Our Adventure for 2016 was Asia Part 2: Mainland China (Beijing & Xi’an), Vietnam (Hanoi & Halong Bay), Thailand (Bangkok) and Hong Kong. Friends and family members have asked how it was and I thought it would be easiest to write a recap/guide on #3QT in 4 digestible pieces. Here’s Post #1 – Enjoy and #stayinspired
- US (or your country passport)
- Chinese Visa: Go to your nearest Chinese Consulate and apply. http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/visas/hrsq/
- Vietnam Visa: Work with this company govietnamvisa.com– it’s super easy and you get it on arrival. Pay for the VIP service. It takes 10 minutes in airport. They can also arrange transport to your hotel, which I highly recommend. (Shout out to Trish Mannion for this reco.)
- Electrical Adaptors: Although most hotels provide and have multiple sockets in room, bring your own just in case.
- Country Currency: Know the conversions and exchange in airport or hotel http://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/
China’s capital is home to many fascinating sites. For me, it remains largely mysterious and dizzying. It’s a spellbound labyrinth with a mix of modern, medieval and magic.
- Currency: Yuan
- Tipping: Not necessary, but 10% appreciated
- Respect the Food:
- Must have: Peking Duck, Dumplings, Hot Pots, Maotai Beverage (aka: Chinese Fire Water – shout out to Terry Chang for introducing us to this herbaceous beverage at the Golden Cicada)
- Manners: Slurp your soup (Mel Mao, you weren’t joking about this!)
- Always bring bottled water for hydration.
- Toilets: Most places have squat toilets – be prepared and bring wet wipes (I was not a fan of this).
- Basic Language:
- Hello: Ni hao
- Good Bye: Zàijiàn
- Please / Thank You: Qing / Xièxiè
- Yes/No: Shi / Méiyǒu
- I don’t speak Chinese: Wǒ bù huì shuō zhōngguó huà
- Where is the bathroom: Xǐshǒujiān zài nǎlǐ
- Please take me here: Qǐng dài wǒ zài zhèlǐ
- Certain sites are blocked and wi/fi can be fuzzy.
- Grand Hyatt Beijing at Oriental Plaza: https://beijing.grand.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html
- The hotel is situated near main attractions (read: you can walk) and is located in the prime business and shopping district, at the crossroads of Chang An Avenue and Wangfujing. The gym is beautiful and the resort style indoor pool feels a bit like Vegas. The concierge team was incredibly helpful and knowledgable.
- Baoyuan Jiaozi Wu: Cheap Delicious Dumplings
- Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant (http://www.dadongdadong.com) and Made in China (in Grand Hyatt): Best Peking Duck
- Da Zhai Men: Imperial Court & Show
- Made in China (in Grand Hyatt): The Peking Duck, Beggar’s Chicken and Beef & Chive pancakes were outstanding. Specializes in Northern Chinese dishes.
- Noble Court (in Grand Hyatt): Traditional Cantonese Cuisine. They have donkey meat! We enjoyed the honey-roasted barbecue pork and gong bao chicken – a spicy staple with peanuts, ginger, garlic and chiles.
- Wangfujing Street: Every food imaginable from live scorpions to meat to fruit.
- RedMoon (in Grand Hyatt): The staff – Jackie, Vivian, Cindy and Vincent – are brilliant. Thoughtful, on point and knowledgeable in wine and spirits, this is a great spot for sushi bites and to end an evening. We ordered a few glasses of champagne 🙂
- Too Boom Bar: There are mainly restaurants where you order your beverages, so when we stumbled upon Too Boom Bar, we decided to give it a try. Jerry, our bartender, was fantastic. We got such a kick out of the menu, Mexico Corn Flakes = Chips and Salsa. The bar also carried a beer, Royal Dutch, that was 16% proof and had quite the effect on Keith.
Must See / Excursions:
- Great Wall (Mutianyu section): The Grand Hyatt concierge made private tour arrangements for us using Gray Line Tours (http://www.grayline.com). Jessica was our guide / Mr. Lee was our driver. Both were truly outstanding, friendly and knowledgeable in every way.
- The Great Wall snakes through the countryside over deserts, hills, plains and goes on for thousands of miles. It was mesmerizing and one of the most magnificent man-made structures I’ve ever seen. Built as a defensive fortification, it could not prevent the ‘barbarians’ from entering China. The wall was multi-functional and enabled speedy communications via smoke, flares, drums, bells as well as allowing for the transport of troops across the country. It goes on forever and no words or pictures could ever do it justice.
- Tea (Mel and Swan, I went tea CRAZY): We enjoyed a lovely tea ceremony. I couldn’t get enough and fell in love with Pu’er Tea. It is made from the leaves and stems of the Camellia sinensis plant. Pu’er tea is post-fermented, which means it includes both fermentation and then prolonged aging under high humidity. It is used as medicine supposedly improving mental alertness, sharp thinking and reducing high cholesterol. I’ll take any help I can get!
- Tian’an Men Square (Square of the Gate of Heavenly Peace)
- Mao’s Mausoleum: Flanked by revolutionary statues, the building contains the embalmed body of Mao.
- Xi’an (the Ancient Capital): We were a bit aggressive and planned a one-day trip with Beijing Variarts Tours (http://www.variarts.com).I must call out Michael, our transport guide. He had so much knowledge of the country/history and was such a pleasure to spend time with. We flew from Beijing to Xi’an at 5:30am and returned at 11pm same day. It was the longest and hottest day of our life. (99 degrees with 90% humidity) Oh, and you could imagine how those squat toilets smelled. I almost died. It was a low moment.
This was our Xi’an Experience…
- We saw our future child in the airport – recognize some of those facial expressions? Obviously he likes to eat.
- Xi’an City Wall
- Great Goose Pagoda: Originally built to house Buddhist scriptures and included the novel, Journey to the West.
- Ate Dumplings – Xi’an lived up to its rep for this!
- Muslim Quarters
- Terracotta Warriors: Hundreds of life size figures still standing more than two millennia after their burial in the tomb of China’s first emperor. There are 3 Pits that have been uncovered. It was hotter in the pit than it was outside. Holy Hell. As Keith exclaimed, ‘The emperor built the warriors on the surface of the sun!’ It was worth it though. They are absolutely magnificent to see. I must call out Mr. Li, our guide. He warned us of the heat and pulled out his umbrella at the beginning of the day. We learned very quickly how bloody hot China could be. Mr. Li was a trooper taking us all over for an entire day and not complaining once – unlike me.
- Forbidden City
- This is China’s most magnificent architectural complex. It housed 24 emperors over 500 years. The palace was the exclusive domain of the imperial court and dignitaries until the abdication in 1912.
- You need a passport to go inside and it goes on forever. (Mark Izatt, you weren’t kidding when you informed us of that!) You could spend a day here and still not see everything. We learned that every detail has an intention and if you look at dragon statues, one usually holds a ball (the world = male) and one holds a baby (offspring/life = female). The colors in the Forbidden City are Blue (Emperor), Green (Prince) and Red (wealth, honor, happiness). And the dragon and phoenix stand for the emperor and queen respectively.
- Temple of Heaven
- UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was here the emperor (son of heaven) would make sacrifices and pray to heaven for his ancestors at the winter solstice.
- We bring Rambo’s hair on all our trips and drop it off at all the memorable places. He made it to the temple!
- There is a Heavenly Center Stone – it symbolizes the 9 heavens. You are supposed to stand in the center, raise your voice and hope that it’s heard by the folk’s upstairs. I belt it out! Keith yelled ‘Go Knights’.
- Wangfujing Street
- Hosts fabric and shoe shops, major department stores, teahouses and a VERY energetic food scene.
- Bar Street: All types of bars from dives, to hookah, to dancing-gogo / live music. Watch out for the admission fees at the live music / dancing spots.
- For the life of me, I cannot remember the name of this awesome store. They had the quirkiest stuff and a gin bar that featured incredible cocktails with gin brands from all over the world. Love the upside-down McDonald’s M…I mean W for Witek…haha!
- Jade: We learned that the Beijing olympic medals included jade in the design and that the rock comes in various colors – not the typical green we often see. True to form, I bought a jade bracelet (lavender and will get more transparent with time), a dragon and the family ball /generation ball. The latter consists of 3 to 13 layers – one layer = one generation. Just like an extended family, it can bless people with happiness and reunion. There are 12 holes on each layer, symbolizing 12 months. The ball blesses a family with happiness, harmony and good luck in a year.
So that is the summary of our time in China – It was confusing, contradictory and left us at a loss for words. The country is obscured in mists of time and legend, and for that, we will never be the same.