Perhaps more than any other country on earth we have visited, China is busting our preconceptions. In our encounters with Chinese tourists in several locations outside of China, I will politely say that some have lacked cultural awareness and have come across as brash and slightly raucous. In one week here (admittedly, mainly Beijing so far), it's become clear that is not who they are.
We have found everyone to be friendly. Give a smile and it comes right back at you. We have been asked genuinely several times, "Can I help you?" You can talk to anyone under the age of 30 in English.
Our local guides have been charming and have shared their own stories and insight in to some of the serious issues of this Communist country, such as the 1-child policy that became a 2-child policy a couple of years ago, and the radical plans being put in place to clean up the environment.
It's also apparent that the Chinese know how to have fun for free. We have walked past many street squares in the early evening and families are out and about. There is music playing, and line dancing, hacky sack games, or paddle tennis are in full swing.
Most estimates put the length of this New Seventh Wonder of the World at 3,900 miles and even hiking a couple of miles on a renovated section leaves you in awe at the engineering feat. There are 5 sections of the Great Wall of China accessible from Beijing for a comfortable day trip. We chose Mutianyu for our access point as it can't be reached by train and combined with an early start this enabled us to be free of crowds for a considerable amount of time.
2. Wungfujing Snack Street (above and below)
A lively and entertaining street that's a little bit touristy as the locals don't really eat the crazier stuff found here, but it is incredibly popular with Chinese tourists visiting from other regions. As adventurous as my taste buds usually are, I could not begin to contemplate eating snake, silkworms or seahorses.
3. Bullet train, Beijing to Yichang (below)
The G Class bullet train that took us 1,300km in 6 hours was something else. We hit a top speed of 305km/h and it felt like 30km/h, it was so smooth. China now has the largest network of high speed trains in the world, and whilst expensive, this is such an efficient way of traveling the country. A pleasant surprise when we arrived at our business class seat, a lie-flat bed!
4. Yangzi Explorer (below)
We picked up our river cruise departure about an hour north of Yichang, close to the Three Gorges Dam. It's the most luxurious ship that sails the river, and has a maximum of just 124 passengers with a 1 to 1 crew to passenger ratio. Our standard suite (above) is a very large 420sq ft which is huge by river cruise standards. Most importantly for us, the wifi works!
5. The Three Gorges Dam (below)
It was a murky morning for our visit to the most controversial engineering project ever undertaken, and the photo gives no idea of the scale. I will let the simple, but astounding facts speak for themselves -
- Total cost of project - $26 billion
- A 600 mile long reservoir on the Yangtze river has been formed behind it that has fully submerged 13 cities, 140 towns, and more than 1,600 villages.
- 1.3 million residents were forced to relocate.
- The world's largest hydro-electric dam, generating the equivalent of 15 nuclear power plants.
- The dam itself is 1.4 miles long and took 14 years to build, with completion in 2008.
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