A family adventure… to China

| April 2, 2019

As a family of four, we have travelled a lot and it has become a shared passion. We have already been to parts of Asia and are usually undaunted by travelling independently. However, when we were looking into travelling to China it made us a little more nervous than usual, due to the travel restrictions, the difficulties with communication and the lack of access to usual fail-safes, like Google maps. So we called Cox & Kings for assistance and travelled to Chengdu, Xian, Pingyao and Beijing.

Great Wall of China

After a few days in Hong Kong, we landed in Chengdu. We were found immediately by our guide Susan, who whisked us into town to our hotel. We are not the easiest people to recommend hotels to. We are all into design and travel a lot for work, so we are fussy. We also viscerally hate the standard American-style decor and service that you find in many hotels across the world these days. So, to get dropped off outside the magical Temple House in central Chengdu was the first of many very happy surprises. The entrance is an old temple, but the interiors are slick and minimalist. A great base and a great start.

We were up bright and early to beat the crowds to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. The centre is first and foremost a research facility. Their mission to rescue and breed pandas is their primary concern, and visitors, quite rightly, come second. That said, there was plenty to see and it strikes a great balance between giving the visitors lots of lovely pandas to coo over, educating them about the threats to the panda population, and making sure the pandas are comfortable and not exploited.

Chengdu pandas

Chengdu pandas

The following day, we took the bullet train to Xian to see the Terracotta Warriors. The scale of the exhibit is mind blowing, as is the detail in each and every one of the warriors. The stories behind them are amazing, dating back to approximately the late third century BC, they weren’t discovered until 1974 by farmers in Lintong County. We were pleasantly surprised to see no whiff of ‘Disney’ about the way the exhibition is laid out. Although it was very crowded, we had great views of the nearly 2,000 warriors that depict the armies of Qin Shi Huang.

Terracotta Warriors, Xian

Terracotta Warriors, Xian

A last-minute addition to our itinerary was Pingyao. We thought that it would be a good way to break the journey to Beijing. In fact, we were really pleased we made the stop. Pingyao was once the centre of China’s banking industry, but has been largely ignored for centuries. Fortunately, this meant that the city has remained largely intact, when many others were bulldozed during the revolution. The walls, temples and merchants’ houses are all still standing. We stayed at the boutique Jing’s Residence, which is a converted silk merchant’s house. It was a peaceful and a charming oasis with the best service we received in China. After dark, once the coach tours had left, Pingyao becomes a magical place, lit up by lanterns.

Walking through Pingyao 

Our final bullet train was to Beijing. We stayed in the sister hotel to the one in Chengdu, called The Opposite House. It was very modern, but a great base in the Chaoyang District, which was a nice, peaceful area. We visited the former Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty, now known as The Palace Museum within the Forbidden City, and the renowned Tiananmen Square. The next day, we walked along part of the Great Wall. Our guides were extremely knowledgeable and helped us understand the history of all the sights.

Forbidden City

Forbidden City

We laughed a lot along the way at our total inability to communicate, so we were grateful to have guides that spoke perfect English. Even the simplest of tasks, like asking for the bill, proved difficult. As a vegetarian, I found ordering meals was an adventure every time! It was interesting being objects of curiosity wherever we went; we even made guest appearances in a lot of Chinese tourists’ photos! The people we met were lovely, welcoming and keen to give us the best impression of their fabulous country. The whole experience was extremely thought-provoking and it absolutely was a holiday to remember.

Jing's Residence

Jing's Residence,  Pingyao 

Cox & Kings arranges escorted group tours and tailor-made private travel throughout China. To visit many of the stunning sights described in this article, options include our China Experience group tour and our Classic China tour for solo travellers. Alternatively, find out more about all our holidays to China here.

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