China: Beijing & Shanghai via SmarTours

One of the best valued packaged tour destinations available is the Beijing & Shanghai 10 day tour from SmarTours.  For about a thousand dollars per person airfare included you can visit one of the most historic and spectacular destinations in the world.  Arrangements for passport and Chinese Visa must be made well in advance and SmarTours requires payment in full 75 days before departure.

I started my trip from Boston where I caught a shuttle to New York for my Air China flight to Beijing.  The flight from New York adds $100 to the cost of the trip.  If you leave from San Francisco you do not have to pay the extra hundred.  A direct New York to Beijing flight of 13 ½ hours awaits you.  The food and service on the flight was good but you will have to sit through the same in-flight movie about four times!  On my flight it was Mama Mia at least it was a musical and I am an ABBA Fan.

Evening arrival brings you to the very modern Beijing airport where check in and customs were no problem.  The check in process in New York was more thorough than in Beijing.  The first Chinese meal at the hotel restaurant (Penta Hotel) and early to bed.

After an orientation breakfast it is time to make a decision you can explore on your own or take a pre-packaged optional tour for an additional fee.  If you choose the optional tour route the total cost of your trip will go up proportionally.  Since it was my first time in Asia I decided to book the tours, but if I go again I will take the independent travel route.  Our first stop on the first tour was the forbidden city.  A truly magnificent sight.  Truly a city wide scale but in fact the personal palace for the emperor of China.  After walking through the city you come to Tiananmen Square a vast open area with hawkers selling souvenirs and other items.  Many of these hawkers and beggars are in fact police or government agents on the lookout for propaganda or anyone speaking out against the government.  My tour guide told us that he would meet some of them in the police station while on business and say hello.

New photo by Wanderlust Family Adventure / Google Photos

 Back on the tour bus, as we headed for the Summer Palace.  The stone boat, the covered walkway and the great photo opportunities of the palace on the hill are fantastic.  Back at the hotel there are several options for dinner depending on your level of fatigue.   Options include fast food (KFC, McDonald’s), hotel restaurant, convenience store snacks or local restaurant.  We took the local restaurant option and sampled some authentic dishes after struggling with the menu.

The next day is back on the bus for an excursion to the Great Wall outside of Beijing.

New photo by Wanderlust Family Adventure / Google Photos
New photo by Wanderlust Family Adventure / Google Photos

 This section of the wall is very well preserved and presents great opportunities for both climbing and photography.  If you do decide to climb up a portion of the wall one warning; the steps are very uneven.  One step may have a six inch rise and the very next step may be twelve inches! Not great if you have bad knees.  Evening we had a Peking duck dinner.

We took the optional full day tour to Xian for $500 per person flight included.  We explored the site of the tomb of the emperor Qin Shi with the terracotta warriors guarding his tomb.  There was no time to explore the ancient capital and silk road city as we flew back to Beijing for the night.  The terracotta warriors are one of the world’s great attractions that everyone must see.  The amazing thing is Qin Shi’s tomb is still yet to be excavated.   Imagine the wonders his tomb has if the warriors are just what was outside guarding it! On the way back to the bus we got a chance to stop and have our tour book signed by the farmer who discovered the warriors.

New photo by Wanderlust Family Adventure / Google Photos

Hutongs are the old style of houses that were in Beijing and there is still a section where these houses can still be seen.  This is a fascinating tour by rickshaw through the old town.  We had lunch in the house of a Chinese family and then headed to the Temple of Heaven for an afternoon visit.

In the morning we flew to Shanghai and from the airport to the hotel we were amazed at the modern architecture.  The city looks like something out of a science fiction movie.  At night we went to a performance of Chinese acrobats and listened to the shrill high pitched singing of a Chinese opera.

New photo by Wanderlust Family Adventure / Google Photos

 During the city tour the highlight for me was eating street food at the local street market.  I tried fried baby birds and they were actually very good (tasted like chicken!).

Last up was a day tour to the city of Suzhou, Jiangsu provence with its beautiful gardens and canals.  This city and its gardens are a World Heritage Site.  There are many side excursions and stops when you take the side tours.  During the trip we had stops at a Jade factory, a jewelry factory, a rug manufacturer and a tea house.  At each of these stops there would be a restaurant on one level and a store on another.  So as you were waiting for your meal you would tour the factory and hopefully purchase some goods.

The next day it was a flight from Shanghai to Beijing to New York to Boston.  After 32 hours we were home!!