I should have taken note of the omen that came in early, should have raised flags on how challenging this trip was going to be – but I came into this trip with a positive attitude, being very proactive, and it being the last “big trip” while we are in Dubai; so a lot of expectations for it to be very special. No, it will not go smoothly, I know that by now based on past trip, but in the last 48 hours it’s been more challenging than expected. To the point of slight disappointment – but I guess there is still a while to go. So I booked the park plaza in Beijing months ago, it cancelled 3 hours before our flight which made me scramble to look for a more reasonable alternative but all prices have doubled. This made me suspect the sudden cancellation. I had lost my original credit card which I used to book, but updated it a few days ago and no one raised any issues. After wasting time on the phones, to no avail, the hotel apparently had an “error” with the new credit card which is an obvious scam because the rates have gone up. So I booked a more expensive hotel close by with the whole purpose of being close to the forbidden city and the commercial heart of Beijing.
So on that note, off we went; and when we arrived automatically we got handled by this lady at the airport (the plane was smooth). I ended up paying way more than I should have for an unmarked taxi cab (first scam of the 24 hours). Then we went to the hotel and although it made some logic to upgrade to the executive room to make use of the breakfast and daily refreshments, as usual my Son barely eats and the wifey still manages to get hungry and order room service. To the point where apparently the room rate is doubled and withdrawn from my credit card. The hotel is very nice and centrally located so that promise was kept, but we did take a while to reach it, and so slept late to wake up late. We almost missed the breakfast (which we upgraded to make use of); I didn’t care I made sure they all woke up, as grumpy as they were, especially the little guy.
After a negative start, we got our balance and moved on. As soon as we left another scam artist, literally a lady proclaiming to be an artist offered to show us the way to forbidden city, but instead took us for a good hour and a half around some places to push us to buy thing, wasting our time, trying to sell us art. She would say it’s the last day of the exhibition and by noon they are packing up in this “government building” and she kept pointing to signs that it is legit – a sure sign it wasn’t, thou profess too much me thinks! We finally got out of it without giving in, walked a bit and got scammed by this tuk tuk who quickly moved my wife to another tuk tuk (saying it couldn’t fit us all – he didn’t even give us time to argue) so now we are paying for two instead of one at 300 yens (so at 600 that’s almost 200 dirhams! Or about 60 bucks) to go to Temple of Heaven which was a few kilometres away. After that overpriced ride, we started walking back and got another tuk tuk who also said 300 so now we know it is the going rate. At first he seemed legit, but at the end he tried his luck in getting 300 for each of us which really pissed me off (I mean if you are keeping track it is scam number 4 in one day if you don’t count the hotel incident) so held my ground and pushed back.
Diversity in Beijing
Keep in mind that this was all happening after the misses, as usual, couldn’t help herself and bought a box of cars at a toy store for the little guy, which I had to carry all the way, they were nice hot wheels I must admit, but they were waste of space and not really something you need to be getting from China when you can easily get it from Dubai at almost the same price no less. Needless to say I was grumpy, plus the fact she complains about him being spoiled. I digress, so after the Temple of heaven, which was quiet peaceful, we were now tired and hungry. After looking and finding a restaurant nearby – they forced an extra rice plate on us which we said no to, we gave in because it relatively cheap so no big issue – we made our way to the hotel sans Forbidden City. We took it easy with light tea and biscuits in the lounge, to get our money’s worth – and took the little guy to the swimming pool.
I tried to change one of the tour dates to Monday so that I can dedicate Sunday for the Forbidden City but no avail (will try to call them to change tomorrow) – might see if I can cancel and re-book completely that way on Monday when forbidden City is closed I can be more efficient. Anyway, excited for the Great wall tomorrow, still a long trip to go but at this rate I’ll be crazy broke if I keep getting scammed! (The Regent Hotel, Day 1 at 10:00p.m.)**
Today went relatively smoothly, no scamming. But the journey to the wall was unexpectedly long at more than two hours, and the hike through the wall was unexpectedly tiresome (despite the fact that this didn’t faze my Son). My wife having a heights issue with the cable cars was an added bonus. Despite all that it was an incredible site and well worth the visit. The guide was great, and the lunch was very interesting with unique dishes, we meet two Canadian ladies (Vancouver and Guelph) and one gentlemen from Singapore so all in all was a fun experience. My son was relatively well behaved and his energy level continue to baffle me as do the other kids who were climbing the steps with no issues WTF!
The Great Wall! Another tick on the bucket list.
We returned and powered through another long van ride. Grabbed a quick dinner afterwards in a nearby restaurant. The restaurant staff’s rudeness was the highlight I must say, with one screaming “SHUT UP” at a couple of people holding up the line – which in and of itself was entertainment for me. Lovely day and lovely weather and despite the very long ride went smoothly. Dreading tomorrow slightly with the large crowds and the inevitable scamming that will be attracted to me as I venture on my own to Tian an Men and Forbidden City – and maybe even Lama Temple and the Drum Tower via the subway, so hopefully it goes smoothly. Will be an adventure regardless. Stay tuned. (The Regent Hotel, Day 2 –10:12p.m.)**
A very – VERY-productive day. Left around quarter to 7 and had a good 6 hour walk with no breaks in the morning till the afternoon. After navigating very easily through the Beijing subway – to make up for the money scams earlier – very cheap tickets, had a bit of a mix up in the morning going to the Mao Zhe Dong Hall, being told can’t take camera or bags (which I knew is not the case for Forbidden City my intended destination) – thankfully I quickly realized I was in the wrong line before I wasted any more time. So off to the forbidden city I went spending a good 2.5 hours in what was an incredibly impressive site (and I had high expectations). It was amazing, and I was awe struck.
After those 3 hours in the Forbidden City, I walked my way up to the Drum and Bell Towers (and also a small mix up which had me pay a ticket to the Drum tower instead of the bell tower) I climbed the steep steps – which probably didn’t help my feet much. A good hour seeing those two sites, then went to the subway to the Lama Temple which was longer – and more spiritual than the others. Had an hour rest with the fam then off to the night tour where we saw some street food, buildings at night and then off to an authentic – or more authentic than can usually be found – restaurant with a delicious combination of foods. I was a bit disappointed that the main modern buildings were just pass-bys and I couldn’t get good photos. I wanted to take some dramatic pix of modern Beijing, but with a crappy night camera I didn’t expect much. It was informative and the street food market near the drum tower was a site to see at night – quiet the experience.
Needless to say, I was exhausted (did I mention before my one-hour rest we did a walking loop near our hotel for a good couple of hours as well, there I was carrying his highness (my son)! Surprised I can walk still and hoping tomorrow will go easier on my feet). (The Regent Hotel, Day 3 at 10:12p.m.)**
Last full day in Beijing started with a small hiccup, apparently when I cancelled to reschedule the summer palace tour (in order to go to Forbidden city yesterday) the rescheduling did not register, so saved a few bucks there. Instead, I took the taxi with the fam with surprising ease to the Summer palace. The palace did not disappoint, relaxing setting and being around the cherry blossoms which were in full force everywhere we looked. Some picturesque Chinese bridges and gardens to boot, great photo ops.
We headed back for a short break and made our way to the Chinese herbal doctor to get a free checkup, I wouldn’t say scammed (although the misses would use that term) but let’s just say I spent more than I expected…. A LOT MORE. But at least there is a chance the medicine might work for the three of us – yes even our little guy had some herbal medicine prescribed for his congestion. Apparently, my body overheats a lot, and I am prone to anger – notwithstanding I had a bit of a fever and growing cold when we went. The wifey seemed a bit overwhelmed but I am surprisingly fine with the purchase – could have been worse (not sure how though). The short lived high of saving money earlier this morning is now giving way to a much bigger deficit.
Moving on with life we headed back and had some afternoon tea at the lounge (at least we’ll make that upgrade’s money worth) we were excited to see the pre-booked Chinese acrobat show. It was a short hour but was amazing, much more entertaining than expected! More importantly my wife and son both really loved it. It’s been an intense few days but now we’re ready for tomorrow – we head to Guilin to see some Chinese nature and country side; a completely different side of the country and a whole new experience. So far Beijing was wonderful and enjoyed it thoroughly, it was a cultural gem – give or take a few scams. (The Regent Hotel, Day 4, 8:21p.m.)**
Had our breakfast, cleaned up, and headed towards the airport – which was a longer distance than I assumed. On to the plane, which was held up an extra 40 minutes, things went a bit on the disappointing side today. It was very painful flight for me, my cold and congestion continued, runny nose down to the last wet mucus drenched Kleenex and the ear popping just made it excruciating. Then came the fun part! We made it through the Guiling airport with ease to find ourselves in a warmer beautiful climate here. Had our guide drive us (started off a bit slow as the roads changed so he got lost – that’s another 40 minutes there) then on our way to the Longji hotel, which was a good 2.5 hours, we had to stop for frequent bathroom breaks, I travel with a family of small bladders. My boy did his business in an eastern (hole in the ground) toilet , I am sure he used it before elsewhere (Baku, Azerbaijan)?! Then another while till we got to the hotel village, stopped only to be told it’s a hike up a “hill”. We got an elderly woman – yep a 70- year old – with a back basket (made me feel horrible, didn’t help that the spoiled tourists we were, we were panting and heavily breathing on the way up, and midway my son got scared from a couple of alley dogs so I had to carry him the rest of the way. It was a LONG and high hike up there. We finally reached as it darkened outside, I can imagine it would be awesome tomorrow morning. Given that the Wi-Fi is unreliable here, the owners don’t speak ANY English, and we brought only one bag up – we decided to shorten our visit here and book an extra day in Guilin and reduce our stay in Longji (will still pay the full amount of 2 nights).
I was sad to do that initially, but I thought it might be too much for the fam. I am glad we made it still, I think the scenery tomorrow morning will be amazing and worth the night stay here, but best not to waste two nights given the guide is also restricted by the travel distance he has to make out to this village from his home in Guilin. So might be more efficient if we head to Guilin tomorrow. The hotel itself is beautiful, lots of wood panelling and great views. We’ll take full advantage of it tomorrow morning, might even wake up with the sunrise. Let’s see what breakfast will be like too! Hope I get over this cold as well, cause it ain’t helping no one! (Bathing in the Clouds Inn, Day 5 at 8:48p.m.)**
So after sleeping on a plank of wood – the other two got dibs on the bed with the mattress; woke up to crazy body pains and aches and a freezing room. But the view and waking up in the morning to the fresh air and the sound of roosters was sure worth it. My runny nose made the night rough but as the day progressed started to feel better. We decided to head to Guilin soon, after a lot of back and forth. Before that though we did a nice one to two-hour hike around the rice paddies were the views were amazing despite the overcast sky. The inn owner and her daughter started following us and it was actually a very pleasant walk. Son and wife had their back and forth arguments, my boo being ultra-protective – more so than usual – to the point where I wanted to snap at her, and my little devil of course being stubborn as always. Sadly, I was used to this, and I hated the fact that I was and I got very resentful for them ruining what is a once in a lifetime experience. Despite my sickness and aches and pains I did not complain. I realized how spoiled and annoying they can be. Could be that I was extra aggravated because of my cold but it was really frustrating.
The breakfast at the inn was light and simple but filling, with fresh milk, bread buns, homemade fries, and pumpkin cakes as well as eggs. We headed back finally paying the old lady that took our bag down (the guilt was still there) and of course the walk down was much quicker then the way up. This would change our schedule for the coming couple of days and I won’t be able to experience the local villages in Sanjiang but we’ll find an alternative and I guess a compromise is due when you have two very “Dubaian” family members! You can tell I am still pissed.
On our way to Guilin we had a nice lunch in one of the Yoa villages with great Lo-Han tea, kung Pao Chicken, Rice, Tofu, and beef with potatoes. The eggplants with tomatoes were so tasty. The rain come over us on our way to the Guilin hotel and when we finally made it the hotel I was pleasantly surprised; the room was awesome. Now I’m thinking it was a good decision to come to Guilin early despite the loss of money. We are resting for the rest of the day but tomorrow we’ll go exploring nearby villages and then we are on target for the rest of the agreed itinerary before Shanghai. A bit of a work emergency crept up, but hopefully that is sorted, reminded me to savour this vacation before I go back to the grind and take it easy with the family, it’s their vacation to after all – I must have been hard on them so far. (Secret Courtyard Hotel, Day 6 – Mar 28 at 8:50p.m.)**
This was a relatively easy-going day, we transferred to the family suite which was bigger and my boy finally gets his own bed, so no more kicking me in the face in the middle of the night. Went to Jiangtouzhou village which was a great alternative to Sanjiang with unique local architecture and views of the farmlands and misty mountains. All very picturesque. The rain was a nice added touch and boy was it a downpour in Guilin, but as we headed to Jiangtouzhou it dried out – and then got wet again back into the city. The hotel breakfast was OK but the fructose tea we had was a highlight for sure, we were quickly hooked. We had a nice lunch in a local restaurant and headed to a nearby supermarket to get some souvenirs. Shortly after, we went out to the Reef Flute Cave which was spectacular! The lighting, the video show, and the caves themselves were so alien and dramatic definitely a site to see. Headed back to rest with a light veg and fish dinner (the fried fish was delicious though). Great day and great views – loved this part of the country. (Secret Courtyard Hotel, Day 7 at 9:20p.m.)**
So excited for, what I think will be the highlight of the China trip tomorrow, doing the Li River cruise and seeing the outcrop mountains. I hope it is as sunny as it was today for great photos. Today was special too with Daxo village being a pleasant surprise. It was authentic and great to go see some traditional houses and architecture. A man invited us in his house, it was nice to see the traditional ways of cooking and living. A great experience trying the soy milk grinder and the husk “seesaw”, my kid had a blast trying it out. Seeing the mini crabs being fished from the river was also quiet the sight.
Took some great shots today of some unexpected things. The lunch restaurant was amazing with the best tofu I ever had, the beef was spicy but good and the baked fish was simple but delicious. My little guy was being treated as a celebrity – as usual – wherever he goes, especially with the hotel staff swooning over him every time he makes an appearance! My better half got a nice pink jade bracelet; so all in all a great productive day and excited about tomorrow – a bit anxious as it might be a very busy day, but hopefully we’ll rest early-ish today to have enough energy for tomorrow. (Secret Courtyard Hotel, Day 8 –9:08p.m.).
Surreal Li River in Guilin
Today certainly lived up to the hype – the Li river cruise was a big highlight. The luxurious setting of the boat was enough to empress, leather lazy boy type chairs and smooth sailing were exceeding expectations. So much more than we anticipated. The views did not disappoint, I pretty much took no less than 500 pictures and videos, and the weather was great. Although not as sunny as yesterday, the overcast skies made for more dramatic pictures. The food was so-so, tried this roasted veggie that looked like a cross between an onion and a turnip but tasted like corn with the consistency of an apple; so deliciously weird. A good 3 hours later we made it to Yangshuo which was overtly touristy but a great place nonetheless, lots of hippy style drum circles and international restaurants, had a lot of souvenirs, was charming in its own way. Saw the Catamaran birds and took some pix – they are gorgeous! Green eyes, silky feathers, so beautiful. We then made a stop by Cupid Hill and saw some AMAZING scenery. The light was great up there with little villages, a meandering river and patchwork farmland. Got sweaty making my way up there and back but well worth the visit. The fam waited in the car which made it go quicker. Great views and memories today, definitely a highlight of the entire trip – made our way back for a quick rest then had a quick dinner nearby. (Secret Courtyard Hotel, Day 9 at 8:25 p.m.)**
Psychedelic Reed Flute Cave
Last laid back full day in Guilin. Went to Xianggongshan Hill early in the morning by myself and saw some more amazing views, a bit misty and overcast but still very impressive. Made our way back to the hotel, and after a quick lunch, went to the central commercial area of Guilin. Got some knick knacks – among which I got an old style pendant watch with Chinese engraving, got my kid a signature seal with the year of rabbit figure, and bae got her nephew and niece some small gifts. Had a nice dinner with the guide after briefly meeting his family (wife and son) – his treat! Then back to hotel for some final relaxation, just before though we had our daily nearby stroll and I got another piece of my new favourite ice cream, fresh Russian style milk ice cream (second day in a row). Mood overall was laid back and a very enjoyable day. Tomorrow we’ll pack up and get ready for Shanghai. We had a minor hiccup in the hotel today with the government shutting water supply till noon but overall everything went smoothly. (Secret Courtyard Hotel, Day 10 at 8:47 p.m.)**
So yesterday wasn’t very eventful (thus the lack of journal entry) except our plane was delayed by two hours which I found out today is the norm for domestic flights. We made it to the hotel which was a very impressive one and got a great room view of the Shanghai skyscrapers. Today was a full day exploring the city. After a nice breakfast spread – which the misses wasn’t too crazy about – I headed solo to the Bund and walked through each building. Going inside a few (such as the Peace Hotel), great art deco stuff. Made my way back and took the little guy for a swimming break, the pool was awesome next time I’ll have to join him!
We went out for our tour after getting some snacks and water from the nearby family mart. The French concession was really cool and the Yu garden was amazing – and had the best dumplings EVER at Nanjing Dumplings, with crab meat – wow. Then the cruise made for great views and pictures but not before we went to the Silk Factory, got slightly conned into buying a few suspect things, but souvenirs nonetheless. We had the driver drop us off at East Nanjing Road and walked our way to the shopping area which was very active and so reminiscent of Shinjuku in Tokyo. Went to a couple of malls, had a dinner where there was massive language barrier, but the wifey still managed to get some beauty products, I got some dollar store style souvenirs (fans) for my colleagues, and then headed back to the hotel. Great views and scenery and love the trendy cosmopolitan city vibe here. Tomorrow we’re dedicating to our little guy (supposedly) but really for our inner child. This will be the last Disneyland outside the US that we visit and who would have thunk it really?! Can’t wait. (Hyatt at the Bund, Day 12 at 11:15 p.m.)**
Today was all about Disneyland and a day for he little one, we went a bit later than planned, about two hours later, but the ride there and back was smooth. Day was freezing but we managed about 6 or so rides including Peter Pan, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Crystal Grotto which goes under the central castle. Surprisingly the highlights were the photo ops with Darth Vader, C3P0, and Kylo Ren of Star Wars. We saw a few Marvel Iron Man suites and had some Mickey Pizza, Mickey Donut and bought some small souvenirs. All in all, a fun day but a cold one which warmed up towards the end. Went back for a nice swim in the hotel and now getting ready for the water village tomorrow and planning to see the Urban Planning museum of Shanghai. The waits were less than expected and time flew by, was easier than expected and well worth the visit. We have now officially visited all four Disneylands outside the US! (Hyatt at the Bund, Day 13 at 10:25 p.m.).
Woke up early to make the tour and had our regular breakfast. It was a bit of a struggle for the kid this morning and trying to make it to the breakfast buffet. But we powered through and met with the tour guide to go to the water village of Zhujiajiao. We had an early warning with our Shanghai guide that due to the “Tomb Cleanup” holiday the roads would be packed. That coupled with the little guy’s for a toilet early in the drive made for a tense ride. When we finally made it, and his highness relieved himself, we walked through the village, it’s villa and gardens, it’s alleyways and bridges, the grand canal, the boat ride and the old post office and pharmacy. We soaked it in with all the sites and smells (including stinky tofu) and just before the tourist crowds made it claustrophobic. Very interesting and enjoyable to see that side of China so close to a major city like Shanghai, a glimpse to an old lifestyle.
We got dropped off to a rainy People’s Square and made our way to lunch; Nanjing Dumpling was packed so we went to another restaurant. There we tasted some interestingly exotic foods, like fried Matcha pancakes with sesame, rice (I wanna say canollies) with sweet cream, roasted fish with what seemed like teriyaki, and Leek Dumplings which were very savory. Then off to the Urban Planning Museum of Shanghai where my son had, surprisingly, a lot of fun and didn’t want to leave – it was very child friendly. Across the road we went into a mall (which was too fancy for us) and got a taxi back to hotel. Went for another swim in the pool and then for a posh and pricey dinner in the hotel Vue restaurant (had truffle risotto, apple, walnut and endive salad, mother and child both got the fettuccine, and the shareable sweet platter. Back in our room now and getting ready to wrap up our China trip by heading out to Hangzhou tomorrow to see the famous impressions show and then staying the night there. I really didn’t want to like Shanghai because of all the clichés I heard about it, but I couldn’t resist, and I really did like the city and its history. We got our train tickets and heading to Hangzhou on the bullet train in the afternoon hoping for another memorable city in China which has so far exceeded expectations (Hyatt at the Bund, Day 14 at 10:24 p.m.)**
An eventful day to say the least and by no means in a good way. After breakfast (where it was crazy crowded and barely a table to spare) we headed to the train station, the little guy did his usual “I’m nauseous and wanna vomit” bit in the car but luckily it was barely an hour to the station. Then the good times rolled (sarcasm here). At the station while I was waiting, boo comes to me with “great news”! our son broke a 2,500-dirham (about 900 dollars) Iron Man 3 Sculpture; a collector’s edition. So now I must pay for it. I was LIVID! I’m already broke, and this just puts me over the edge. Plus, on top of paying crazy money for God knows what, it was broken junk! PLUS, I had to lug it around, this massive box, all around – shit day much? I had transferred money for rent and credit card, wasn’t counting on a whopping 2,500 dirham loss in one day. I had no money left for the Hangzhou hotel and my account was empty now, wifey had to withdraw some of her money; at least for the short while till I figure out what to do. THEN we went to the train, now with an extra useless overpriced box, and somehow ended up in the last train cart and our seats where “VIP” in the first cart! We had to walk through the train in the middle aisle from the last to the first cart with the luggage and Iron Man 3 in tow and all pissed at each other. We finally made it to the seats and had a good 40 minutes break from bad luck (and each other) and then we go to this taxi cab.
So because of the “Tomb Sweeping” holiday Hangzhou is a mad house and traffic is nuts. But what made the 1-hour ride (which should have been 20 minutes) more unbearable was the loud, annoying taxi driver talking to his family on the phone the whole way, he was so loud and aggressive I had to roll down the window to breath. The city seemed nice, but I was too aggravated to care or pretend to. He dropped us off near to the inn, but I was so confused, carrying all the luggage didn’t help much, it was really frustrating. We asked around and finally made it to the inn, of course lugging the stuff up was a natural thrill, the room was small but cozy and quaint. It had a nice family feel, but the language barrier wasn’t ideal, and in the beginning Wi-Fi was not working (yes I know -God forbid). Finally sorted things out, had a nap then went for a walk.
At this point, we were calmer and it was nice to see the nature. Surprisingly with all the crap that happened I was really enjoying the west lake area, despite knowing it was man made. We made it back, after getting slightly lost in our hour walk. At this point I realized we didn’t eat anything since breakfast and hunger was creeping in. We finally made it back to the hotel unable to get a cab to our pre-booked west lake impressions show – when we tried to get one through our inn keeper, we realized it is so busy all over the city that even through the phone app says 45 people were still waiting. Luckily the inn keeper told us how to walk to the show, (about half an hour away) and we realized that when we walked earlier in the day we were about 10 minutes away from it! What a waste. But we walked there briskly, got lost, kept asking – a KFC landmark is what we were looking for, got lost another 30 minutes (apparently there are two KFCs in the same 100m radius – seriously?!) We ended up trying some cucumber chips and Dove Matcha chocolate in the process, so silver lining there. We finally made it to the show – and it was great. The freezing cold weather made it uncomfortable though (I’m sure it was worse for the performers) and didn’t help the enjoyment, it was still worth seeing though.
We walked back early enough and after a long day we are ready to crash. Especially since tomorrow’s tour and breakfast will be early. Thinking back, I have my doubts about this last leg of the trip and forcing it, but I must say I did enjoy Hangzhou the short time I am here despite the setbacks. The nature is so amazing, and the vibe is great. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll see more of it and enjoy it more on our last day in China before we head back to Shanghai for a last rest stop before the flight back. What a trip. (Best Wishes Inn, Day 15 at 10:29 p.m.)**
Primarily a smooth day had our simple and humble breakfast at the hotel and went on our tour. The day was nice and sunny and everything was lovely, from the west lake boat ride to the Private Gao Garden, the Tea area where we got some Emperor prime green tea and then through the oldest road in Hangzhou (were I got my pictures taken yet again with strangers). However, no day goes without a hitch, we went to the station and there were absolutely no trains to Shanghai so for more than double the price we got this lady to cab us back to Shanghai and the hotel there (no English of course and under the table payment) but at least we got some mode of transport.
Hangzhou, China’s “Tuscany”
This holiday of sweeping tombs is killing us – no pun intended – but eventful up to the last day that’s for sure. Hoping to rest up before we fly out tomorrow, so much stress today but what a journey this has been and quiet the adventure. Loved it and lots of memories to take with me and the family. (In the taxi, charging my phone on the way from Hangzhou to Shanghai, Day 16 at 3:54 p.m.)***