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China

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A Guide to: Harbin Ice and Snow Festival

If vacationing to Northern China during the coldest part of the year doesn’t sound like a fantastic vacation, you’d be so wrong! 😉 This is one of the coolest (quite literally) things we’ve ever done. The Harbin Ice and Snow Festival in Harbin, China runs December – January. The dates vary by year, so be sure to check. This festival, along with the lantern festival (Yi Peng) in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was the main reason we came to Asia. So we had very high expectations. And our expectations were smashed. So cool. Here’s a video of just one part of the festival: Ice and Snow World. I’ll try to make this guide simple and concise, because there is a LOT of info to digest. What: Largest collection of ice and snow sculptures in the world, both in size and quantity. When: January 5 through the end of February, although these…

Terracotta Warriors Review & Guide

We took the green tourist bus from the main train station in Xi’an straight to the Terracotta Warriors site. It took about 2 hours. The bus kept going, but the lady told us right where we needed to get off. We didn’t see any major signs saying we were at the Warriors Museum, but we had learned that we should have listened to the lady on the bus when we went to the Great Wall, so we decided to trust this one. And she was right, too. We walked through all the shops and restaurants to the ticket booth and found out that ticket prices had skyrocketed. They’re up to 150 RMB (about $25 each), which is almost double what we were planning (from what we saw online). It was a difficult blow, but what are you gonna do? This was the only reason we even came to Xi’an, and…

Xi’an Muslim Quarter and City Wall

It took forever to find our hotel, because neither Google Maps nor Hotels.com put the pin in the right place. The address turned out to be correct, but even locals had trouble pointing us in the right direction. We eventually went into a bank that was near where one of the pins told us to be, and they called the hotel for us and gave us directions. Thank goodness. Turns out our hotel is in one of the easiest places to find, we just didn’t know it. The Bell Tower is in the center of the city (both geographically and popularity-wise, it’s like Times Square) and the roads going out in each direction from there are North Street, South Street, East and West Streets. Our hotel is one block up from the Bell Tower on North Street. And somehow, nobody knew where it was. Oh well. Our first stop was…

Sleeper Train Beijing to Xi’an

I’m going to make a video about this with a lot more detail, but I wanted to post here with some pictures too. We took a sleeper train from Beijing to Xi’an. The trip took about 11 hours. We left at a little before 9pm and arrived in Xi’an around 8am this morning. Beijing West was a confusing madhouse. There were so many people sitting around in what we thought was our waiting room. Announcements were made in Chinese, it seemed like platforms were being switched, and we started just looking for other tourists to follow. But nobody really knew what was going on. In the end, we were in the right place all along, and we came down the stairs to our waiting train. We boarded the train and found our room. We booked a z-class train soft sleeper. Z-class trains are direct, with no stops in between. This…

Forbidden City Guide

I have been wanting to come here for years. Ever since I heard about it over a decade ago. I was beyond excited to go in, and honestly very disappointed once we got in. 🙁 The complex is massive. Like ridiculously big. We looked up plans and maps and self-guided walking tours through the complex, so we had a plan. But very soon after entering, we realized that our plan was worthless. Before entering, you just file in with all the other people. You have to enter from the south, above Tiananmen Square. This is what you’ll see, with a warm welcome from a giant portrait of Chairman Mao. You pass through two giant courtyards (each capable of holding more than 10,000 people) before you even get into the actual palace that requires your ticket. Once inside, you see five magnificent marble bridges over a stream. This is where you…

The Great Wall of China – Mutianyu

This post is mostly pictures (woohoo!), some comments and one tip. The Wall is of course interesting in itself, but the more interesting story is how we got here. You can find it [here]. Like I said in the other post, we specifically chose to be in Beijing in late October so we could be at the Great Wall for Brian’s birthday. I’m pretty sure he enjoyed it 😉 I’ve never considered that you have to hike up to the Great Wall. I know now that you do. It does make sense. After all, the Great Wall is on a mountain. Not at the bottom of a mountain. This watchtower was technically “off limits.” “Off limits” to the people who don’t try 🙂 This section of the wall is not nearly as restored as other parts. It was interesting to see in contrast to the rest of the Mutinayu section. Mutianyu Bathroom…

Getting to the Great Wall of China – Mutianyu

We deliberately planned to be in Beijing, on specifically the 30th to be able to celebrate Brian’s birthday on the Great Wall. Overall, it was a fantastic day. There are two major sections of the wall (best restored) that most people visit: Badaling and Mutianyu. We opted for Mutianyu because we read it was the most beautiful during fall. It was. This post is about how we got to Mutinayu. [The rest of the day can be found here.] It’s worth an entire blog post, I promise. Unless you want to read a novel about the Great Wall – the travel to Mutianyu is an adventure in itself. Brian and I tend to stay away from tour groups, both being in them and around them. We prefer to be able to choose how much time we have to visit a place and be able to do it with fewer people…

Beijing Summer Palace

Beijing’s subway system is amazing. Just 2 yuan per ride, as far as you want to go. That’s about 33 cents. And you can take it far. Today, we took it all the way to the Summer Palace. It was fun to explore. The grounds are enormous, and basically divided into two sections: the hill and the lake. The hill is more formally called the Longevity Hill. The palace and several temples and halls are placed all over the hill and provide amazing viewpoints of the surrounding area. The lake is encircled by a path with bridges and towers and other picturesque scenery. We walked over to the 17 Arches Bridge (which connects to a little island in the lake) and back. We didn’t go all the way around the lake because that’s just crazy. Here’s a few pictures from our walk to the island and back, and a few…

Xiao Long Bao at Fu Chun’s

If you want a truly Shanghai experience, go to Fu Chun Xiao Long restaurant. As newbie white people with practically no Mandarin ability, we were in WAY over our heads. We didn’t know this until we arrived, of course, but we knew it as soon as we entered. The place is a madhouse. Completely packed with locals (so you know it’s good) and so full of life and energy that it’s contagious. We tried to watch others to understand the process of ordering and seating, but it was totally bewildering. Luckily, some very kind locals with decent English took pity on us and explained the ropes, which I will explain here: 1. Order your food as soon as you enter and pay for it right away. A local took care of ordering for us, thankfully. The cashier will give you a ticket with your order. Hold onto this ticket. 2.…

Zhujiajiao Water Town

Before heading out to Zhujiajiao, I need to tell you about pork rolls because they’re amazing. Picture juicy, soft ground pork in savory gravy, wrapped in doughy goodness and steamed to perfection. Then price them at 25 cents each. They’re filling enough that Isa ate one and she was full. Safe to say we have found our breakfast for the rest of the time here. Zhujiajiao is a water town (think canals of Venice) on the outskirts of Shanghai. It’s an hour bus ride out there from Peoples Square. There are several water towns around Shanghai, but from reviews, this is the best. Many other water towns charge admission, which to me makes it seem fake, like a designed tourist attraction. Zhujiajiao (pronounced, “ju-jia-jow”) allows free access everywhere except actual attractions like temples and other historical buildings. To me, that made it feel more authentic. There are a few main…