I went to China for a Across China trip from October 22nd to November 13th 2011 last year. It was my first time travelling for such a long extended time, covering China, from North to South, East to West, for 3 weeks. I went to Eastern China (Shanghai, Nanjing, Huangshan), Northern China (Beijing, Tianjin, Changchun, Harbin), Central China (Xian, Chongqing) and Southern China (Lijiang, Shenzhen). Some places i only stayed for 1/2 day trip due to restraints in time given that it was only 3 weeks but due to the amazing and rapid changes in China's transportation system, it was possible to visit such vastly distant places and criss-cross China in 3 weeks.
I'll start with describing each location in order of my travel itinerary:
Shanghai 22nd-26th Oct 2011:
I arrived in Shanghai first on China Eastern Airlines (which was the cheapest airline i could find, as usual, Chinese airlines are much cheaper and more affordable compared to other airlines). It was nice and comfortable, and much better than I had expected, after reading all the horror reviews online, since i had never sat on a Chinese airline before..much like sitting on an airplane in the 90s without TV screens on the back of seats but rather comfortable and food was alright too..people who cannot understand Chinese may find it abit daunting though as the flight attendant's English may not be the best..but overall very good value for the money..
I arrived in Shanghai at night and took the Maglev train wooshing me into Shanghai Pudong in just under 7mins from Pudong Int'l Airport. Transferred to an MRT train line and went into Shanghai CBD near the Bund. My hotel for the 1st night was The Astor, a heritage hotel near 'The Gardens Bridge' i think, another historical bridge which always shows up in old movies and footage of Shanghai.
Checked in and put all my luggage and went out for dinner/supper on Nanjing East Road area...basically, i enjoyed Shanghai alot and it was 7 years plus since i last visited and it was very modern and fastpaced just as i remembered it to be, the metro lines have more than doubled since i last visited in late 2003/early 2004 and overall the city is very modern and reminded me of Taipei but a much more crowded, fastpaced, and modernised city...
Huangshan 25th- 26th Oct 2011:
I took the long-distance bus from Shanghai to Mount Huangshan
which takes around 4-5 hrs on the modern expressway. Along the way we stopped for a toilet break and refueling and as i looked across the rest stop to another building which had traditional chinese architecture and the clean wide expressway with the cold breeze, it being late Autumn in China already, i couldn't help but feel amazed at the development and sense of modernity as this could be an expressway in Japan for all you knew, but it was China, in the early 2010s...anyways, arrived at Huangshan's Tangkou at the bottom of the famoust mountain, (China has many famous mountains such as Mount Ermei and Mount Lu but Huangshan is THE most famous and apparently most drawn Mountain in Chinese paintings through history) and took a cable car up the mountain. The cable car used European technology and i was very impressed given that it was VERY VERY high up and the view was superb. It was like Hong Kong's cable car in Lantau Island but way longer and steeper. I had booked a night up the mountain so that i could experience the sunrise atop Mount Huangshan given that if you live below the mountain, the cable cars don't start until later and you will miss the sunrise by the time you get up...but prices were very steep given it was up a mountain and all provisions had to be carried up manually such as food, clothing,furniture,etc. I was frankly quite impressed with the hotel i stayed in despite all the crappy reviews online, considering the fact it was so far high up there and everything including staff had to be brought from below the moutain...anyways set the alarm and woke up early with others to watch the sunrise and went down the hill via cable car..as i had been told that the next bus back to Shanghai was much later than i expected reaching Shanghai at night (when i had planned going to collect my tailored clothes and dinner with my friend) i risked it by taking a shared car (very common in China) and going thru narrow winding roads thru semi-countryside into the town (an experience!!) to catch another bus which departed earlier from the town and thank god there were still tickets which meant i could catch this earlier bus arriving in Shanghai much earlier in the afternoon as planned to go to the tailor,etc.
One tip about going up Mount Huangshan, apparently from my friend and pix i've seen online, there can be 1-2 hour long queues just to get into a cable car and the waiting area is long, but when i went, there was hardly any queue and i got into a cable car to go up the mountain within 15 mins, which means try to go late in the afternoon when the crowds have gone as most ppl don't live up the mountain and usually leave by late afternoon as the sky gets darker and the last cable car down is nearing..
Nanjing 27th- 28th Oct 2011:
Nanjing has always been a city that i wanted to visit, not least due to the history of the Rape of Nanking (Nanking Massacre by the Japanese Imperial Army during WW2) and also being the Republican era Capital of China before the current capital city of Beijing.
I had missed my earlier high speed rail ticket to Nanjing from Shanghai and couldn't take the next one as it was fully booked too and thus arrived alittle later than expected for my schedule. The high speed rail was my 1st time sitting a Chinese bullet train (i think!) and it was super fast criss-crossing across the Chinese landscape passing many cities which were very developed beyond my expectations, such as Wuxi, where i could see many skyscrapers. I had originally planned 2 full days in Nanjing which turned out to be only 1 1/2 days and so still managed to visit almost all the tourist spots but some only on the outside as they were closed once i got there, for example the Sun Yat Sen Maesoleum on Purple Mountain and the Zhonghua Gate.
Also visited of cos the Nanking Massacre Museum in the suburbs which was a really good museum showcasing the history and i particularly liked the small garden/park outside the main exhibition buildings which are surprisingly good spots for a picnic or chat with friends despite the solemn meaning behind this museum.
Loved Nanjing street snacks such as the duck blood soup noodles amongst others and visited Confucius Temple and the pedestrian shopping/restaurant area surrounding it. The night scenery was really quite amazing!!
Also visited Xinjiekou, Nanjing's premier shopping district, and some of the malls there were so classy:) Had shabu-shabu too..nice..Nanjing actually has a nice feel to it and also visited the former University of Nanking and Former Ginling Women's College, both refugee camps during the Rape of Nanking..i actually visited/came across 3 refugee camps during the Rape of Nanking whilst in Nanjing, but now you can't see much traces of that due to the time and refurbishment...
Nanjing in many ways reminds me of Taipei...well, one must not forget that the Republican government which governed from Nanjing later fled to and is now governing Taipei and Taiwan, thus the similarities may well be expected i suppose;-)
Beijing 29th Oct- 5th Nov 2011:
I flew to Beijing from Nanjing and arrived early in the morning. Took the train into the city and checked into my hutong hotel. Got upgraded again and the room was nice and really comfortable and spacious despite having booked and payed for the cheapest room online...(this happened to me almost my entire trip in China, getting upgraded to much better rooms, and coincidentally also in Bangkok 1 month later as well where i was upgraded at both hotels) Went to Tiananmen Square, National Concert Hall, the Forbidden Palace (my first meal in Beijing was good old traditional Beijing Zhajiangmen inside the Forbidden Palace, and it was yummy surprisingly!!) ,Qianmen, on my first day...
I visited many places in Beijing as i had allocated the most days to it for my entire trip, but quite frankly, the whole city didn't give me such a good atmosphere, the pollution was quite horrendous actually and there was a concrete, semi-industrial feel to the city..i went to too many places to mention all, but a few places would be Peking University, Qinghua University campus, Wudaokou and having dinner at a second level hidden pub/dinner, viewing Maple leaves at Xiangshan and the street food there was great (took the Beijing bus there, quite a nice experience!), Summer Palace and sat on a boat there, Beijing financial street area, Xidan shopping area ( had Taiwanese meal for dinner there, so-so),Houhai Area ( had a high-end vegetarian lunch here), Drum Tower, Yonghegong Lamma Temple, Temple of Heaven (omg, the highlight here was actually the group of elderly and others outside in the parkland exercising, singing, playing badminton, and even a fashion catwalk by a group of senior citizens which i happen to have a whole video of!!, hahaha..), 798 Art District ( bought a pair of cheap working shoes whilst transiting to get here!!), watched a performance at the National Performing Arts Centre 'Rhino in Love', and managed a trip to an authentic morning market called Rendeli/Sihuan Morning Market..the food there looked so good:)
Tianjin Oct 31st 2011:
I went to Tianjin via the highspeed rail from Beijing taking 30 mins only. I had arrived at Beijing South Station (i think!) abit late and was told i had missed the ticket sales for the time i wanted and had to take the next one..however, as the two ticket holders were allowed in around the same time, i just went into the earlier one just as it was about to pull out of the station and got into the closest compartment. I then preceded to find an empty spot and sat down hoping fervently at this late stage that no one would turn up and the train pulled off the station and i was relieved. I only realised i was in the 1st class compartment (the Beijing-Tianjin highspeed rail has a 1st class and normal class) when i had bought the normal class ticket. The 1st class compartment was really really nice and high-end in its atmosphere, the seats had press-buttons and functional buttons and the furnishing of the interior was top class. As the train whizzed through the countryside between Beijing and Tianjin, it simply felt as if i was somewhere in Europe with a Western guy very well dressed fidgeting with his computer. Anyways, after arriving in Tianjin, i got out of the station and wandered around, had a Chinese breakfast, walked through the historically protected buildings abundant in parts of Tianjin, as well as went to the commercial and shopping district for a quick tour for comparison with other Chinese cities. I also passed by and entered a Chinese wetmarket and took some photos ( i just love visiting wetmarkets in Asia!haha!) I also managed to squeeze in a trip taking the Binhai Express metro rail to the Binhai New Development Area but ended going 3/4 of the way and sitting right back to the Tianjin downtown area as i was going to miss my train back to Beijing if i went any further, cos it was quite far in reality as compared to the map...I then took the high speed rail back to Beijing in the afternoon, ending my 1/2 day trip to Tianjing, this time on the normal class compartment which was really normal...
Part Two coming up in a few days (or weeks???hahaha..)...keep posted!