through the dam we had to go through the 5 stage ship locks. It took us most of the night to get through all of them.

And everywhere, the high-rises for all those people!

One bridge did a light show as we cruised under it at night!

Amazing infrastructure

So steep!

Down the Yangtze


We disembarked the boat in Chongqing (only 35 million people live there!).   The Zoo in Chongqing has a large exhibit of pandas!   I also enjoyed the white bengal tiger!

The Pandas were adorable!

White Bengal Tiger

Then we were whisked off to Shanghai.   We had lots of free time to visit the markets in Shanghai and the “bund” which is the riverfront.   Dianne and I were on our own again for the evening and had fun going back down to the riverfront and seeing the light show across the river.   It was amazing.

The skyline during the day

The skyline at night

The next day we were back on another internal flight to Guilin and then a bus up to the village of Yangshuo.   The area around Yangshuo is full of these small steep limestone “baby” mountains.   It reminded me of HaLong Bay in Vietnam – except it was over the land.   Very interesting landscape!

I loved the landscape!

On the river Li

Then we got to go on the high-speed train.   Can’t go to China and not go on one of the high-speed trains!   We got up to 247 km per hour (that’s 153 miles per hour).   It didn’t feel fast – but we sure covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time!

Very sleek!

We actually went up to 247 Km/hr

The end of our trip consisted of seeing Macau (the gambling mecca of China) and then Hong Kong.   Neither of these places impressed me very much – but then you know I’m not much of a city lover.   In Hong Kong, our room (yes, still 5-star!) was on the 57th floor.   Yikes!   I’m not sure I like being that high in a building – so I didn’t get very close to the window.   But it was quite a view over Hong Kong.

Hong Kong from Victoria Peak

The infinity pool at the hotel (on something like floor 42)

This was as close as I could get to the window on the 57th floor!

From there we flew back to Shanghai, and then back to Auckland.   Long flights but it was good to not be following a flag anymore!   All in all, I would say it was an amazing trip to China – I felt like we saw so much that was spread over quite a bit of distance.   The lodging and food were excellent (I haven’t had any hankering for Chinese food since I have been back!).   It was well-organized and very informative.   I know that we saw the “parts of China” that the Chinese Government wanted us to see – so there is still a lot out there that is very different.   But I would definitely recommend Sinorama Tours to anyone who wants to go on an organized tour of China!





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