China is a destination that has forever been on my bucket list and as I suspected it exceeded all my expectations. This type of trip was a first for me as I was travelling as part of an escorted group with Intrepid Travel who are specialist in adventure and cultural worldwide group holidays.
I travelled with 8 other Irish agents whom I met for the first time at Dublin airport and true to the Irish style they were a fantastic group of people. We were incredibly lucky to experience the exceptional business class service of Finnair who routed via Helsinki. As expected, the attentive service combined with a fine selection of wines, champagnes and delicious meals were second to none and the full lie flat bed was such a treat.
After touching down in Beijing, the adventure began. The group’s local tour guide, Jay from Intrepid met us on arrival. His wealth of knowledge, friendly and kind approach certainly enhanced the whole experience. Our two-night stay in Beijing included iconic sights such as Tiananmen Square, one of the largest squares in the World, the Forbidden Palace, Jiangshan Park and we also visited the Olympic Village.
Of course, the highlight of the entire trip was visiting the Great Wall. The was just incredible and it certainly gave me a better understanding of what a “once in a lifetime” experience feels like. We climbed right to the top and this was a very proud moment and an excellent bonding exercise for the group.
Onwards to the ancient city of Xi’an by high-speed bullet train. This journey took just over 5 hours and the experience was smooth and very comfortable. The imperial centre of China for over 2000 years, Xi’an is such a vibrant and modern city, dotted with many interesting historical sites and I absolutely loved this city. Xi’an is still surrounded by old walls. We hired mountain bikes and cycled the circumference of the wall, approx. 14 kms with many photo opportunities en-route. Afterwards we ventured into the wonderful Muslim Quarter which was alive with hundreds of market stalls and street food ventures. After some serious haggling we all acquired some great deals. We learnt all about the ancient trading route of the Silk Road. We also came across the Great Mosque and we took in the Bell and Drum Towers’ the former built to lock up the dragons which were causing Earthquakes.
An hour outside Xi’an is the site of the Terracotta Warriors. WOW. This is a must for all travellers to China. Regarded as one of the important archaeological finds of the 20th century. I will let the photos speak for themselves.
Another unique experience was the overnight sleeper train from Xi’an to Shanghai. I did find the train to be quite smoky and stuffy and whilst I am glad I experienced the train I think that next time I will opt for a flight!!!! Shanghai I would consider as the New York of China. Vibrant, modern, busy. I just loved this city. We explored on foot, parts of historical Shanghai, including the Bund with its spectacular array of Art-Deco-style buildings. We did some retail therapy on Luwan’s Huaihai Road, a busy shopping area and popular dining spot.
In the evening we attended a performance by the world famous Shanghai Acrobats. Nail biting stuff!! Followed by some lovely cocktails in 47th floor Sky Lounge at the Radisson Blu Hotel allowing us a sweeping view across the city.
On our final day we set off to the Water town located about 90 mins from Shanghai. Xitang certainly is a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city. We explored the gardens and the streets, we cruised the canals which criss-cross the town, sipped some tea at a traditional tea house and visited a local history museum.
After our farewell dinner later this evening we got a taxi to the “Bund”, the financial district of Shanghai. The incredible buildings lit up the night sky, what a magnificent sight and amazing photo opportunity. I was very sad to be leaving this wonderful country. As a tourist I really only tipped the iceberg and will most certainly return in the future to explore the countryside and perhaps go to see the pandas and cruise the Yangtze River.