Grand Tour of China; Part 7. Shanghai

Thursday 19th

This morning we were treated to a proper lay in! We weren’t departing our hotel until 10am, and cases weren’t needed to be outside until 09:15. Of course, my body clock woke me up at 05:30 so I had a relax and at 06:30 went down to the hotel spa for a swim, sauna and steam room which was a very nice experience. We used the time to give our cases a huge sort out and then popped down to for breakfast. Our hotel, The Pan Pacific in Suzhou was set amongst the most glorious gardens with fish ponds and beautiful flowers. Outside the hotel grounds the hotel backed into a huge park which was just gorgeous so we went for an after breakfast stroll. It was beautiful – there was even a Chinese man playing some flute by one of the flower bushes – just lovely.

At 10am we assembled and caught the coach to Suzhou station. By this time my head was starting to ache with dehydration that bottle of red last night, and we were struggling to find some water – but Mary our tour manager came to the rescue with a spare bottle she had – thanks Mary ❤️!!

The train journey to Shanghai was very short at 25 mins; I felt sad it was our last train journey of the trip, and I think others in our group felt the same. When you’re travelling as part of a group, after a couple of weeks you feel like you’re one big family. There is no porterage and the cases generally need to be stored in the large luggage storage areas above your seats. Seats were always allocated alphabetically so we always sat near the same group of people- so Keith and I helped with putting the cases of those near to us up above and I know others helped those sat elsewhere. We had our train beer buddy’s and on this journey Keith had some ice cold beers from the hotel Minibar which he shared to Arthur who had always had a beer at a similar time to us. It just always felt like we were part of a happy family.

We arrived at Shanghai and straight away I liked its vibe! We offloaded our cases to a van which was taking them straight to our hotel. We then boarded a coach which had ice cold water AND beer on board – they know the brits so well(!) and off we went on a magical tour of Shanghai. The weather was extremely hot so those beers went down a storm with everyone!

Our first stop was the Yu Garden and Bazaar in Shanghai’s historic district. The gardens were absolutely breathtaking and despite being packed with tourists, it was a fabulous place to visit. We particularly liked the Dragon Wall. Fairly sure Keith would like to recreate this at home! 🐉

After this we got some free time to explore the Bazaar and pick up some souvenirs. In my head is expected Shanghai to be a very pushy place with cheap knock off handbags on every corner. Not sure if this is the case but elsewhere in Shanghai but it certainly wasn’t the case here. There was tat obviously but wasn’t as offensive as I thought it may be! We picked up a few bits to add to our every expanding suitcases – thank goodness for 30kg luggage allowance!

We made a stop the Bund Area of Shanghai for some photos – this is the area right by the river and you get great photos of the sky scrapers. Behind us were the older historical buildings then across the river were all these interesting shaped sky scrapers. What is interesting is that the sky scrapers went built until 1990s and before then the area was farm land and houses! What a difference!

After this we were dropped back at the hotel where the rest of the afternoon and evening was free. Most of the group went on an organised excursion to an acrobatics show but as we’d seen something similar elsewhere we gave it a miss, instead choosing to take ourselves across town on the metro and visit Shanghai Tower, the 2nd highest building in the world.

The journey across town on the metro was easy enough, having visited Hong along at the start of our trip it was very similar, and the colour and number combination was very easy to follow- and extremely cheap.

Shanghai Tower is located near to some other very interesting sky scrapers – the skyline here is just remarkably interesting. Next to it is a smaller building that looks like a bottle opener!

The Shanghai Tower also has the fastest lift in the world- we travelled 18 metres per second to reach the top of the building. Incredible. We timed our visit just to catch the sun setting and it really was a beautiful sight. My favourite though was when the twinkle lights came on all around the city. You get a great view of the river from the top. At some points it felt more scary than others – the sheer drop down was messing with my head!

We enjoyed the visit hugely and also at the bottom there is a great exhibition about the evolution of the high rise tower. Really fascinating and well worth our £18 entry charge.

We headed back on the metro and after a burger opposite the hotel, we settled in for the night.


Our last day in China ☹️ started with probably the worst breakfast of the trip sadly. The Pullman Shanghai seemed vastly over stretched for the amount of guests that descended on breakfast and we struggled to get a seat!

At 9am we all met for one final time in the reception. The rest of our group had a great time last night at the acrobatics show so everyone was in good spirits. Our first stop for the day was the French Concession area of town which is now a trendy area full of bars and restaurants, but once upon a time was full of colonial families. We had some free time so on Mary’s recommendation visited an old Shanghai house museum which was a fascinating insight to what these old colonial house would have looked like inside.

After this it was back on the coach to head to the Jade Buddha Temple. This was an interesting place right in the heart of residential Shanghai. The Jade Buddha itself was amazing (but no photos allowed)

We enjoyed our final lunch together and were dropped back to the hotel at 1:30. At this point it was billed as free time, which some of our group enjoyed. But Mary and Cathy, the local guide offered to do an addition activity – going to ride on the Maglev, the worlds fastest and only Magnetic Levitation train! Obviously we jumped at the chance so a group of 12 or so made our way on the metro to the start of the Maglev line.

The Maglev travels at speeds of 431km ph – but, it only reaches this top speed twice a day, once mid morning and once mid afternoon. We got there for the 3pm train and experienced it at full speed on the 30km ride to the airport, which took only 7 minutes!!Travelling at 431km ph felt incredible!! Where the track bends tenet lift the outer track and the train precariously leans. Just wow!

We took the return journey and experienced the top speed again! Afterwards everyone was buzzing! It’s just not everyday that you can say you’ve travelled at the fastest ground speed possible.

There was an interesting exhibition underneath the station that we enjoyed before we waved bye to the rest of the group who were going to visit the Shanghai Tower.

We nipped back to the hotel for a freshen up and then headed out for a dumpling dinner at place near to the hotel recommended to us by Cathy our local guide.

We had beef noodles and 10 dumplings between us, full of shrimp and other gorgeous fillings. We had traditional soup dumplings, a specialty for Shanghai and they were Devine! And only £5.90 for the whole lot! Amazing and our favourite meal in China.

At 6:30 we met the tour guides and rest of the group who were booked on tonight’s additional add on excursion- a boat trip on the river.

We absolutely loved this- again a fantastic opportunity to see this marvellous skyline from a different perspective. It’s so relaxing on the river and was just a perfect way to finish our trip.

We have had the most incredible trip, once again Great Rail Journeys have provided us with a trip of a lifetime. While in China we covered nearly 2500 miles by rail, river and bus. Add to that the travel by air from London via Hong Kong (12950 miles)

We  visited  five of China’s major cities:

Beijing – 18.8 million

Shanghai- 22.7 million

Chongqing – 7.4 million ( 30million if the population of the province is included)

Chengdu.  – 10.2 million

Wuhan – 7.6 million

Xi’an – 8.7 million

We sailed 400 miles along China and Asia’s longest river, the Yangtze, the third longest river in the world. We have also visited the world’s largest dam. (thanks Mary for sending this info!)

Now it’s time to head back to 🇬🇧 and straight back into work.

Until next timeLx

Grand Tour of China; Part 6. Wuhan and Suzhou

Tuesday 17th

We spent last night in the super luxurious Marco Polo Hotel on Wuhan’s waterfront. We arrived around 7:30 and our meal was included at the restaurant buffet. Sometimes I roll my eyes when I hear about hotel buffets, but my word, not this one! The selection of food was tremendous! It had a huge sushi collection and I could have, and probably would have, feasted all night solely on this had it not been for the tempting noodle bar serving fresh local “Wuhan style” noodles. I won’t tell you how many times Keith and I went up to this! 🐷Wuhan style noodles are dryer than the others with no soup, just pickles and a slight dollop of something chilli- like on top. A great technical description there 😂Sorry – no photos either, we were too busy slurping!

After dinner we had a quick stroll down the waterfront, which reminded me of the South Bank in London.

It’s obviously a very trendy spot, youngsters were roller skating around and chilling, there were some buggies with neon lights being rented and couples courting. Across the water the skyline was lit up and lights were flashing. It had a great vibe and many on our tour said they could have happily stayed a few nights there. I think tourism in Wuhan is on the increase though – even Teresa May came to visit earlier this year!

We were off to the Yellow Crane Tower this morning, which is the third greatest tower in China. There has been a tower on that site for 1300 years but over the years it’s been on the receiving end of several battles and therefore has been rebuilt several times. Geographically, Wuhan is an important location as has two rivers that join into one. The views from the top of the tower were fabulous. Inside there was some fascinating art work and poetry.

On the route to the Yellow Crane Tower, Jennifer, our new local guide gave us a fascinating insight into life as a married lady over the years in China. The mother in law features a lot! 😂 Listening to her commentary, despite her flawless English, I suddenly felt a long way from home, and thankful to live somewhere that respect equal rights and freedom of speech.

After lunch, we were taken to a local supermarket, similar in size to Cite Europe in Calais. We had a 5 hour train journey to Suzhou and we were encouraged to buy train picnics as our arrival time at the hotel would be after 9pm.

I find foreign supermarkets fascinating and clearly this was no exception! Keith and I chose two massive tubs of noodles similar to pot noodles but much better – for 50p each. Perfect!

The remainder of our day was spent travelling on the train – snoozing, reading, eating and catching up on blog writing.


After our late arrival we were given a slight lay in- we had a gentler day scheduled today.

Suzhou is known as China’s Garden City. We are right on the outskirts now of Shanghai but the pace is here much slower and the city is surrounded by lots of canals, not too dissimilar to Venice.

Our day started with a rickshaw ride from the hotel around the older streets of Suzhou.

We made a stop at a very local food market and enjoyed watching the locals shop for fresh fruit, veg and meat.

Then we were back on the rickshaws to our next destination, UNESCO site The Master of Nets Garden. This is a traditional Chinese garden, and what was fascinating was that it’s 2000 years old.

^ this guy was having a sing song as he was walking around – such a lovely moment ^

^ original flooring ^

Despite being busy, it had such a relaxing and serene vibe. We enjoyed some traditional tea in the courtyard amongst the bonsai trees towards the end of our visit. We really enjoyed our visit.

After this we visited a silk museum. We got to see the whole process from Silk Worm to product and actually there was no hard selling and the visit was hugely interesting. We avoided buying some silk bed sheets but I did have a go at hand stretching some silk to make up 1000 layers that is needed to make a duvet.

After lunch we had a canal boat ride along some of the tiny canals which have houses backing onto them.

Some of these streets were over 1000 years old and it was a great way to see locals going about their daily business- for example, this guy washing his hair!

These two were in their traditional red wedding outfits having ore wedding photos

We had an early finish today and were back to the hotel for 4pm so we took advantage of the lovely pool area and I even had a sauna. We enjoyed a beer across the road at the local bar before opting for a pizza in the hotel bar for tea.

Keith hi jacked the hotel grand piano to play some relaxing cocktail music which was lovely to see. And we enjoyed a bottle of Italian red wine- something that we’ve been missing!

Tomorrow we leave Suzhou for our last stop of the tour before home- Shanghai. We really loved visiting Suzhou today and feel we have seen the real traditional China today. We’ve loved seeing the locals going about their daily life- a simple “Knee how” (hello) and they wave like mad and smile cheerily at us!

Until next time


Grand Tour of China; Part 5. Cruising on The Yangtze River

Saturday 14th

We didn’t have to set our alarm today although breakfast finished at 8:30 so we were up at a reasonable time. All meals were included and were of the buffet style which suited us. We had a mixture of Chinese and western- the bread on board was fresh and still warm- well received by most of our group I think!

The first day of the cruise passed very quickly despite not really having to do too much other than relax! The morning was spent watching the world go by from our private balcony although some in our group attended a demonstration and talk about Chinese Medicine and acupuncture by the ship’s doctor. We attended an interesting talk about the river by the ship’s director Stephen- in which he talked more about the villages under the water. It turned out his family had had to move when he was 12 years old. I’m really struggling to get my head around the fact that complete villages are underneath where we are sailing. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for the families who generations of whom had lived in the same house in the same village, suddenly having to relocate. It’s just mind boggling!

After lunch we took the included excursion to the Red Pagoda (Shibaozhai Pagoda) – an interesting and old building built into the cliff face.

The walk to and from the Pagoda was lined with locals selling all sorts of stuff and of course we just had to buy yet more souvenirs including a Chinese dressing gown, table runner, fans etc!

After our little adventure off the boat, we headed for a cheeky cocktail in the bar, which has panoramic views. I tried the cocktail of the day – “The Red Pagoda” whilst looking out at the real thing.

Saturday evening arrived and the whole ship was dressed to impress as it was the Captain’s Welcome Dinner. Our group looked fabulous, everyone had made such an effort. Keith even wore a blazer 😍

We enjoyed glasses of fizz whilst the Ship’s Director introduced the senior crew and captain; before a good ol cheesy boogie to Shake my Tail feather etc. Then it was time for dinner.

After dinner there was a staff cabaret show, which despite not being to our taste so much, everyone else found entertaining. Nonetheless the evening was great fun and I was adoring my first taste of cruising!


Our cruise continued today through some absolutely sensational scenery, The Three Gorges. The most dramatic gorge was first – the Qutang Gorge. At this point the mountains on each side of the river were steep and imposing- one spot is so scenic it’s made it onto the 10 Yuan note.

The ships director gave interesting commentary throughout this stretch and Keith and I sipped on cocktails. I was in heaven! It didn’t matter that the weather wasn’t great, it almost made it more dramatic. I really really loved this journey!

The following two pictures are probably my favourite- the sense of scale is truly incredible! (The cruise liner behind us was of similar size to the one we were on)

The above picture shows a very small farm house which is the only occupied house now on this section of the river. There are no roads, no electricity and no running water but 4 families still live there.

After lunch Keith and some of our group were given a private tour of the Bridge which Mary our tour manager had organised. I didn’t go as I was reading on our balcony. Keith however loved it and came back full of admiration that actually the boat wasn’t being driven by a computer like most ocean liners; in fact three men worked side by side for 4 hours at a time in total silence, driving the boat manually using a small wheel. He also couldn’t believe that our boat, which holds 340 passengers can float in just 6ft of water!

We passed through the Wu Gorge where we then transferred onto smaller boasts to take us down one of the narrow tributaries, the Goddess Stream.

I don’t even really know how to describe this- even the pictures don’t really do it justice. It was simply breathtaking.

The height of the cliffs either side of the narrow stretch of water was just incredible. Let’s not forget that the water level has also been raised in the last 20 years so before that the gorges would have been even higher!

During the excursion, all the local guides stopped at a kind of make shift pontoon (don’t panic- it was safe!) where they performed a local folk song and asked us to join in with a dance. It was such a surreal but special moment!

(Keep your eyes peeled on the video above for a familiar face joining in! 😂 ) pic below just in case the video doesn’t upload properly .

Keith said it reminded him of the film Apocalypse Now!

By now the grey skies had vanished and we were treated to blue skies on our return to the larger ship.

So of course Keith and I squeezed in a quick cocktail before returning to our room for a super quick shower – we both managed to shower (I even managed a hair wash!) and change in 14 minutes! That has to be a record!

Tonight we had our disembarkation instructions for tomorrow and then it was the Captain’s Farewell banquet- another great meal. We also sang Happy Birthday to 2 members of our group.

The staff on the boat were fabulous. By far the best service we’ve received so far in China. And so happy and smiley! We will be sad to wave goodbye in the morning!


Disembarkation of the ship was at 08:00 and via funicular railway.

Disembarkation was earlier than normal as we should have been passing through the Three Gorges Dam Locks. Sadly, increased river traffic meant congestion for the locks and therefore the Chinese Government have just recently banned cruise liners from passing through in order to ease congestion. So rather than passing through the 4 locks overnight, we moored up at Mao Ping, and were transferred onto coaches along with local guides who took us to visit the site of the Three Gorges Dam and the Locks and the ships elevator which is actually the largest in the world. Sadly you don’t get as good a view as if you’re actually on the elevator or the locks but this wasn’t Great Rail Journeys fault, nor Century Sun- it’s been banned by the government.

We then drove through the third gorge via coach on the road. Not quite the same as on the river but still very pretty.

Today the weather has improved so much- we’ve had blue skies and lovely warm weather. We were taken to lunch a little earlier than scheduled due to the change in itinerary and therefore had an hours free time in Yichang. Luckily there was a lovely park and waterfront area so Mary organised for us to have an hour here relaxing- which was enjoyed immensely. Some of the group went to a local museum with our new local guide, Jennifer, but we chose to have a wander along the river and enjoyed an ice cream.

Around 3pm we were transferred to the railway station where were boarded our next train, the bullet train to Wuhan- a journey of 2 hours. The journey was smooth as we’ve come to expect and we passed lots of paddy fields. It’s so relaxing travelling by train (and also a great opportunity to catch up on blog writing!)

Until next time


Grand Tour of China; Part 4. Chengdu


Today we were off to visit Wenshu monastery, which was fairly local to the hotel. We learnt about Buddhism – May was a practicing Buddhist and was keen to show us how to use incense etc.

We then took a coach for a long journey out of Chengdu to Leshan. On the journey we passed a lot of agricultural land including vineyards which supply the main Chinese wine – The Great Wall, tea plantations, rape seed fields and more.

We had lunch and then boarded a local boat to view the Giant Buddha. Leshan Giant Buddha is the largest stone statue in the world. It is carved into a mountain range and at 233ft it really is a phenomenal sight. Apparently, it’s possibly for two people to enter it’s ear cavity and ten people could have a picnic on the Buddhas toenail!

I slept most of the journey back to Chengdu, a hectic term has caught up with me! Before we arrived back at the hotel we made a stop at Jinli street which is a reconstructed old style street. I was pleased to be visiting as it was in my list of things to see in Chengdu. In reality though, it was a bit busy and extremely whiffy for our liking. There was lots of street food like duck heads, pigs knuckles etc to try and they didn’t look particularly appetising to us! We did manage a street beer though and it was a good place to people watch!

I think Jinli St got a reaction from our group similar to marmite- you either loved it or hated it! We were free to have our own dinner tonight, and so we decided to try a Chinese Pizza place in the nearby shopping mall. One thing that is taking some getting used to is that the restaurants tend to be in shopping malls!

Keith had a Sichuan chicken (read that as blinking hot!) and shrimp/fruit “half and half” and I had shrimp, fruit and extra cheese. It was lovely actually and a nice change to rice dishes.


I had another restless sleep last night, as tends to happen when an exciting highlight event is due to take place 😂 I worry that we’re going to miss the alarm! Today we were off to see the Giant Pandas 🐼

Unlike some other tour companies, we were not going to the zoo to see these magnificent creatures; instead we were going to see them at the Panda Breeding Research centre. We took a golf buggy up to the top of the reserve and then were guided down through the various enclosures. The first sighting was of course the best- I may have had a few tears and I’m fairly sure I wasn’t the only one!

They were adorable- we saw loads, each one displaying a different character it seemed.

My favourite was “Mr Cool”- who was far to chilled out to eat his bamboo sat up like a normal panda 🐼 instead he laid down on his side with his arm propping his head up, his leg doing similar whilst munching on his bamboo.

Apparently pandas eat pretty much all day! Sounds like my sort of life right now- So much food!

We really enjoyed our visit and could have easily spent all day there but we had a train to catch; we were off to Chongqing, which was where we were boarding our home for the next three nights- the Century Sun Luxury river cruise liner.

We spent a couple of hours in Chongqing before it was time to board and it looked quite a pleasant city. Which would explain why it’s population is over 30 million people! Isn’t that just an insane amount of people?! The reason is largely because in the last 40 years The Chinese Government decided to flood a large section of the Yangtze River. This was to control floods that were happening regularly and so that they could build a large dam/hydroelectric station to generate much needed power. So new cities were built and large populations of people who lived beside the river were moved out, their houses then submerged as they flooded the valley.

I was particularly excited about our river cruise as I’d never done a cruise before – ocean or river. We decided to purchase the drinks package so that we could let our hair down a little. But actually it was pretty good value for money- it cost around £150 for the two of us and we were on the boat three nights and two full days. A round of drinks was about £12 so we easily made it worth it.

Setting sail from Chongqing was beautiful- it was after dark and the waterfront was full of lit up buildings. Suddenly it felt like we were in a hybrid of New York and Hong Kong.

We enjoyed a few cocktails before hitting the sack for a very quiet and much needed deep sleep

Until next time


Grand Tour of China; Part 3. Xi’an

Monday 9th

Monday began with an early alarm as we were due to depart Beijing at 09:43, on train number G655, our first bullet train of this trip.

Lily escorted us all the way to the train carriage where we waved goodbye with huge thanks. Our journey was 6 hours long as we travelled over 700 miles to our next stop, Xi’an. The train sat mainly at around 300kmph! As with the Japanese bullet trains, the ride was so smooth, it was hard to believe that we were travelling similar speeds to a formula one car!

We arrived in Xi’an, which was considerably warmer than Beijing, and met Jason, our new local guide. On route to the hotel we stopped off for a wander down the Muslim area of the city, including the Grand Bazaar which was full of street food sellers, and stalls selling trinkets and paper cuttings etc and also the Grand Mosque.

Around 6pm we arrived at our hotel for the next couple of nights, the Grand Mercure. That evening we had some free time to do our own thing. Mary and Jason offered to take anyone who fancied it out to a local restaurant for a meal. Initially we thought we’d do our own thing, but then we changed our minds, as we thought Jason being local would be an advantage as he’d know some great places to eat. We made the right choice- our meal was superb and an absolute bargain at only £10 each including beer!!


Tuesday arrived and with it came a slight lay in! Today was another exciting day- we were off to see the Terracotta Warriors. On arrival we were shown into Pit 1, home to the largest and best preserved collection of warriors.

It was absolutely breathtaking; to think that these life sized Terracotta figures have been hidden underground for over 2000 years is just mind boggling! They really are beautiful. The detail on each and every one is different but highly detailed.

We were given free time to take it all in at our own pace before meeting up for coffee. We then went onto pits 2,3,4 which were home to the surviving chariots and the kneeling archer which was my particular favourite.

The kneeling archer even had original paintwork still visible along with tiny details on the sole of his shoe and hair braiding. Simply amazing.

After lunch at the museum we returned to the coach and made our way back to Xi’an. I had read about the possibility of cycling around the city walls of Xi’an and mentioned it to Jason, who very kindly arranged for the coach to not only drop Keith and I, but also a small group of our traveling companions at the walls and he accompanied us which we thought was very generous.

We all really enjoyed the 8.6 mile bike ride. Xi’an city walls are the largest and best preserved City walls in China. They are also extremely well preserved and rather wide, so cycling was absolutely fab! Jason met us after our circuit and escorted us back to the hotel on the public bus which was another great experience!

We had a very quick turnaround at the hotel- just enough time to get showered and changed, before we headed out as a group for a Dumpling Banquet. Wow- this was INCREDIBLE! One of the most unusual dining experiences we’ve had- 16 courses of delicious dumplings! All mouth watering and unique in flavour.

After dinner, Jason had organised a trip to the theatre to see some traditional music and dancing from the Tang Dynasty. 18 of our group attended and we had a FANTASTIC night! If you are ever in this neck of the woods you need to come to this!

As musicians, Keith and I particularly found the traditional musical instruments especially interesting, but the dancing, costumes, scenery were just so enjoyable to see and such high quality it really was a wonderful evening and a fitting end to our short but highly enjoyable time in Xi’an.


Another day and another early start- today we were saying a very sad farewell to Jason and Xi’an. The morning was spent visiting a number of places, including a Jade factory where I brought a lovely Jade pendant – something I’ve been after for a while given that my middle name is Jade. We also visited the Wild Goose Pagoda which was 1300 years old and set in some lovely picturesque gardens.

Jason had organised for us to take a Chinese calligraphy class here which was amazing – we learnt how to write happiness and the UK.

Keith and I are finding the Chinese characters fascinating- each one is more of a phrase or collection of syllables rather than each symbol being a word as such. We are starting to recognise certain symbols here and there.

We also brought a couple of paintings by a local artist here which we had our names written in Chinese on.

Next stop was lunch, which was a buffet in a theatre- it was amazing – so delicious! Needless to say we ate and drank so much that we slept on the train journey from Xi’an to Chengdu.

Our train journey was a first for GRJ groups – we were lucky enough to be travelling on a new high speed service which has only opened in the last few months. The 4 hour trip replaced a 1.5 hour flight or a 16 hour overnight train service. Much of the journey was in tunnels through the mountains etc but as always, it was an enjoyable relaxing trip.

On arrival we were met by our new guide, May. She took us for dinner at a local Sichuan restaurant which included a bit of dancing and fire eating (not by us might I add!)

To be honest we would have rather not had a meal and gone straight to the hotel to freshen up – it had been a long day of travel, and lunch was so huge! Having said that though the food was nice and a good opportunity to try Sichuan chillis – which were rather hot!!!

An early- ish night followed in our new hotel, The Tibet Hotel, Chengdu.

Until next time


Grand Tour of China; Part 2. Beijing


The alarmwas set for 05:00 as we had to be at Hong Kong airport for 06:00, in time for our 09:00 flight to Beijing. Check in was smooth and before we knew it we were spending our last Hong Kong dollars on a coffee each and heading to the departure gate, where we met up with our Tour Manager, Mary, and the rest of our group who had flown in from London overnight.

One reason that we love travelling with Great Rail Journeys is because despite us usually being very independent travellers, we do enjoy having the services of a tour manager to follow on these long trips in non western countries. Whilst we had thoroughly enjoyed our time in Hong Kong, it’s exhausting travelling on our own in a foreign country with limited time. We find having a tour manager to follow and transport us from place to place offers us the right mix of being adventurous and seeing new places, yet still being able to relax and rewind.

Another reason we enjoy GRJ is that they allow us to be somewhat flexible in our holiday approach. For example, the main group flight from London to Beijing had a layover in HK; but we thought it would be a shame to pass HK without seeing it, so GRJ organised an extension for us. We weren’t the only couple to do this and another 2 couples are doing HK at the end of our main trip too.

Our flight from Hong Kong to Beijing was around 3 hours in length and so by lunchtime, we had landed, retrieved our cases, successfully passed through immigration with our visas (hurrah!), met our group & our Beijing local guide, Lily, and were on our coach to the hotel.

We were staying at the Novotel Peace Hotel which was pretty central, so after check in we decided to have a little wander to acclimatise. We found a local supermarket and stocked up on room snacks and local beer! We were noticing that there seems to be a lack of bars etc – the Chinese don’t drink like us Brits!

Dinner was included and we enjoyed the buffet which served a selection of Chinese and western cuisine, whilst getting to know some of our fellow group members before having an early night- our previous travelling days along with late nights were catching up on us and we had an early start tomorrow.


Our alarm was set for 06:00 – we had a full day ahead! Beijing is huge but also extremely densely populated. Traffic is a huge problem and it was a Chinese Holiday so the bad traffic was even worse! Lily suggested we meet earlier than scheduled to enable us to reach the Temple of Heaven before the mass crowds. By doing this we got to The Temple of Heaven early enough to see the groups of seniors partaking in Tai Chi in the Park.

The weather was glorious – which made our first glimpse of the magnificent UNESCO site just breathtaking. It really is a beautiful sight and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there.

Next stop was Tiananmen Square which is the largest city square in the world and Lily and Mary did a wonderful job of guiding our group of 30 through seamlessly, despite huge numbers of tourists!

We walked though from Tiananmen Square to the Forbidden City- which once was home exclusively to the emperor, concubines and staff for over 600 years. We knew it would be large but it’s not until you are there and navigating through on foot, that you get a feel for how large!

We absolutely loved our tour of the places and courtyards etc- and again, it was amazing how Mary and Lily kept the group together- I don’t think I’ve been anywhere so crowded in my life. Lily provided us with ear pieces which allowed us to hear her commentary and instructions- a vital piece of equipment I’d say!

We were taken to lunch at a local restaurant which was delicious, before going to a tea shop for a demonstration of various teas local to Beijing which was really enjoyable.

The afternoon was spent visiting The Summer Palace, which is a collection of lovely courtyards and gardens along with a large man made lake, which we travelled across on an amazing Dragon Boat, similar to how the emperor would have travelled many years ago.

This evening we had booked an additional excursion to a sample evening of the Beijing Opera. The hour long show consisted of 3 short operas, and gave a great insight into the art. We found the evening very interesting and despite musically not being to our taste, it was brilliant to see the costumes, traditional music and instruments, movement and of course the singing!


Sunday dawned with another very early start; today we were off to The Great Wall of China and I was so excited that I barely slept as I was petrified of missing our alarm!

The weather could not have been any better and during the hour and a half coach journey to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall you could almost smell the excitement and anticipation on the coach.

The Mutianyu section is a little further away from Beijing that other sections and as such is much quieter! That along with our early start meant that once again, we were joined by only a few others.

We took a cable car up to the wall and when we took our first steps out onto the wall, I became so overwhelmed that I burst into tears! It is absolutely phenomenally spectacular. No matter how many pictures you look at before you travel, nothing will ever come close to how it feels to be on that wall! And it’s not just the wall and the background of how it was built etc ; it’s built in such a spectacular mountainous area- the view is worth seeing on its own!

We had two hours of free time on the wall which was great as I was so overcome it took me nearly 20 mins just to take a picture!

After our visit we were whisked to a local restaurant for a fabulous lunch. Everyone was in high spirits having seen one of the 7 wonders of the world, and the food was wonderful.

Next stop was a workshop that made wonderful copper ornaments and vases which were hand decorated using filigree. We purchased a pretty Christmas decoration but if money were no object we’d have brought at least 2 or 3 vases.

We made our way back to Beijing, stopping for a photo at The Birds Nest Olympic stadium for a picture, before arriving in Beijing’s Old town – known locally as the Hutongs. Lily had arranged for us to take a rickshaw ride around the oldest streets of Beijing which was enjoyable, and fascinating to see the grey concrete buildings – the colour grey was only allowed to be used by he commoners.

We also were allowed to visit a traditional Hutong which was fascinating. I loved the courtyard with the red lanterns hanging over head.

We had an hour at the hotel before we were taken out for a traditional Peiking Duck meal in a 5 star restaurant. The whole meal was delicious – the duck slightly different to how we have it in the UK as the skin was not so crispy. But it was delicious non the less and as authentic as you can get! Lily told us these ducks are cooked for an hour in huge ovens using wood from fruit trees so the skin doesn’t get blackened.

We returned to the hotel around 9pm and so we wandered down to Wungfalung Street food market which was about 10 mins walk from our hotel. I had read that this was the place to try more “unusual” foods and had quite imagined that I may use this opportunity to try something local. The stalls sell things like Scorpion kebabs and spider kebabs – in my head I thought no problem, I’ll give that a go! In reality I very quickly changed my mind! We loved our walk through the market and at night the lights were on and there was a great atmosphere. The smells were interesting and intense and not always mouth watering! Check out our (sneaky!) video of some of the sights we saw! 🤢 including Keith’s face when he saw a squashed lizard type creature on a kebab! 😂

I doubt we will ever see anything like it again – although some of our group are saying they saw similar scenes in Vietnam and Cambodia. It really was a fascinating wander – a real eye opener/tummy turner!

Our time in Beijing had come to an end- it was time to go and pack our cases – first thing tomorrow we are transferring to Beijing Railway station for our high speed train to Xi’an.

What a fabulous, jam packed introduction to China, and as Mary said when we said bye to Lily, we could not have asked for a better guide to show us around, Lily was a ray of sunshine and knew her stuff!

Until next time.


Grand Tour of China; Part 1. Hong Kong extension


After a year of hard saving, we were finally ready to hit the road towards Heathrow. Woo! In a slightly different way to what we normally do, we decided this time to book a hotel at Heathrow which included parking for the duration of trip. We used and bagged a bargain in The Park Inn by Raddison. Luck was on our side as due to already being in South London due to family commitments, we arrived at the hotel quite some time before or 2pm check in time- but this wasn’t a problem and we were allowed to check in early for no extra cost.

We dumped our cases and did a quick U turn- eager to get into London for a day playing tourists.

The Park Inn couldn’t have been better located for our needs. There was a free bus to every Heathrow terminal from across the road – which then connected to the Underground. There was also the Hopper bus which picked you up outside the hotel door, but this was £5 pp each way, so for the sake of crossing the road we saved ourselves £10 pp.

Our first destination in London was the Guildhall and Roman Amphitheater. The remains of the amphitheatre were unearthed in the 80s and have been made into a wonderful free attraction underneath an art gallery. I particularly enjoyed seeing the Roman drainage systems, which were remarkably still in tact. There is a wonderful crossover of old remains and new projection to give you an idea of how it would have looked.

Across Guildhall Yard is the Guildhall. Again, it’s a free visit but it was fascinating to see. Some famous trials occurred here including one of Guy Fawkes’ conspirators.

The weather was terribly wet and bleak, but it didn’t bother us as our next stop was Elephant and Castle for a visit to the Cinema Museum. This needed to be pre booked in advance as entry is by guided tour only. Keith was so excited as a life long fan of cinema.

First impressions were fab- on entry you’re shown into a wonderful room set up as an Art Deco cinema, with wonderful chairs, lights etc. The venue of the museum is in an old building from Lambeth Workhouse- where Charlie Chaplin lived for a while, a fact that the museum are very proud of.

After a rather lengthy introduction our guide, Ronald, who is a passionate cofounder of the privately run museum, began to show us around some of the many items they have at the museum. Sadly this part lasted only 15 mins or so, before we were lead upstairs for a complimentary tea and biscuits. We were then left in that hall for over half an hour (and weren’t allowed to browse through some of the items we’d been rushed past) before being taken back down to the original theatre for some short movies.

At this point we’d already been there coming up to 2 hours, and so we made a sneaky exit as we didn’t fancy giving up any more time. It’s a shame really- the museum don’t get any investment so have to work very hard and rely on volunteers to survive. They clearly have loads and loads to see but haven’t managed to find a decent way to display it as there are piles upon piles of history all over. We weren’t the only ones to come away early.

After a disappointing visit I was worried how to turn the day around! Needn’t worry though, and before we knew it we’d stumbled down the Lambeth walk (Oi!) and onto the South bank near Lambeth Palace (London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury). By now the weather had cleared up and we enjoyed a beer right opposite the London Eye on The Tattishall Castle Pub boat.

We enjoyed a beautiful Italian meal at our favourite, Pierinos in South Kensington before nipping back to Embankment and Tattishall Castle for “one for the road”!


Flight day! Yay!

After a very peaceful night’s sleep, we checked out of the Park Inn at the very respectable hour of 08:30. 20 mins later we were at Terminal 3 dropping our bags at the Cathay Pacific stand and 20 mins later we were chilling in the departure lounge for our 12:20 flight to Hong Kong.

Our flight with Cathay Pacific was very smooth and comfortable- despite being almost 12 hours long! We paid extra for the extra legroom seats owing to Keefy’s 6foot 4 ness and these were a roaring success.

At 06:30 Wednesday (HK time, 23:30 Tues UK) we landed and an hour later we’d reached our home for the next two nights, The Harbour Plaza Metrapolis. Due to the early hour we were unable to check in, so we headed to the rooftop pool for a quick dip, jacuzzi and shower before heading out to do some sightseeing. After weeks of very low temperatures in the UK, the warm weather was very welcome!

By 09:00am we had freshened up and had our explorer hats on. We departed the hotel by Metro (attached to the hotel via Mall) and travelled two stops, disembarking by the famous and historical Star Ferry. We crossed Victoria Harbour on the Star Ferry which offered fabulous views of the Hong Kong skyline.

Outside the ferry terminal we boarded a public bus which took us up to the Peak. We thought that this would take us up to the Peak Tram but actually it took us to the Peak during a twisty journey of about an hour. The views from the top were amazing, but I was a bit disappointed that we hadn’t ascended on the Peak Tram. Luckily we were able to buy a single ticket to descend only- and actually this worked really well as there was no queue to go down, and the views were really great! Plus we got to experience a very steep descent! At the Tram terminal there was a HUGE queue so actually our bus journey up was a triumph as we’d have probably wasted at least 2 hours just queuing to get on the tram.

We decided to walk the streets of the South Island, taking in the various street markets and food vendors before settling on lunch at Tim Ho Wan, in the Central Station. This is the cheapest Michelin Star restaurant in the world! We enjoyed a fabulous and rather large Dim Sum lunch and the whole thing only came to £12!

We headed back to the hotel for a quick freshen up and then had a couple of drinks in the patio bar Happy Hour which had a lovely view of the Harbour.

The hotel ran a free shuttle bus (0700-2300) so we took advantage of that to get us closer to the main Golden Mile Street which is the equivalent of Regent and Oxford Street. About a mile along the Golden Mile we reached Temple Street Market, which is a popular night market where you can pick up all sorts of knock offs and cheap souvenirs- haggling is a must!

We found a traditional noodle restaurant down one of the back streets and after deciding it looked clean (spotting a Michelin recommendation sticker helped) we popped in and ordered some noodles for supper before heading back to bed – only 33 hours later than we got up in London!


Thursday dawned another sunny and hot day, and after a welcome 8 hour snooze we were up and raring to go! After a delicious breakfast at the hotel we caught the tube to the Ngong Ping 360 cable car on Landau Island. We had pre booked our tickets in advance and as such that, and the fact that we had arrived relatively early, meant that we had minimum queuing time. We had chosen to travel on the Glass bottomed carriage, which was interesting if not mildly scary! We were rewarded with amazing views.

Unfortunately we shared our car with a family which had particularly excited (read that as loud!!!) children who screamed all the way through the 25 min journey! So when we disembarked my ears were ringing!

Being on Landau island Peak was great! The main feature is the large Buddha at the Peak, but also there are some fantastic buildings to explore too.

After a couple of hours we headed back down again- I spoke to a member of staff who allowed us to take the glass bottomed car again for our descent – and happily we enjoyed a much more peaceful journey down, enabling us to relax and enjoy the tremendous views.

We decided to have our lunch at Tsim Sha Tsui which is by the Star Ferry pier. We found a very nice restaurant overlooking the harbour and enjoyed a delicious mix of Chinese cuisine along with lots of green tea.

After a quick freshen up at the hotel we enjoyed an hour at happy hour again before taking the shuttle back to Tsim Sha Tsui to enjoy the daily 8pm show of The Symphony of the lights show- a free light display where many of the sky scrapers use projection to light up the buildings.

We then boarded our Aqua Luna Junk Boat for our tour of the harbour. This was a highlight of our time in Hong Kong. Originally we had booked the sunset cruise but the lights along the harbour are spectacular so we luckily got the concierge to change us to the 20:45 tour.

After our harbour cruise we took a cab to the Ritz Carlton hotel, for a nightcap at the highest bar in the world. The Ozone bar is located on the 118th floor and has the most incredible views over the harbour. Drinks are obviously pricey, but we grabbed a beer each for just over a tenner which we didn’t feel was too bad as they didn’t seem to mind us only having the one and there was no entry charge.

By now it was well past 10pm so we started making our way back to the hotel as we had an early start in the morning.

We may have only had 48 hours in Hong Kong, but we sure had enjoyed our time here!

Until next time