Posted by: CS
The Chinese Tea Ceremony

When you're tired of walking round the sights, take a break from your China tour and check out some traditional Chinese hospitality. The Chinese tea ceremony is very much different from its Japanese equivalent and given that we don't use the phrase; “not for all the tea in China” for nothing, it's definitely worth taking a trip to appreciate China's national drink.

The Etiquette

China Trip: The Chinese Tea Ceremony

China's society is based around a fairly strict hierarchy and as a general rule the older someone is, the more senior they are. That means when you go for tea in a group, the youngest person is expected to do the serving and you serve the oldest person first. You may find that this rule is bending amongst more modern Chinese, so you might catch a parent pouring tea for a child or a boss for his subordinate – but don't count on it.

The Chinese themselves also use tea to show respect or to apologize. So if you catch sight of a young person shame-faced and pouring tea for his or her parents it's polite to look away so they don't lose further face.

A handy tip to make your host happy is to tap your fingers on the table after tea has been served. This is most common in Southern China and Hong Kong, and in Northern Areas such as Beijing or Shanghai it's better to say “xie xie” (thank you) instead.

The Brew

No vacation in China is complete without trying both main forms of brewed tea. Chaou tea is brewed directly in a cup or a bowl and the tea is drunk from the brewing receptacle; though on more formal occasions you might find that there are some smaller drinking vessels handed out to guests.

Gongfu Chadou is prepared in a small teapot and the clay used to make the teapot is important as it tends to smooth out the rough edges of some stronger teas.

You may find that your hosts want to take you on a tour of all the different teas in China. This can be very tasty, but it can also work out very expensive. Some teas are the equivalent of very fine wines when it comes to prices; make sure you find out first how much the bill will be. On a side note it's also common for “students” to approach you in busy tourist areas and invite you to a tea ceremony. Don't go. It's not unknown for the bill in these places to reach 1,500 RMB or more and you won't be allowed to leave until it's paid.

China Travel: The Chinese Tea Ceremony

The Ceremony Itself

If you've taken a trip to a tea ceremony in hopes of prolonged rituals, then you're missing the point of China's tea ceremonies. They're about relaxation more than anything else. You'll quite often see some elaborate means of pouring the water but the real ceremony is in the brewing itself. The idea is that no matter how many times a pot is made the taste is perfectly consistent. So keep an eye on the preparation of the blend that's where the ceremony really is.

Quite simply, no China tour is complete without indulging in a tea ceremony. This is China's number one national asset and the contrasting tastes of green and black teas from across the nation are stunning.

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Posted by: CS
The Hutongs of Beijing

We mentioned the Hutongs in passing in an earlier blog post, but we think they're special enough to deserve a little focus. Many vacations in China are mad rush from place to place, ticking off the tourist itinerary and not really seeing how people live. If you take a little time out from your China tour in Beijing then the Hutongs offer you a great ability to actually see how people live as well as enjoying the history and scenery.

What's a Hutong exactly?

China Trip - The Hutongs of Beijing

Literally the word means alley or perhaps lane. It's a typical medieval street and there were thousands of them in Beijing at one point. There are many near the Forbidden City and most were constructed during three of China's great dynasties; the Yuan, the Ming and the Qing. As with many things that involve Chinese royalty the positioning of each Hutong demonstrates the relative power of the people that lived there during an Emperor's reign.

There are two types of hutong in Beijing, and both are worth a quick trip to see what life was like and to compare and contrast the architecture. The first, and closest to the palace, is the regular hutong. These were for the rich and powerful, the nobility and imperial relatives that weren't quite important enough to get a place in the palace itself.

China Trip - The Hutongs of Beijing

The second type is located further away and to the North and South of the palace and that's the crude hutong. These were built for the peasantry and the mercantile classes and were far less luxurious than their regular counterparts. Your personal tour of China should include these because there's something fragile and yet vibrant about the areas. There's less pomp and ceremony but it's all a touch more delicate too.

Why else should I visit?

China Tour- The Hutongs of Beijing

The best reason to take in a hutong on your China vacation is that you might not be able to do so for much longer. There's been a race to see how many of the old buildings can be demolished and replaced with rather more lucrative modern architecture for rental purposes. There are some moves afoot to protect the hutongs but in fairness conservation efforts in China often come second to the demands of businessmen.

Taking a tour of these old lanes also gives you the chance to appreciate the sights and smells of the world's largest city. You can grab a cup of tea with the locals, or watch traditional vendors wend their way from house to house with buckets of fresh produce supported from planks over their shoulders. It's a very intimate and personal glimpse of this sometimes mysterious and overwhelming place.


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Posted by: CS
The Classical Gardens of Suzhou

It's easy to think that all the marvels in China are walls and monuments, Suzhou proves to be a very different story. Suzhou is a region of Jiangsu province and its home to some of the most beautiful gardens on earth. UNESCO made the gardens a world heritage site back in 1997, and if you stop by on your China tour, you'll soon see why.

There are 69 well preserved gardens in Suzhou, and they represent nearly 2,000 years of Chinese landscaping skills. The 8 finest gardens and another in Tongli (an ancient town) are the ones recommended by UNESCO. In this article we explore our 3 favourite gardens just a little.

The Humble Administrator's Garden

China Tour: Suzhou - The Humble Administrator's Garden

The title is rather more humble than the garden. At over 50,000 square meters it is perhaps the finest garden in China. Designed by Wen Zhengming for Lu Guimeng a scholar of the Tang era, cultivation began in 1510 A.D. and it took nearly 16 years to finish.

It contains an intricate network of pavilions and bridges, skipping from island to island on a large lake. Lu's house can be found in the Southern Edge of the garden, and you can see over 700 Penjing trees there. Penjing is China's answer to Japanese Bonsai, and these are delicate miniature displays of trees. Don't miss the Flying Rainbow Bridge, which is the only arched bridge in Suzhou's gardens and its reflection appears as a shimmering rainbow in the water below.

The Lingering Garden

China Trip: Suzhou - The Lingering Garden

The Lingering Garden is appreciably smaller than The Humble Administrator's Garden, but no less beautiful. It is a series of 4 gardens each linked by bridges and walkways, and the Yellowstone granite grotto by Zhou Binzhong is well worth a visit. The original creator's, Xu Taishi, garden was substantially altered by later owners including Liu Su and Shen Kang, and there is a very evolutionary nature about the landscaping. We recommend the HaoPu Pavilion, which means “the happiness of fish” and the quiet graceful floating structure is certainly inspiring, though no-one has yet asked the fish how they feel about it.

The Master of the Nets Garden

If you're a keen gardener, then the Master of the Nets Garden has to be somewhere you visit on your China tour. That's because it's widely recognized as the finest display of gardening technique in China. Themes explored include relative dimension, borrowed scenery, contrast, foil and sequence and depth.

China Travel: Suzhou - The Master of the Nets Garden

The garden was built back in 1140, but was called the Ten Thousand Volume Hall. It was renamed by He Chang in 1940, who restored the garden to its then lost glories. He willed the garden to the state and his daughter handed over the deeds in 1958.

It's a much smaller place than the other two gardens covering just over 5,000 square meters. The Western section is the actual garden, and the Eastern section is mainly buildings. One of the nicest features is the Meditation Study, which borders the library and was used for Buddhist retreats from the mundane. The courtyard in front of this structure has a good collection of bamboo.

Whichever of Suzhou's gardens you visit on your China tour, you won't be disappointed. In fact we've heard that some gardeners have to be dragged kicking and screaming back on the bus, frustrated at the short period of time they have to learn all the ancient techniques.

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Posted by: CS
Travel on the Yangtze with boutique ship cruise enhanced by the luxury Executive Deck Program

Once again, China Spree raise the bar for our 2013 China cruise tours.

Over the past few years, China Spree has been working with all major cruise lines on the Yangtze for our China cruise tour programs. Forming the strategic partnership with Victoria Cruises for our 2013 sailing season, China Spree cruise tours 2013 feature quality boutique ship cruise experiences with improved onboard services, food and shore excursions, enhanced by the included Executive Deck Program, with full privileges at Executive Lounge. These Executive Deck Program features includes A La Carte dinning, complimentary beverage package, free laundry, complimentary WiFi, and other privileges that were initially designed exclusively for travelers on suite accommodations. Now, however, these excellent comforts are available for China Spree travelers as well.

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Book selected China Spree Cruise Tours by the promotion deadline as specified on our website to receive Victoria Anna’s Executive Deck Program

Posted by: CS
Daqin Pagoda – The Oldest Church in China?

One place you might want to consider visiting if you get some spare time on your China tour, is Daqin Pagoda. It's over 1,000 years old and sits astride a hill about 30 minutes outside of Xi'an and depending on your perspective it's either one of the most unique sightseeing opportunities you can get, or it's a bit of a con.

The History

China Travel: Daqin Pagoda

China isn't often associated with Christianity. Today, while there is a thriving Christian community in the official communist Christian church (a branch of Catholicism that does not recognize the Pope as its leader), and a certain amount of underground evangelical activity, the religion is definitely a very minor part of Chinese life.

However, the theory goes something like this; back in the early years of the formation of the religion a chap called Nestorius broke from the church in a schism. The disagreement formed around Nestorius's attempt to understand the divine incarnation of the logos. In essence he believed that the divine aspect of Christ and human aspect were wholly separate. Other church leaders disagreed and eventually Nestorius quit the church to form his own.

His followers are known as Nestorians, and the church he formed was the Church of the East. The church slowly gained ground and by the 10th century had a reasonably thriving community across Persia, India and China.

This is where Da Qin Pagoda comes in; it was built in the early 7th Century, alongside a monastery. It was abandoned in around 845 A.D., and was converted into a Buddhist temple in the year 1300 A.D. Then in the 16th century it was abandoned all over again, when an earthquake severely damaged the structure and nearly sealed off many of the underground rooms forever. None of this is in dispute.

China Tour: Daqin Pagoda

However, it has always been assumed that the site was one of only local significance. Until in 2001 a chap called Martin Palmer, came along. Martin, wrote a book; “The Jesus Sutras”. In this work he claims that the pagoda was built by the Nestorians. If this is true, then it would make Da Qin Pagoda unique in all of China as one of the only surviving examples of a “Church of the East” in the world, and the only one in China.

Now, we wouldn't make for very good China tour guides if we didn't let you into the other half of the debate. A lot of academics, particularly in China, disagree with Martin – they say that the Pagoda and the Monastery are much more likely to have been built for Chinese traditional religions.

There are, however, some details on site that support Martin's claims. These include what appear to be a nativity scene which dates back to the first use of the temple, what is claimed to be a mud sculpture depiction of Jonah at Nineveh and graffiti in what is claimed to be the Syriac language. This is a marginalized form of Arabic that would have been very much in use during the time of the Nestorians.

What's to see?

Well if you do decide to take an afternoon off from your China tour and take a taxi out of Xi'an, you'll find the Pagoda itself and its current Buddhist caretakers. There's also a reproduction Nestorian tablet in a small onsite museum, which is supposed to have been found on site but is now held in a museum elsewhere. If you'd like to find an active church while you are there, then you'll find a Catholic church just down the road which holds up to 2,000 people for services. As with Christian churches everywhere, you will always be welcomed warmly.

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Posted by: CS
The Terracotta Army of Xi'An

Some things in life are completely astonishing. Imagine being hard at work digging a well for your farm so your crops can get the water they need, and then your spade catches on something. When you dig up the ground to investigate further, you find something quite startling. It's a model person, and there appear to be quite a few more. Then imagine that once you've called in some help, it turns out there are thousands more. That's exactly what happened to a farmer in Xi'an. So when you visit the Terracotta Army on your China tour, you're being privileged to witness one of the great mysteries of China. How did all these figures disappear for so long?

China Trip: The Terracotta Army of XiAn

The History of the Terracotta Army

The astonishing thing is that there's so much of the terracotta army to be found. Over 2,000 years has passed since its construction and in that time the whole thing was buried under sandy red soil by the wind. It is part of a mausoleum complex for the Emperor Qin, whose rule began in 246 B.C.

China Travel: The Terracotta Army of XiAn

Being a precocious sort of 13 year old, he began construction (with the help of a mere 700,000 Chinese labourers) the day he ascended to the throne. 11 years later it was completed. The site covers an area of over 16,300 square meters and excavation so far has revealed over 6,000 figures in just one of the four pits currently partially excavated.

The reason that excavation is so slow, after beginning in the early 1970's is that the figures are perfectly preserved until they are exposed to the air. It can take less than 4 seconds for the elaborate paint work to begin curling up and flaking off the soldiers.

Today it's a must see stop on any tour of China, and the fact was recognized by UNESCO which nominated the area as a World Heritage Site.

About the Terracotta Army

China Tour: The Terracotta Army of XiAn

The figures are amazingly detailed and each one is some form of warrior, soldier, or vehicle (including horses). Each figure is unique, that includes the expressions on the faces, the hairstyles, and even the gestures they are making.

The layout of the groups appears to be based on the ancient Chinese laws of war, with generals positioned to give the best view of each military unit. The weapons they carry were treated against rust and corrosion, so are still gleaming and sharp today.

Visiting the Terracotta Army

Every older Chinese person you meet in Xi'an will tell you they discovered the army. Don't mock them for this but do be aware that unless there were half a million people digging a well that day, it's not likely to be true.

China Trip: The Terracotta Army of XiAn

Do visit the museum on site before going to look at the army itself; you'll get a much better insight into the history and majesty of the occasion if you do. The site itself is huge, and it will take the best part of a day to enjoy the army fully. This is a major highlight of any China tour, so take your time, and in the summer make sure you have enough fluids on hand to stay hydrated while you do.

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Posted by: CS
10 Beijinger Foods that You Shouldn't Miss

One of the things that makes for an inexpensive China tour is the amount of great quality food available at bargain basement prices. There's no doubt that Chinese food in country is very different from the food you get back home, so the question always comes up; "What should I try?" While some long-term expats develop a taste for chicken's feet and stinky tofu, they definitely require a certain amount of acclimatization that you don't get on holiday. With that in mind we've put together a list of 10 don't miss Beijing foods that you should be able to enjoy the day you land.

Beijing Duck

China Trip: Beijing Duck

Beijing Duck in Beijing may be one of life's most incredible tastes. It bears a passing similarity to the duck of back home, though the sweet sauce is bean rather than plum based. However, the skin is always served separately from the meat of the duck. It's done that way so you can appreciate the complex flavors, and don't be put off by the idea – it's genuinely awesome. Grab the pancake, load it up with spring onions and cucumber and dip the duck in the sauce before adding it to the pile.

Hot and Sour Soup

There's a little debate as to whether this is originally from Beijing or from Sichuan, whichever way it goes it's a flavorsome combination of meat, tofu, bamboo, red pepper, and vinegar. It's a firm favorite among locals and guests alike.

China Tour: Hot Pot

China Travel: Stir-Fried Tomatoes and Scrambled Eggs

Hot Pot

The literal translation of this dish, is instant boiled mutton. However everyone calls it hot pot. You get a huge pot of boiling water on the table, with a collection of vegetables already simmering inside. The lamb comes thinly sliced, you grab it between your chopsticks dunk it in the boiling water for a few seconds as it changes color and dunk it in sauce and eat. Repeat as necessary.

Stir-Fried Tomatoes and Scrambled Eggs

This one pretty much is what it says on the tin, though often the chef will sprinkle in a few peppers or green vegetables too. Because the ingredients are cheap and it takes no time to prepare this is particularly popular with Beijing's students. An ideal dish for an inexpensive China tour.


Completely different to the dumplings of Shanghai which are full to the brim with soup. The culinary China tourist will enjoy these slightly stodgier offerings which are packed with pork, shrimp and vegetable and served steamed. A tray of 8-10 Jiaoze will set you back as little as 3 RMB on the street, and rather more in a posh restaurant. They're best when washed down with local beer.

Suan Cai Xue Chang

These take a little more courage to tackle; as they are pickled Chinese cabbage with umm... blood filled intestines. We don't blame you if you decided to take a pass, but they are actually quite pleasant combining the crispness of cabbage with the sourness of the intestines.

Wood Shavings Meat (Moo Shoo Pork)

China Trip: Wood Shavings Meat (Moo Shoo Pork)

A firm favorite back in the West, so it makes sense to try it in the place it originates from. Surprisingly it’s one of the few Chinese dishes that didn't require much Anglicization for sensitive Western diners, so it's nearly identical in Beijing. But there's something quite authentic about pork and pancakes on a busy evening that you can't quite attain in Chinatown back home.

Sea Cucumber with Quail Eggs

Sea Cucumber is a love it or hate it thing. The texture is what most people find they can't get on with, however combined with quail eggs it's extremely nourishing and enjoyable. It's not all that expensive and it's one of those slightly stranger Chinese dishes that you can get on with from the off.


Whilst most dishes in China come with rice, it's always worth investigating a piping hot bowl of noodles as an alternative. These come with some stir-fried pork and a thick yellow soybean paste. This is unique to Beijing, as in the rest of the country it's either hoi-sin sauce or fermented soybeans that are used in the dish instead.


China Trip: Beijing Chatang

Chatang isn't eaten so much for the taste by tourists, but for the ceremony. It's basically a sorghum/millet paste that's served with hot water poured over it and sugar to your liking. The ritual involves a giant kettle poured at some distance from the bowl, and the servers are specially trained so that none of it splashes anywhere. More of a photo opportunity than a meal, Chatang is pleasant enough but you won't forget where you were when you first tried it.

Restaurant prices, as with any large city, can vary markedly but one thing we've found in China is that in the main – you pay more money for a nicer place to sit, not a nicer place to eat. If you're looking for an inexpensive China tour, concentrate on eating what you like and don't worry so much about where you're eating. A good indication that the food is going to be worth your time is the number of people queued for it at busy times, or the number of seats occupied at quieter times.

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Posted by: CS
China Visa Issues for your China trip

Dear China Spree Travelers,

The Chinese Consulates recently tightened the China visa application procedures by requesting more detailed travel documents.

While the official reason for the tightened procedure was not immediately clear, rumors are that it could be linked to the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP's) 18th National Congress, the long-awaited party meeting to decide a power transition which happens every 5 years. The meeting is expected to be held in the autumn (October or November).

Besides your actual passport and China Visa Application Form, you are now requested to provide the following documents.

1) An official invitation letter from China Spree’s China local tour agency
2) Your China tour itinerary
3) Airline ticket or e-ticket itinerary

You may be requested to provide additional documents on top of the files listed above, and this rule is subject to change at any time without prior notice. As a matter of fact, tour companies and China Visa agencies are not clearly notified of this change in writing or necessarily in advance, which can make getting a Visa on your own extremely difficult. We were told even the staffs working at China Consulates may not even know exactly what Chinese government requires them to do, as the requirements can change without notice. So, our approach is to provide as many supporting documents as we can possibly find.

To avoid any complication and further delay in obtaining your China visa, we strongly urge you to use China Spree to handle your China visa application instead of trying to take care of the China visa on your own. By doing so, it saves valuable time for both you and China Spree and avoids the confusion of document preparation.

Our China visa application fee for American passport holders is $170 per person ($140 Consulate charge + $30 China Spree service fees).

If you have already booked the China visa service with China Spree, and the China visa fee has been included in your tour invoice, please disregard this notice.

If you were planning to apply the China visa on your own, and did not include the China visa fee in your tour invoice, you are strongly recommended to use our service and send your actual passport, completed China visa form and a SEPARATE check of China visa fees of $170 per person to China Spree along with your balance payment by 50 days prior to your travel date. You do not need to contact China Spree to add the visa fee to your invoice, simply enclose a separate check and a notice saying you would like to have China Spree to process your China visa.

For details about using China Spree to process your China visa, please click the following link:

We thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

Posted by: CS
Shanghai Old Town

One of the joys of being a tourist is that you can unashamedly revel in tourist attractions. It's easy to say you've come to experience the "real China" on a tour, but the truth is that tourism is relatively new in the Middle Kingdom. Part of the nation's development is making things more appealing for the visitor. Shanghai Old Town is one of those places that is overwhelmed by touts and hawkers and the cries of “Genuine Fake Rolex?” can either get on your nerves or add to the overall atmosphere.

New Town – Old Town

China Trip: Shanghai Yu Garden

What's undeniably true about the Old Town is that it's not all old, and in fact the description really just applies to anything inside the once walled city of Shanghai. That means there are still plenty of modern skyscrapers and new buildings to be found. The heart of the old city is old though, head to the Yu Garden which was constructed during the Ming Empire. The walls, which sadly no longer remain, were built to keep Japanese raiders (pirates) out of the city. You can see the last tiny piece of the wall at the museum near the Dajing Ge Pavilion.

Ignore the people after your money and enjoy a peaceful walk. Take in the Lotus Flower Garden, the famous ZigZag Bridge and the Xiaotayuan Mosque and enjoy the bustle of Shanghai life as it flows round you.

Go Shopping

Once you've dosed up on the sights, it's time to head to the bazaar and enjoy the vibrant street life of Chinese stalls. You'll find plenty to eat, and most of it's good, and it's not a bad place to stock up on souvenirs for the folks back home. Keep on eye on your valuables though as pickpockets are not unknown and you don't want to interrupt your China tour with a visit to the police station.

Don't forget to haggle it's absolutely expected, with the exception of hot food, and you should be able to get a good discount. You can count yourself to be an honorary Chinese person if you can get the vendor down below 25% of starting price. You don't need language skills to haggle either – if the person on the stall speaks no English, write down your offer or better still put it on a calculator or mobile phone screen. It's worth remembering that you only haggle when you intend to buy, it's considered bad form to walk away after a price has been agreed.

Temple Life

China Trip: Shanghai the City God Temple

After your shopping spree take a casual amble over to the City God Temple, you'll find it crowded in between shops and offices in the Chenghuang Miao area of Shanghai. Don't despair though, most of the shops are over a century old and the architecture is fascinating in its own right. This temple is dedicated to the three gods that are supposed to have watched over Shanghai keeping it safe from harm.

The temple has been passed around across the course of its life from the animist original religions, to the Taoists and then finally it was closed during the revolution and became a shop. It was fully restored in 2006 and has been reconsecrated as a Taoist site today. Because of this it's one of the most appealing temples in China today and a perfect stop on your China tour itinerary for photos and insight into China's traditional religions.

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Posted by: CS
Off the Beaten Path in Shanghai

Sometimes when you're on holiday it's nice to make your money go a little further, and one of the best ways to ensure a China tour is to head off the beaten path and go where the locals go. Shanghai is the world's largest city by population and it's hard to scratch the surface but when you do there are all sorts of interesting places to find that don't have to lighten your wallet.

China Trip: Chongming Island

Chongming Island

Chongming makes a fabulous change from the hectic pace of Shanghai. Head to the Science and Technology Museum metro stop and then jump on a bus (Exit 6 from the metro). Enjoy the view over the East China Sea as you head over the bridge from Changxing Island to Chongming.

Tourists are advised to say in a single area of the island as public transport can be a little unreliable. The best places to visit are the Dongtan Wetland Park and Yingdong Village, if you want to feel at one with nature.

Dongtan is best during March and October when it features on the migration path for a host of Chinese bird life. The boardwalks enable you to wander through nature without sinking in it, and if you're inspired to cook or cycle – you can hire either a BBQ or a bike easily enough. Yingdong village is an Ecological park too and is best during the summer, there's a lake and an island to explore and you can even learn to fish Chinese style. Outside of Chinese holidays you'll have both of these places almost to yourself, which is a real rarity when staying in Shanghai.

China Tour: Chongming Island

The lack of tourist traps, touts and shopping guarantees Chongming Island's appeal for a cheap China tour visit.

Moganshan Road

If you want authentic Chinese art, then Moganshan Road is the place to visit. Stuffed to the gills with galleries bursting with modern art flavors of China. You can pick up pieces quite cheaply, but if you want to go home with a set of interesting photos – then take a stroll round the back streets and check out the colorful and enthralling graffiti.

Yu Yin Tang

In keeping with the arty theme, if you'd like to check out the latest Chinese sounds. Then this little club near the West Yanan Road metro station is a win. Check before you go because occasionally there are international acts on stage but for Chinese indie music the place is unbeatable. Call 5237 8662 locally to ask what's going down.

Taikang Lu Lane

Once again the back streets of Shanghai throw up some lovely ways to while away a lazy afternoon. Here you'll find a lot of traditional handicrafts, and you can stop to watch the craftsmen in action. It also has an extensive collection of local cafes where you can enjoy a beer, or sample some of the local delicacies. Because it's away from the tourist areas, prices here are much lower and the locals are more attuned to doing business the right way, rather than for the fast buck.

SheShan Basilica

China Travel: SheShan Basilica

Our final talking point on our cheap China tour tips is the Sheshan Basilica. This is one of the first churches to have been built in China. It stands on top of SheShan mountain, and all the materials were carried up by hand (which took nearly two years of effort). It was ordained in 1942 by the Pope as a minor basilica. The current Pope, Benedict, has even written a dedication to the place. Go and enjoy the ornate Stations of the Cross and the combination of gold work and jade to be found on the altar. This is Catholicism with a strong hint of Chinese influence.

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Posted by: CS
The Shanghai Bund

Shanghai, is huge and so unlike China in many respects that you'll wonder when you arrive if your China tour hasn't landed in another country. Shanghai was partly colonized and it's noticeable in the architecture almost everywhere. However, the one area that stands out over all others is The Shanghai Bund.

The Bund? Zhongshan Dongyi Road Surely?

China Trip: Shanghai - The Shanghai Bund

The problem with English names for places in China is that they don't mean anything to the Chinese. The Bund is famous enough that most taxi drivers can get you within spitting distance but if they look confused when you ask - the Chinese name is Zhongshan Dongyi Road, which is pronounced pretty much as it looks if you change the Zh into a J...

OK, so why the Bund? Well, it comes from the Hindi-Urdu word band which means an embankment and was then slightly corrupted in German to bund. The street runs down the edge of the Huangpu River and that's why the name.

A Little History of the Bund

What makes the place so spectacular is all the amazing buildings, and they were built in the late 19th and early 20th century. The rise of Shanghai as one Asia's major financial hubs brought investment from all over Europe and each nation added a little twist of their own architecture to local styles. These styles were also heavily influenced by French and British architecture as the previous colonial occupiers left their mark on the city. The vast majority of the buildings were banks until the 1950's.

In the 50's the government of the revolution threw out the banks and occupied the Bund for their own offices. However, as the nation began to relax its strict economic conditions in the 70's and 80's the buildings were returned to their former usage and today, they are nearly all banks again.

China Travel: Shanghai - The Shanghai Bund

This makes a visit to the Bund one of the cheaper occasions in Shanghai too, as though the architecture is awe inspiring there's very little reason to go inside the buildings or spend any money in them. China tours don't get much better than that.

What to See

The Bund is only a mile long, but has 52 buildings representing a huge variety of architectural styles. You'll find Art-Deco, Gothic, Neo-Classical, Renaissance and more.

Take your time to enjoy all of them, and then pop into the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank (it's also known as the HSBC building – as it was once the headquarters of that bank). Look up. The mosaics on the ceiling are world famous and once brought the title of the most luxurious building in the East.

China Travel: Shanghai - Sassoon House

Stop for a drink in the cafe at Sassoon House, which was built by Sir Victor Sassoon but today is famed for its jazz band. If you like watches make your next stop the Jardine Matheson Company at Number 27. It has the Rolex Flagship Store and the wine collection in China too.

A China tour to Shanghai that doesn't give you some time to soak up The Bund isn't worth doing. There may be millions of people trying to share the atmosphere with you, but that makes the experience authentically Chinese. Don't miss it.

Experience Shanghai’s sights and sounds at the waterfront promenade Bund with China Spree’s popular 9-day Beijing & Shanghai package travel, with optional tour to the canal towns of Suzhou and Tongli.

Shanghai Jewish Walking tour is available from the third party vendor, please consult your China tour guide for further information. It is convenient to travel to the Synagogues and the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum from the Sheraton Hotel Shanghai Hongkou and Shanghai Ocean Hotel, both hotels used by China Spree during your China vacation trip.

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Posted by: CS
Shanghainese Food that You Don't Want to Miss

Some say that Shanghai has no food culture, we'd beg to differ. In fact we know it's really not the case. Food snobs may be right that as a fairly recent city it doesn't have a long established cuisine. What they miss is that the fusion of multiple regions cookery offers unique experiences as much as anywhere else in China. Travel to China has to involve experiencing the cooking at some point, and Shanghai's a great place to get stuck in. Here are ten dishes we wouldn't want you to miss out on.


China Tour: Shanghai - Xiaolongbao

Which is a big complex word for a dumpling. Unlike regular jiaoze, these cunning little fellows are full of soup. Do try them and don't burn your mouth – stick a chopstick into the outer layer of the dumpling, watch the steam pour out, then eat them. Anything else is asking for a scalding.

San Gu Bullfrog

They say that frog tastes like chicken. Who says that we don't know. Frog actually tastes much better than chicken. This is China's version of snack food. Don't be put off by the animal, just get stuck in. If you can't find the San Gu Bullfrog, you'll find that almost any restaurant can whip up a tasty frog dish.

Young Chicken

Tongzi Ji, stirred fried and served with peppers or as part of a soup. These young birds are very tender and the meat falls off the bone.

China Trip: Shanghai - Hanging Roasted Duck

Hanging Roasted Duck

You'll see these at street markets and stalls around the city. Go in point, and let them chop it up and chuck the meat into a bowl/container. You can mix it with rice or noodles – but most Westerners find that it's too easy just to stick their fingers in and eat it on its own. It may not be as famous as its Beijing cousin, but it is fabulous.

Raw Drunken Crab

The Shoaxing Wine that this is soaked in, is somewhat overpowering for the unsuspecting palette so make sure you mix it with rice.


China Trip: Shanghai - Niangao

This chewy but remarkably smooth meal is easy to find at any noodle joint in the city. Some folks like it with a bit of crab, but it's perfect with pork too.

Mapo Tofu

This one comes with a health warning, if you don't like spicy – don't order it. Originally from Sichuan this has become a local favourite, it's very tasty but you'll want to have some crackers to hand if the heat gets too much for you. Don't try and wash it out with cold water... it makes it worse.


The real down and dirty street food of Shanghai, it's all essentially meat on a stick with various marinades and spices. Try and choose a vendor with a crowd of locals eating there too as hygiene can be a little hit and miss sometimes. You can't travel to China and not eat at a street vendor's stall at some point.

Hongshao Rou

Stop it. It may be fatty braised belly pork but it's a favourite of foreigners and locals alike. Cooked in a sweet soy sauce it is one of China's signature dishes and if you miss out for an aversion to a little fat – you should regret if for a life time.


China Trip: Shanghai - Crawfish

Only in the summer, but fried up in chilli and with a few beers this is one of Shanghai's greatest pleasures. The shells go everywhere but that just adds to the experience.

Don't listen to the naysayers, there's plenty of great food in Shanghai and you don't need to go far to find it. If you see someone else eating something you'd like to try in a Chinese restaurant and don't know how to order it, it's not rude to go over and point at it for the waitress. So don't be shy.

Experience Shanghai’s food culture with China Spree’s popular 9-day Beijing & Shanghai package trip, with optional tour to the canal towns of Suzhou and Tongli.

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Posted by: CS
Off the Beaten Path in Beijing

OK, there's the Great Wall, and Tiananmen Square, and The Forbidden Palace – all of which are fabulous but surely there's more to Beijing. One of the real joys of China is that there's so much to see that you don't have to follow in everyone else's China tour footsteps. Once you've ticked off the must see experiences, it's time to branch out and head into the "real" Beijing.

The Hutongs

China Tour: Beijing - The Hutongs

OK, these aren't completely off piste but they are a superb way to gain an insight into China's more recent past. These alleys of traditional courtyard houses are great for a photo shoot or five (and it will be five if you take a Chinese companion – there's nothing people in China love more than the opportunity to make nice for a camera).

Sadly the Hutongs have been in steady decline over the last 50 years as they are cleared for high rise buildings. The authorities have intervened to preserve a few neighborhoods for posterity but don't bank on that making a difference if they interfere with company profits... so grab a bike and head out into the Hutongs, and enjoy them before they're gone.

Temple of Heaven Park

If you want to really appreciate a place, you want to see what the locals do for fun. In Beijing many of them head to Temple of Heaven Park and in the early morning you'll see people doing all kinds of things they don't do in the West. Tai chi and dancing are particularly popular and impromptu sessions around a stereo are the norm. You'll also find public performances from local artists throughout the day. The visit to the park of Temple of Heaven is part of the Culture Insite Program of China Spree tours.

China Travel: Temple of Heaven

As an added bonus, you'll find a few interesting places to spend a little time in too. Check out the fasting palace, the divine music administration (if only for the wonderful name), the double-ring shaped longevity pavilion (we're not making this up), the fan-shaped pavilion and the column foundation of the sacrificial hall too.

The Great Bell Temple

If it's a ringing endorsement and a bad pun that gets you moving, then head to the Big Bell Temple. It used to be called the Awakened Life Temple, but then in 1743 someone turned up with a giant (that's 46 ½ tonnes of giant) bell. Given the Chinese propensity for putting lots of the same stuff together, Eunuchs turned up from all over the nation in the following years and you'll find hundreds of bells of all shapes and descriptions in the third hall on the right as you come in.

Beijing Zoo

China Trip: Beijing Zoo

OK, let's be honest – Beijing Zoo isn't the nicest of places from an animal perspective. However, there are noticeable and ongoing improvements as animal welfare makes the local agenda at last. The reason to go, is the Giant Pandas, if you can't make it to Chengdu (where you can see them in the wild-ish). Take a bit more time than you would normally for a zoo and wander around the area which has plenty of temples, museums and other interesting sites.

Marco Polo Bridge

China's most famous liar, has a bridge named after him. Actually he doesn't, it's a trick for tourists so to the locals it's Luguoqiao Bridge not Marco Polo Bridge at all. The houses and stores of the area have been carefully restored, and the gates from the bridge into the local town are stunning. Take a break in the Memorial Hall of the Chinese People's War of Resistance against Japan, if you fancy a slightly sanitized retelling of the Japanese repression of the Chinese during the 20th century. Then saunter on for another 15 minutes or so and enjoy the Luqouqiao Sculpture Park. It's a fair hike to the bridge from the center of Beijing and it's not on many China tour lists but it's a great way of doing something different in your free time.

Explore the popular tourist attractions and the hidden gems Beijing has to offer with China Spree's 8-day Timeless Beijing tour, or 9-day Beijing & Shanghai tours.

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