If you’re taking your children on your China vacation then you’ll want something family friendly to do when your China tour hits Shanghai. Travel in China is incredibly educational and most children really enjoy a trip to China but it’s nice to let them unleash their child and for you to unleash your inner child alongside them sometimes too. Here are 5 great child friendly museums in Shanghai to do just that in:
Zotter Chocolate Theatre (Yangpu District)
It’s not just children on a China vacation who can’t resist the call of lots of free chocolate. Zotter hail from Austria but their production facilities are in China. If you travel to the Yangpu District you can take an English speaking tour of the factory; where you’ll learn all you ever needed to know about how chocolate foes from the plant to the confectionary store. Then afterwards – you are free to try as many chocolates as you like. That’s a great way to spend some time in Shanghai.
Animation and Comic Museum (Pudong District)
It would be hard to find kids who wouldn’t travel to interact with comic books and create animations. China’s Animation and Comic Museum in Shanghai is an absolutely awesome experience and a child’s highlight from a China trip. You can take a tour of the evolution of comics and animation (not just in China – they also cover a lot of American favourites) and then build your favourite cartoon character out of ceramic materials. It’s a lot of fun. Shanghai Glasses Museum (Zhabei District)
Yes, it doesn’t sound like much fun but it’s actually a lot more interesting than it sounds. The displays of glasses (spectacles) date back as far as the Song Dynasty aren’t that fascinating. Though the lady who shows you round does her very best to bring them to life in English. But the chance to find out how animals see the world – is really cool. It’s also one of the cheapest day trips in China at 10 RMB a head.
Shanghai Natural Wild Insect Kingdom (Pudong District)
You can’t really argue with a place stocked full of creepy crawlies and reptiles. It’s the kind of place that children love or hate depending on the way they feel about insects. It’s really well put together though and the collection is truly fascinating. It could use a little bit more in the way of English signage but bugs speak a language all of their own...
Shanghai Children’s Museum (Changning District)
It was the first museum built for children in the whole of China and it’s a great place to visit on your vacation. Your children will get to play with local kids and enjoy everything from a pretend trip to the moon, to a pretend submarine. There are crafts areas where children can be as creative as they like and reading rooms, video rooms, etc. too. There is also a whole space dedicated to the importance of protecting the environment.
A China vacation is a great way for your children to learn about China and enjoy an exhilarating travel experience. However, sometimes they’re going to want to take a little break from the China tour itinerary and do something… well…. better designed for children. If your China trip includes some time in Shanghai; here are some great ideas for a family day out:
Shanghai Wild Animal Park (Pudong New Area)
If your China trip is going to involve some time in Chengdu; you can probably skip the Wild Animal Park as it doesn’t quite compare to the China vacation awe of meeting Giant Pandas face-to-face. However, otherwise this is a great day out and far less depressing than some of China’s zoos. You can feed a tiger, ride an elephant, and cuddle a chimp and more here. It’s a great place to enjoy some family time.
Fuxing Park (French Concession)
There’s nothing nicer than taking a stroll in the park. It’s even better when you can enjoy one of China’s favourite hobbies on your tour – flying kites. Kite flying is a competitive sport in China and you can expect your kids to ruin a kite or two during their time in the park but they’re cheap and it’s all part of the fun. There are plenty of less competitive things to do and if you travel to the park in the early morning or evening – you may be able to join in with some relaxing Tai Chi with the locals. Take a picnic and make a day of it.
Eday Town (Minhang District)
It’s perhaps the strangest thing you can do on a China vacation but in Eday Town – you can put your children to work, literally. The town is built to let children try out different jobs. They can be a dentist, a pilot, or a police man, etc. The idea is that the children play together and learn together (and the jobs are all play – not real work). Parents are welcome to observe but the children choose the way that their day goes. It’s a real-life theme park for children and everything inside has been lovingly recreated at 2/3 of normal size so that kids can really do whatever they want to do.
It’s only for the brave but Aquaria 21 brings you up close and personal with some of the fiercest predators in the world and ones you won’t see elsewhere on your China tour – sharks! If you really want you can rent a scuba diving outfit and jump in with them (don’t worry – they won’t bite they’re really harmless sand sharks but they do look mean). There’s a huge underwater tunnel that lets you almost touch China’s marine life in all its endless variety. They even have some penguins which are as cute as they always are. It’s pretty good value too with tickets for children starting at just 60 RMB ($10) and those under 1 meter tall – get in free.
If you’re planning your China vacation; you may be wondering what your duty free limits will be on a China tour. In general this isn’t a major concern for travel in China with customs checks being fairly limited in most entry ports. However, it’s always a good idea to stay within the law and this what you’re allowed to bring into China on your trip and what you’re not allowed to bring too.
Absolutely Banned in China
Bringing any of these materials with you will ruin your China vacation if you are caught. Your China tour group cannot interfere if you break the law in China during your trip:
- Guns, ammunitions and explosives of any kind
- Radio receivers, transmitters, and parts for radios
- More than 20,000 RMB in Cash
- Books, manuscripts, films, records, etc. that may be considered negatively in light of China’s political, cultural, economic or ethical climate. This includes pornography, many religious materials, etc.
- Habit forming drugs including all opiates and many prescription drugs – it is important to check prior to entering China if you need supporting documentation for your own prescriptions. Many prescription remedies are not available in China at all and it’s essential to travel with the right documentation for such drugs.
- Animals, plants or any products made from these which may be infested with insects.
- Foodstuffs which may be considered unsanitary or prone to infection.
What is permitted to Come into China
China is very flexible when it comes to travel in the country and these are guidelines as to what to bring as opposed to hard rules. Your China vacation will probably be easier if you stay within the limits as customs declarations can be time consuming and occasionally costly.
- Up to 2,000 RMB worth of duty free goods which you do not intend to export from the country. For example; perfume as a gift.
- Unlimited amounts of foreign currency (such as the US Dollar). However, if you bring more than $5,000 worth of currency into China – you must declare it at customs. Trying to leave China with more than $5,000 can be very problematic if you don’t declare this.
- Up to 1.5 Litres of alcoholic drinks (with ABV of 12% or more), up to 400 cigarettes or 100 cigars or 500 grams of tobacco. If you wish to bring more of these items – you need to make a declaration that they are for personal use and pay duty on them. You shouldn’t need to bring any large quantities of these products as they are, generally, much cheaper in China than they would be in the United States.
- Any new electronic equipment is technically subject to duty. It is a good idea to remove such equipment from any packaging before you travel to China; unless it is for resale – in which case it is a good idea to declare this and pay the duty on it.
Entering China is generally trouble free for most people and if you follow the rules above – it will be trouble free for you too.
If you’ve booked your China vacation and want to get ready for your China trip so that your travel goes without a hitch; we’ve put together a quick checklist for you. China toursare generally hassle free but ensuring you have what you need for your time in China is always a good idea.
As Early as Possible
Even if your China trip is still a year away – there are things you can do to get ready for your China tour:
- Ensure your passport is valid for the entire vacation period and for 6 months beyond the date that you will enter China.
- Ensure that you’ve got your visa processed for China with plenty of time to spare.
- Ensure that you’ve spoken to your general practitioner and arranged any vaccinations you need to travel safely.
- Ensure that your ATM and Credit Cards have the right expiry dates etc. and that you have spoken to your bank to enable their use during China.
- Ensure that you have arranged travel insurance. Some Basics
- Make certain you have the documents above packed before you leave home.
- Ensure that your luggage meets the size requirements specified by the airline.
- Ensure that you use locks for your luggage which meet the US aviation requirements.
- Ensure you’ve prepared an emergency contacts list with our information, your friends and family’s information, and your embassy’s information on it. It’s always best not to rely on lists in phones which can be easily lost.
Whilst China is a shopper’s paradise; it’s important to remember that Chinese stores generally stock smaller sizes than American stores. If you are tall or of a full body frame or have larger than average feet – it can be very difficult to track down clothing on your tour.
- Hot and cold weather ware but pack light
- Comfortable footwear including a pair of hiking boots for scenic journeys
- Rain protection
- Sun protection
Most of these items can be bought in China but you may find it hard to track down your favourite brands, so if something is important to you don’t forget:
- Hairbrush (combs will normally be provided in the hotels you stay in)
- Toothbrushes, floss and toothpaste
- Lotions, creams, etc.
- Deodorant (particularly important as Western brands are hard to find in China)
- Nail clippers (don’t pack these in your carry-on luggage) Don’t forget that you may need to put most toiletries in your hold luggage in order to get them onto the plane legally.
Yes, you could buy electronics in China but they aren’t all that much cheaper than they are back home and there’s a substantial risk of coming home with a fake product:
- Video/Still Camera, spare batteries, and your charger
- Cellphone and a charger and ideally a spare charger (they often get left behind in hotel rooms)
- Laptop/tablet PC with a charger The rest is up to you – we’ve found that guidebooks and phrase books are a popular addition to most people’s luggage for their trip.
If you’re going to travel to Beijing as a family then you might want to take some time out to explore all the fun opportunities that a China vacation has to offer. China’s capital city is a great place to include in your China tour plans and if you want to make your China trip extra-special; here are 5 great things to do as a family in Beijing.
Climb the Great Wall Together
The Great Wall is a major destination on most people’s China tours and it’s the perfect place to have some family fun too. It’s best to go to Mutianyu which is the best restored and thus safest bit of the wall to climb. You can take a trip on a cable car up to the wall before you being your walk. Start early in the day to beat the crowds, which are often heavy in China, and then take a toboggan down at the end of the walk. Older children might enjoy a night adventure on the wall where you can hear a little music and enjoy a picnic looking up at the night sky.
Fly Kites in Tiananmen Square
One of the biggest hobbies in China is kite flying. You can buy a kite (or two) cheaply and easily in Beijing and then head off to Tiananmen Square to fly it. Many Chinese people on vacation or just taking a break from city life come there to do the same thing. Soon you’ll find that you’ve made a few new friends which is what travel in China is all about.
Have a History Fun Day at the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City is high up on most people’s China vacation “must see” lists and deservedly so. You can make the experience even more fun for your children by picking up a book on the history and tales of the Forbidden City and taking turns to read the stories to each other. Wander through the gardens and see how many animals you can spot and then take a boat trip across the lake.
Enjoy the Whispering Wall at the Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven is lovely and the grounds are perfect for a family picnic while China unfolds around you. It’s a colourful and bright building which children love to explore. But don’t miss the whispering wall in the Imperial Vaults – your children can whisper messages across the whole vault and hear each other perfectly.
Experience Kung Fu the Way it is Meant to Be
The Shaolin Temple is the most famous Kung Fu school in China. It has been made famous in countless movies and it is still extremely active today. You can take the whole family to a performance of Shaolin Kung Fu and watch some incredible displays of acrobatics. The stunts and feats of bravery will wow everyone. And don’t worry; it’s all for fun and no-one gets hurt during the performance.
If you’re going to bring your children on your China tour; it’s a great idea. Children can get a lot out of a China vacation and travel in China truly broadens the mind. However, to get the most from your China trip with children – you need to plan ahead a little too:
Planning Your Trip
- Try to choose China tours with a variety of activities; children get bored easily and you want to ensure that they enjoy their time too.
- Try to time your China vacation for some good weather – not too hot or too cold so that it’s easier to manage their wardrobe etc.
- Make certain that you have their passports arranged and visas arranged along with your own – children can no longer travel to China on a parent’s passport.
Packing for Children
- Whilst you can buy what you need in most cities in China; it’s best to take any favourite products with you – some brands are impossible to track down.
- If you use infant formula it’s always best to bring as much as you need for your trip with you. Chinese products are not well regarded in this specific instance.
- Disinfectant and wet wipes – this is actually strangely difficult to source in China and it’s easier to bring it on your vacation (and cheaper) than to find some when you get there.
- Copies of medical records – most trips to China pass without the slightest issue when it comes to health but it’s better to be safe than sorry and this can help hospitals provide the right treatment if necessary.
- Sun cream, hats, raincoats, after sun, etc. even if the weather should be perfect, again it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Toys, books, etc. You are unlikely to find English language children’s books easily and lax safety standards make local toys perhaps a little less appealing than they might be.
Staying in China
- If you have any special needs for your children in your accommodation – please let us know when you book or as soon as possible so that we can arrange this with your hotels.
- Never, ever drink tap water in China. All water should be bottled water and from a reliable and recognized brand. Always check the seals on water bottles; particularly at tourist locations when sold by vendors.
- Try to avoid letting children eat from street vendors; there’s a small risk of food poisoning which may not be a big deal to adults but can be serious for children.
- Always keep an eye on your children and know where they are at all times. China is a big place and getting lost may lead to a lot of upset. Ensure they have a card with the hotel’s name and address and phone number and with the tour guide’s number on it too.
- Always keep control of your children when crossing the road – roads are not well ordered as they might be at home; traffic can be erratic and arrive from either direction.
Beijing, China’s capital city is one of the most popular places to visit on a tour of China. It’s the perfect vacation destination with great food, great nightlife, history and culture, and much more besides. Your China trip can be made even better if you use a few judiciously chosen travel apps while you are in China – here are 5 that might help you make more of your time in Beijing.
One of the concerns people have about a vacation in China is the air quality. It’s fair to say that sometimes the air in China’s capital city is pretty bad. This won’t cause you any permanent harm but you might want to use a face mask on particularly bad days as you travel the city to cut down your exposure to particles in the air. You can find out exactly what the state of play is using Beijing Air (Android phones only) which use real-time data produced by the US Embassy in Beijing.
The Beijing Subway Guide
This wonderful English app can be your best friend when your China tour reaches Beijing. The Beijing underground system is, perhaps, the best way to get around the capital. However, it can be a little confusing for first time users. This app (again Android phones only) makes it much easier to get around. It also calculates the best route between two different places which can save a lot of time getting on the wrong trains.
Explore Beijing Subway Guide
iPhone users don’t need to be left out when they want to use the underground system. This app isn’t quite as powerful as the Beijing Subway Guide but it’s not too shabby either. You’ll be able to find all the routes on the subway system with ease. It also gives you an indication of the first, and more importantly, and last times that the trains run on each line. It also includes the recently opened Line 15 which is pretty handy too. It’s the perfect helper on your China trip.
Beijing Genius Map
Beijing’s a very big city and iPhone users don’t need to worry about getting lost. Sadly, there’s no Android equivalent for this and Google Maps is a bit touch and go in China. However, if you want to do some walking on your vacation – this is the app for you. It lays out all the street plans and offers a GPS location function; so you can’t lose yourself at all. It’s also completely functional when you have no internet access and that’s priceless. Beijing Genius Map can add big value to your China vacation.
Don’t know what to wear? Then grab WeatherPro and make sure that whatever you pick from the wardrobe is suited to that day’s weather. The weather can be intensely varied in China particularly as you move from North to South or vice-versa. It’s always handy to know whether you should grab your shades or your umbrella or take both…
If you’re wondering about etiquette on you China vacation; you shouldn’t worry too much as by and large the Chinese don’t expect people who travel in China to have all the local manners down pat. However, if you’d like your China tour to go as smoothly as possible – there are things to avoid doing, if you can help it, on your China trip:
Politely Turn Down Compliments
Humility is a big deal to the Chinese. If you tell someone on your China tour; “Hey! I thought that was the best meal I’ve ever eaten.” They’ll probably say; “No, it was just OK!” or even “No it was awful!” If someone gives you praise; the right thing to do from the Chinese perspective is to brush it off. You gain face from the praise and then you gain face from the brush off too. This is a win-win and will impress people wherever you travel in China.
First Names Don’t Come First
This may be hard to get used to for a China vacation but the Chinese aren’t big on the use of first names. If you were to meet a lady called Zhang Min. Her first name is Min and her surname is Zhang and the ideal form of address would be to call her Ms. Zhang (or perhaps Mrs. Zhang) and never Min. The same is true for you; it’s best to give your name as Mr. Smith or Ms. Jones than it is to introduce your first name. The use of the first name is incredibly intimate and not really appropriate with strangers at all.
Always Toast Before You Drink
If you’re lucky enough to enjoy an invitation to a Chinese banquet on your China trip; the drinking etiquette is simple. You don’t let alcohol past your lips without offering a toast or responding to a toast. Yes, this can mean a lot of toasts in one night. Watch out for the words; “gan bei” at the end of the toast. That means “finish glass” and you’re expected to down the whole glass in one. For this reason you might want to be careful about accepting too many of these invitations if you want to remember your China vacation properly.
No, Thank You May Not Mean No, Thank You
The Chinese modesty means that it’s expected that you will refuse an offer of a gift or a drink (or whatever) the first time it’s made. That doesn’t mean that they really mean it. You should offer a few times before accepting the words “No, thank you” at face value.
Always Fight to Pay the Bill
As you’ll quickly discover on your China tour; there’s a strict etiquette over who pays at a communal dinner. However, you are still expected to make a show of trying to pay – even if you’re not the one who will end up paying. The “winner” is usually the oldest person at the table or the person who invited everyone to dinner.
After a relaxing Yangtze River Cruise on your China vacation your China tour will be stopping in the city of Chengdu in Sichuan. Chengdu is a beautiful city with plenty of interesting things and we’ve found 5 of them to make your China trip even more wonderful. Here’s what you need to now before you travel to China:
Floraland (Theme Park)
This isn’t Disney World and don’t expect to be blown away by the technical complexity of the rides. However, it is a charming way to spend a day trip in China and if you have a young family it will make for a pleasant change from the cultural side of your China vacation for the little ones. There are themed lands (mainly based on Europe but also, strangely, one based on Japan) and there’s plenty of fun to be had. We like Floraland for the huge Ferris wheel in the center of the park which lets you get a birds’ eye view of the whole of Chengdu.
If you want to do some serious clothes shopping on your travels in China there’s no better place than Chunxi Road in Chengdu. This area is full of serious fashion and there are malls and markets galore in the vicinity. It’s also a good place to try Sichuan cookery on your China tour because of the huge proliferation of street stands selling local delicacies.
The Wide (and Narrow Alleys)
In Qingyang district you’ll find Chengdu’s answer to Beijing’s Hutongs. If you like to do a bit of walking and would like to see more of classic China during your trip – then head over to Jinje road and explore these interesting alleyways that were constructed in the Qing and Ming eras. There’s been some modernization here but rather less than in most Hutongs and of course, there are far fewer tourists thronging the streets here which makes it much easier to navigate.
The first alley in Chengdu is one of the quietest parts of the city. You can travel this laneway on foot with plenty of space. At first glance, it’s a bit on the plain side but as you explore you’ll be charmed by the boutique stores and local handicrafts on offer. The restaurants and cafes are a little more upmarket than in some parts of the city and you can enjoy a tour of the local cuisine in a very authentic part of China here.
This part of the city is the one closest to the Buddhist heritage of the area. You can enjoy a stroll among temples and incredible architecture. Make sure you visit Wenshu Monastery “the monastery of love”; literally, it’s where Chinese courting couples go to pray for their relationships to blossom into something more. Then enjoy a wander round the “folk art street” where you can buy local arts or handicrafts and enjoy the atmosphere of a relaxed Chinese street. There are some great tea shops nearby too.
If you’re planning a China tour and you’re wondering if you will be able to manage your food allergies on your China vacation; then the answer is that it can be done. It’s important to plan for this before your China trip. So before you travel to China; why not spend a few minutes with our guide to handling food allergies when you arrive?
Understand the Chinese Food Culture
It’s really helpful to familiarize yourself with the food you might encounter on your China tour; this will give you a clearer understanding of what it contains and what you might need to avoid or ask to be changed. There is an app on the Google and Apple stores which breaks down all the main dishes you will encounter on your China vacation into their constituent elements and flags them for the content against particular dietary requirements. This can save a lot of reading Chinese cookery books.
Mastering the Language of Chinese Food
Sometimes though, you’re going to find that you need to communicate with the host in a restaurant or café to find out what the meal really does contain on your China trip. This isn’t as bad as it sounds. You do not need to learn any Mandarin whatsoever to avoid the ingredients you don’t want to eat. Before you travel to China; invest in a Chinese dictionary or phrasebook – ideally one you can load onto your smartphone. Then whenever you need to know what is in something; just type the phrase (simply) into the dictionary. Then you can show it to the host and get their response typed back. It may take a little more time to get your meal right this way but it’s going to be worth it in the long run.
Seek Help from Expats
If that doesn’t work there are tons of online forums for expats in China. Not everyone’s on vacation in the country and many of these forums will give you a speedy response to an immediate query. Many expats have been on long tours of China and they speak the language. If they can’t help – they may also be able to point you in the direction of someone who can.
Things to Watch Out For
It’s worth noting that Chinese cuisine is generally much less fussy than Western cuisine. Food allergies are pretty much an alien concept in a country which is famed for; “We eat everything with four legs unless it’s a table…” and so on.
MSG is a staple ingredient of many dishes in China and it can be very difficult to get the right textures in the food without it. If you need it removed, the end result may not be what you expected.
Peanut oil is the base for a lot of cooking and is particularly popular for chilli infused oils. So make certain to ask about the oil and not just the ingredients.
Shrimp paste is also added to a lot of non-seafood dishes. So again ask to be sure if you’re allergic to seafood.
For some a China vacation is about the food. Others book their China tour because of the history and culture. Yet there are those who travel to China to indulge in their love of music and in that case a trip to China’s capital, Beijing, is mandatory.
Not only can you connect with China’s modern rock, pop, metal, country and folk scenes easily in Beijing but you can also make a trip to see one of China’s most incredible operas or travel to the ballet and enjoy music and dance in harmony. There are literally dozens of live music venues across the city and while you may not always be able to sing along; you will always be welcome at live performances on your China vacation.
However, some people don’t just want to interact with music in China they want to take some home when their tour’s over. So with that in mind here are the 3 best record shops in Beijing:
Fruity Shop (Dongcheng District)
The name may seem a little odd but it’s been appropriated from an ambient music label in China and this funny little store is truly authentic. The shop has a reasonable amount of space inside and you’ll find pretty much anything and everything from China’s musical heritage as well as a fair amount of classic imports.
You probably want to ask to listen to something before you part with your cash as there’s a fair amount of utter rubbish lurking on the shelves but there are plenty of gems to offset this. This is China and the majority of products are cassette tapes and vinyl with a few CDs to appeal to the more modern consumer. Prices range from the reasonable to the incredible and it’s always worth working out what the dollar price is before parting with your cash too.
Li-Pi (798 Art District, Chaoyang District)
As the name suggests this store is all about the vinyl so don’t make a trip to Li-Pi expecting to stock up on CDs as they don’t sell them. You can try before you buy here and they have some wonderful classic vinyl decks for sale as well as records. The selection is perhaps, the most eclectic of any record shop we’ve ever visited. Expect to come back from your vacation laden down with not just Chinese classics but also international ones.
Indie Music (Xicheng District)
It can be hard to spot Indie Music from the street as it has a somewhat discrete front so go slow and take your time if you do decide to visit. As you might expect this store is all about Indie Music and in particular, Chinese and Mongolian numbers. There is a small amount of international mainstream stuff but to be fair – it’s neither good value nor extensive enough to be interesting. It’s better to explore local tastes here and build up your appreciation for some of China’s lesser-known but highly-talented stars of the future.
Planning a China vacation? Don’t know which destinations to include on your China tour? Before you book your China trip; why not check out some of these wonderful museums and see how many you can include in your China travel experience? China has a host of cultural treats and its museums are no exception to this rule.
The Palace Museum (The Forbidden City, Beijing)
It would be hard not to visit the Forbidden City on a China tour; it’s perhaps the most well-known relic of China’s imperial past. It’s been the subject of movies, documentaries and more. The Palace Museum is, perhaps, the most spectacular museum in the country in that it contains more than a million pieces of China’s ancient art works. There’s simply nowhere better to visit on your trip to get in touch with the history of this magnificent nation.
Hong Kong Museum of History
Southern China’s most popular vacation destination also has one of China’s finest museums too. This playful and entertaining series of exhibits explore life from Netolithic times up to the present day. They’ve even rebuilt many of Hong Kong’s classic buildings piece-by-piece from the original materials to preserve them in this era of modernization. The Hong Kong Museum of History also incorporates much of China’s ethnic and maritime history too.
Shanxi Lishi Bowuguan (Xi’an)
Aside from the chance to see the Terracotta Warriors (one of China’s best loved ancient wonders) a trip to Xi’an also lets you explore the culture of the Silk Road Trading routes. The museum is widely regarded as one of the most professional in the country and it’s much easier to find English language introductions to the exhibits here than almost anywhere else in the nation. Aside from its Central Asian links the museum also houses one of the largest collections of ancient art and treasure in China.
Tianjin Museum (Tianjin)
If your China tour will stop in Beijing then you could always travel a little by yourself and visit the Tianjin Museum. This local treasure covers an area of more than 50,000 square meters and is home to over 200,000 collections of classic Chinese crafts including bronze ware, ceramics, jade, calligraphy and more. It is one of the most complete sets of work in the country and the building (which is built in the shape of a swan) is also incredibly intriguing in its own right.
Sanxing Dui Bowuguan (Chengdu)
You may need a little help to find this relatively unknown jewel in Sichuan’s crown but once you’ve seen the Giant Pandas in Chengdu this is a wonderful way to spend a little of your time in the city. It contains the remnants of sacrificial pits from China’s dim and distant past. It’s not too gory and is very much suitable for kids. Take a walk through one of the most significant archaeological finds in China of the 20th century. The grounds are also worth exploring as they are very pleasantly presented.
If you would like to know a little China trivia before your China trip; we’ve got a treat for you. Here are some incredible facts about China that you might never discover during your vacation. A China tour is a fun packed and educational experience but your travel experiences can only scratch the surface when it comes to knowing all there is to know about China.
- There’s no shortage of pork during your China vacation. In fact the Chinese consume nearly 2 million pigs a day! That makes China the most pork friendly nation in the world.
- The word ketchup has made the trip from China to the United States. However, something was lost in translation as the original Chinese word means... “fish sauce”.
- Be thankful that your tour isn’t taking place back in the Tang Dynasty era. In those days it was common for people in China to greet each other and to say goodbye… in poetic verse. You couldn’t even use a formula for this; you had to make a new one up on the spot each time you encountered someone.
- If you wonder why Chinese soldiers that you encounter on your travels always have their heads held up; it’s because during training a pin is inserted in the lapel and it jabs into the chin when the head is dropped. It’s a lesson that clearly stays learned.
- At a McDonald’s drive thru in China; it’s very common to see people collect their food at the drive thru window and then park their cars and go inside the restaurant to eat. Take away food isn’t uncommon in China but it is unusual enough that people aren’t entirely certain of the etiquette involved.
- While China is a secular nation it’s not devoid of faiths and there are almost 60 million Christians in China. That’s the equivalent of all the people in the United Kingdom!
- In rural China it’s not uncommon to see a police officer leading a goose on a leash. Why? Because they are used in place of police dogs. The Chinese claim that they are more aggressive than dogs and can see better!
- 30 million people in China live in caves! They are called the Yao-Dong. Many of these caves are equipped to the standard of a modern home.
- One thing we hope you don’t see on your tour is a repeat of the longest traffic jam ever recorded. It was in Shanghai, it was over 60 miles long and the last car left the queue – 12 days after it arrived in it!
- You will be using chopsticks at some point during your trip and you’ll be in good company too. China goes through nearly 50 billion chopsticks a year! There is a drive to switch people from disposable chopsticks to plastic ones as this creates an incredible amount of waste.
- By the year 2025, China will construct at least 10 more cities the size of New York! Urbanization is rapid and on an incredible scale.
One of the greatest pleasures on a China vacation is getting a massage. It’s such incredibly good value and so relaxing that many people indulge in a massage wherever they stop on their China tour. If you’re taking a Yangtze River Cruise than you will travel to Chengdu in Sichuan; there you will see China’s most famous animal the Giant Panda. Once you’ve made your trip to see the bears you might want to relax in one of China’s better massage shops. These are some of your options in Chengdu:
Massage Shacks (Baiyun Street)
If you want to do something nice for a local on your China trip and spoil yourself into the bargain then you could do worse than travel to Baiyun Street for a massage. There you will find Master Zhang’s massage shop. Officially it’s a “blind massage” in that the vast majority (but not all) of the workers are visually impaired to a great extent.
The good news is that massage in these places is incredibly cheap and they do say that blind masseurs are better attuned to their customer’s physical condition and can provide a better massage. If you do use these places be aware that the environment can be best described as basic but that doesn’t mean you should visit them on your China vacation – the joys of being in China are to open yourself to new experiences.
Go Up Market
If you’d prefer to go somewhere a little more intimate after a day’s tour of Chengdu; then you might want to go where the China’s business community goes. Of course, it comes at a price but you get a much nicer environment for it. In general these massage places will provide a very comfortable environment – with beds, baths, etc. and even some drinks and food thrown in. Make sure you negotiate the prices in advance though. One of the better places in town is Yushou Guoyi which is in Jinniu District.
The Full Spa Experience
If you’re treating yourself on your China vacation then why not continue in luxury and go for the full day spa service? These tend to be incredibly cheap when compared to the prices you’d pay in America though they are more expensive than the two previous options discussed above.
You will normally find that a spa in Chengdu provides not just massage but normally a full range of saunas, plunge pools and other recreational facilities. These spas are tremendously popular in China and are often used instead of hotels by locals on short-term travel.
There’s a nice Spa at the Herijun Hotsprings Hotel in the Wuhou District.
There are hot springs in Chengdu and if you’d like to do something that’s a little more connected with nature in China then this may be the massage option for you. They claim there are nearly 20 minerals in the spring water that are beneficial for your health. Try the Huashuiwan Hot Springs in Dayi County for a great hot springs experience.
If you’re lucky there’ll be some point during your China vacation when you’re invited to someone’s home in China. This could be the highlight of your trip and who doesn’t want to travel to China and spend at least some time hanging out with the locals? However, you do need to ensure that you follow some basic ground rules or you may be causing upset on your China tour without realizing it.
The Host’s Responsibility
Normally when we invite somebody to our homes; we expect them to follow our rules and fit in with the way we run our house. If you make a trip to someone’s home in China quite the reverse is true. The host is expected to give the guest enormous amounts of latitude in China. So if, for example, someone asks to smoke when they travel to another home – it would be incredibly rude for the host to deny them the privilege.
Now, there’s something everyone should know on their China vacation and that is that the number 4 is deeply unlucky in Chinese. Because Mandarin is a tonal language, a small change in tone from 4 gives you the Chinese word for death. It’s like our number 13 and best avoided everywhere on your China tour.
However, apart from the number 4 – it’s always a good idea to take your host a gift and it should ideally be in an even number format (8 is particularly good as it’s the Chinese lucky number).
Busy, Busy, Busy
To be a good host in China means keeping your guests busy. If you don’t strictly limit a trip to someone’s home to dinner… expect the whole family to try and keep you entertained throughout the time you spend there. You can also expect regular top ups of tea (or whatever else you are drinking) and for people to fuss over you. This is playing a good host and shouldn’t be seen as making demands on the people you are with.
It is considered polite in China to say; “No, thank you.” The first time something is offered to you. So you really want to refuse anything that’s offered the first time for the sake of your host’s feelings. Don’t worry they won’t take you at face value; it will be offered again almost immediately and then it is perfectly OK to say; “Yes, please!”
Some Chinese people take this to extremes and if you’re offering something to a Chinese person you might want to offer it two or three times before you accept a refusal.
This may be the most awkward moment of your vacation; in China it’s not considered seemly to dispose of your guests on your front door step and return to what you’re doing. You’re expected to see the guest to their transport or indeed, all the way home at the end of the night. Don’t worry – this is part of the Chinese culture of generosity even if it can feel a touch awkward.
A trip to Beijing, China’s capital, is always an exciting one. Your China tour will take you to many of the most famous places in the nation but if you’d like to make your China vacation even more exciting; why not try one or two of the things on our list below? China travel always offers the opportunity to explore just a little more if you want to.
Take a Bicycle Ride
The most famous images of Beijing are those before the opening up of China where millions would travel to work each day on a bicycle. Those days are gone but the Old City of Beijing is often best appreciated on a bike trip. You can rent a bicycle cheaply near the East Gate of Jingshan Park and then take a tour of backstreet China and create your own unique China experience. You might want to wear a face mask in summer though to reduce the effects of the city’s pollution.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side of the Great Wall
You need to travel out of Beijing to get the best from the Great Wall; the best known parts of the wall are covered on your China tour itinerary but if you want to get a feel for the Wall as it once was – you need to shake off your fellow tourists and head out to somewhere a little more remote. The section at Jiankou is about 3 hours away and is often deserted. It’s a great way to experience what it must have felt like as a sentry awaiting the Mongol hordes to descend upon the country.
Have a Massage
Massage in China is an awesome experience; it’s cheap, clean and high quality with very little of the seediness that you may associate with places like Thailand. You can always find a place near your hotel in China and after a long day’s walking on vacation – it’s the perfect way to relax. You will normally find that they provide sauna, shower, plunge pools, etc. in addition to the massage and many people can turn a “quick massage” into a long soothing evening instead.
This may not be the best idea if you have children in tow but the Houhai Lake offers the perfect romantic dinner destination. You get in a gondola and have food and drinks served to you whilst you are serenaded by Chinese musicians. It’s pretty good value too – the boat and the meal won’t set you back much more than 600-800 RMB for the night!
Go to the Theatre
While there are many theatres to choose from in Beijing, perhaps the easiest to enjoy is the Acrobatic Theater at Dongsanhuan Bei Lu. This is where you’ll find some of China’s best acrobatic talent displaying what they have to offer. Performance can be a touch pricey (up to 880 RMB for a ticket) but it’s very much value for money and you won’t forget your visit for a long time afterwards.
No trip to China is complete without a tour of Shanghai, China’s and the world’s biggest city. For many folks on China vacation a chance to set foot on the Bund is the most important part of their China travel experience. Others, want to explore modern culture in China and one of the best ways to do this is to get out and visit some of Shanghai’s art galleries. The creative arts are going through a boom period in China and Shanghai is one of the best places to experience the dawn of a Chinese renaissance period.
Rockbund Art Museum (Huqiu Lu)
The Rockbund Art Museum has had a few teething problems and in its fairly short lifetime; it’s probably been shut as much as it has been open. However, when it is open it’s home to permanent collection from two of China’s biggest names in modern art. It has a fantastic commitment to art education and they organize full tours (in English as well as Mandarin) as well as lectures, screenings of local art and live art performances too. If you love your art; this is one must-see destination on your China vacation.
Minsheng Art Museum (Huahai Xi Lu)
Minsheng has been open for a scant couple of years but has become a serious heavyweight in China’s art scene in that time. It is perhaps the best loved museum by Shanghai’s local artists and it attracts art making the trip to the big time as well as art that has already arrived. It’s easy to travel to because it’s in the heart of the French Concession and its exhibitions are the talk of the city.
M50 (Moganshan Lu)
The oldest, biggest and brightest arts hub in Shanghai is M50. It was built in an old factory complex and it really is huge. There are more than two dozen galleries within its walls. If you enjoy graffiti – you have to take a tour of M50; it’s home to Shanghai’s only legal graffiti space. China has many wonderful art districts but you can’t find anywhere even as close to as original and exciting as M50 in the rest of China. If you only visit one contemporary art venue in Shanghai on your vacation – it should be M50.
Museum of Contemporary Art – MOCA – (People’s Park)
If you have a family that might not enjoy the stuffy environment of the contemporary art scene then you might want to consider MOCA as an alternative. It’s unashamedly in touch with pop culture (and has run exhibits from Pixar among other commercial ventures) and there’s a sense of fun pervasive in all it touches upon. This is China’s best art museum for kids and there are regular classes where they can drop in and develop their own artistic talents. If you’re looking for a break from the norm and you have children in tow this is a great way to spend a few hours; participating in as well as consuming Chinese culture.
Thinking about heading to China on vacation? Want to know a little more about China before you travel? We’ve found that a China tour can be even better if you take some time to understand the country before your trip. So here’s a very quick guide to Chinese culture:
Religion in China
Contrary to common belief; religion is practiced legally in China. However, before you start sharing your religious views on your vacation – it’s important to recognize that there are only 5 legal religions in China. These are Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism. That doesn’t mean that other religions are likely to be kept permanently out of China. As you may discover on your tour – China has been relaxing its attitude towards religions over the last couple of decades and it seems likely that in the long run there will be greater religious freedom. The largest religion in China is a combination of Daoism and Confucianism (Confucianism is more of a philosophy than a religion). There are growing numbers of Christians and Muslims but it will take a while before they catch up to the Daoists.
Languages in China
It might surprise you to learn that Mandarin (or Putonghua) is not the only language spoken in China. There are many ethnic minority languages that you may encounter on your travels too. Even the main language is not a single language; there are seven different major dialects of Putonghua spoken in China and you may hear any of them on your trip.
Those dialects are Mandarin, Wu, Cantonese, Xiang, Min, Hakka and Gan. These are in order of speakers so more than 70% speak Mandarin but it’s worth noting that Wu is a more widely spoken than Cantonese even if it’s not a dialect we’re particularly familiar with.
Food in China
There are 8 schools of cookery in China and you should get to sample them all on your vacation. Fortunately, whilst there is definitely a “local” side to Chinese dishes which makes them better in their places of origin – the introduction of a modern economy has made it easier to transport and source the right ingredients all over the nation. It doesn’t matter where you travel in China there’s always a restaurant catering to each school of cookery. That means you’ll never be bored of the food on your tour.
The Arts in China
China has a history of nearly 4,000 years (though the China all those years back was very different in terms of land area, etc. from today). In that time it has developed a complex and engaging arts culture. The paintings and sculptures of Buddhist influence are of particular interest but there are plenty from other schools of thought too. Music in China offers a huge range of novel instruments rarely encountered in the West like the Guqin, for example, which is closely related to the Zither.
Then there are the martial art – Gong Fu (Kung Fu) in the North and Wu Shu (also Kung Fu) in the South which have inspired a generation of movies.
A China vacation is a once in a lifetime chance to enjoy the culture of the world’s largest nation. Travel in China offers a myriad opportunities to see, do and try new things. Your China tour will take you the length and the breadth of the country in search of spectacular experiences. One of those experiences is the legendary Chinese food culture and wherever you go, you should be able to try some of the most popular menu items during your China trip.
Sweet and Sour Pork
This one should be reasonably familiar even before you travel to China. It’s perhaps the best known Chinese food there is and it is very popular in China (unlike most dishes you encounter outside of China which have been adapted for local tastes). It tends to be a very bright orange colour and is a mix of battered meat, and vegetables.
Gong Bao Chicken
This isn’t the same as the one you’re used to in America, it’s a much simpler dish and very much worth trying while on vacation. It’s diced chicken with peanuts and chili. A fiery Sichuan dish which is loved everywhere in the country. It’s the perfect food to share as part of a bigger Chinese banquet.
Ma Po Tofu
What trip to China would be complete without trying tofu? It’s a milky creamy curd with not much flavour in its own right. So that Ma Po Tofu recipe comes to the rescue with a fiery peppery sauce which is made from a combination for a lot of different peppers. It’s a fine tasting dish and not too spicy.
Wontons are a particular favourite; they’re everywhere you go on a China tour and while the format a rice style case with filling is always similar – the contents will vary based on local tastes and produce. In Hong Kong, you can visit restaurants where you choose from a dozen or more kinds of wonton. They’re cheap, tasty and quite wonderful.
Dumplings are one of our favourite meals in China. They’re usually boiled but sometimes fried and are rice paper dumplings stuffed with either meat, fish and/or vegetables. They’re a big deal in parts of the country at Chinese New Year but you’ll find that they’re served all year round on your trip.
Peking Roast Duck
If you try no other Chinese meal on your China vacation; make sure that you try the Peking/Beijing Roast Duck. This is a culinary masterpiece and it’s very similar to the version you eat at home. The main difference is that the skin is removed from the bird and cut into squares for eating first and the sauce tends to be a sweet bean sauce as opposed to hoi sin (which is actually Vietnamese) when it comes to rolling the duck and vegetables into the pancakes.
Most people will be familiar with spring rolls too; they’re rice paper filled with vegetables and/or meat and then gently shallow fried. They’re always popular.
Shanghai is one of the best vacation destinations in China. It’s the world’s largest city and for many the best reason to travel to China in the first place. When your China tour reaches Shanghai there’ll be plenty of choices as to what to do; we’d recommend that you include as many of these 5 things on your China trip as possible:
Huangpu Night Cruise
The Huangpu River is not as famous as the Yangtze but whether or not you can fit a Yangtze River Cruise into your China vacation; the Huangpu is a great place to take a night cruise. When the sun dips below the horizon the bright lights of Shanghai bring the city to life and there’s no better place to see it from than the river. You can check out the colonial heritage on The Bund, and the spanking brand new skyscrapers on the other bank whilst enjoying some tasty local food and drink. It’s a relaxing way to end a day on your China tour without wasting a moment of the time you have in China.
Shanghai Circus World
If your family are with you on your China trip then you really should travel to Shanghai Circus World at some point during your stay in Shanghai. This incredible complex covers over 20,000 square meters of ground and offers the most modern circus style performance in China. Think Cirque de Soleil but Chinese-style and you won’t be far off the mark. The acrobatic performances are second to none.
When you need a little peace on your China vacation; you’ll want to go the Yuyuan Garden it was built back during the Ming Dynasty era and was considered to be the most beautiful garden in China. It is divided into several themed sections each of which offers a unique insight into Chinese garden design and development. It’s even worth seeing if you’ve included Suzhou on your China tour itinerary.
Pudong Riverside Promenade
If you like the Bund then you’ll love the Pudong Promenade; it offers a very pleasant walk through the modern heart of Shanghai with rather fewer crowds than the Bund itself. It’s pleasantly decorated with fresh lawns and flower beds and there are plenty of places to grab a cool drink or do some shopping. There are quite a few Western brands dotted around the ends of the promenade so you can also catch up on anything you’re missing from back home too.
Shanghai Ocean Aquarium
It’s easy to forget that Shanghai’s not far from the sea and the aquarium shows off not just the best of China’s marine life but also its river life. If that wasn’t enough there are exhibits focused on the major rivers of the world and you can find aquatic creatures and plants from South America, Africa, Australia and even the Antartic too. This is one of the best maintained and built aquariums in Asia and makes a pleasant change from the depressing exhibits often found elsewhere on the continent.