After the first week in Beijing, my parents came into town bringing with them 75 people from Saudi, all part of the Dhahran Outing Group (D.O.G.). We embarked on an incredibly packed journey, city hopping to Beijing, Xi'an, Guilin, Suzhou, and Shanghai in 11 days. Being that there were two busloads of people, my dad was in charge of keeping Bus 1 organized and happy, and I was in charge of Bus 2. Day 1 - Beijing I started the day people watching from a restaurant window all afternoon with Anna. Later on, I met my parents and the rest of the tour group at their hotel. We had a welcome dinner at night @ the Sixth Club.
Day 2 - Beijing First real day of the tour greeted everyone with rain, rain, and more rain. It sure made Tinamen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven not as enjoyable as it could have been. Also made for some gloomy photographs filled with gray skies and umbrellas. The afternoon was spent at a chinese pearl factory, and the night was capped off with a traditional Beijing Opera show, complete with english subtitles.
Day 3 - Beijing The lack of rain lifted everyone's spirits, especially since we were going to the Great Wall of China. Certainly breathtaking, but the time there was much too short. I'd love to go for a 'run' on the wall. Went to a jade factory, as well as the Sacred Way located at the Ming Tombs. Dinner was at Beijing's largest (4 floors!) peking duck restaurant, and although I never really liked the dish, this was the one time that I really loved it. Absolutely delicious!
Day 4 - Beijing to Xi'an The morning was spent in Beijing, at the Summer Palace, and also taking a dragon boat ride there. Everyone then hopped on a plane to fly to Xi'an, the old capital of China, and world famous for their variety of dumplings. Eating at a famous dumpling restaurant, we tried dumpling after dumpling. My favorites were the walnut, chicken, and miniature dumpling the size of your fingernail. Hung out at the hotel bar for darts and a live band afterwards.
Day 5 - Xi'an The buffet breakfast at the Hyatt was wonderful. Had poached eggs on top of toast, and a great selection of cheeses. We then visited a temple with an old pagoda, claimed to be the birthplace/origin of Buddhism. The next stop was the main attraction of the city: the Terra Cotta Warriors. It was certainly very fascinating, and still in excavation mode. We were told an interesting story about a german guy who was so obsessed with these terra cotta warriors that he spent years studying how they looked, and decided to one day dress himself and paint himself up as one, and sneaked into the pits, posing as a terra cotta warrior himself. He was eventually found, and kicked out of the country forever. The night ended with a Tang Dynasty cultural show, which was beautiful, and had amazing food.
Day 6 - Xi'an to Guilin Morning at the Province History Museum = boring. Time to leave Xi'an and fly to Guilin, dubbed as the most beautiful city/scenery in China. First stop was a grueling climb up what seemed like an endless amount of steps to the top of Fubo Hill, giving a decent view of the city and river below. Pedestrian Street was the highlight of the night, which was basically a street market selling random souvenirs or fake items. Day 7 - Guilin The whole day was basically spent on a peaceful river cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo. The scenery was indeed beautiful, just like the chinese paintings you see of oddly shaped mountains that look like they belong underwater (because they once were). On the cruise, I also tried something called snake wine, which wasn't very good. The Yangshuo street markets provided me with the one and only real purchase I made the whole trip: a pair of fake Ray Ban aviators for about $3.
Day 8 - Guilin to Suzhou The Reed Flute Caves are pretty much the same kind of natural caverns you find near Austin, but, with a lot of techno-wizardy involved. There were neon lights, bubbles, fog machines, and swelling music put in various locations, to make the whole experience more exciting. That's great and all, but the best part of the day was when we arrived at our hotel in Suzhou: the Garden Hotel. This was easily the best hotel I've ever stayed at. Inside was the most elegant and minimalistic (is that a word?) modern architecture, present in the lobbies, restaurants and rooms. It all fused seamlessly to the traditional oriental garden designs of the outside and surrounding areas. The hotel also housed the secret underground offices of an almost successful assassin of Chairman Mao. That was certainly creepy, walking through claustrophobic hallways and rooms, and coming out on the other side of the compound.
Day 9 - Suzhou to Shanghai In Suzhou, we went to yet another garden (Humble Administrator's Garden), yet another factory (silk), and yet another hill/pagoda/temple (Tiger Hill & its leaning pagoda). Parts of Suzhou are just like Venice, with a complicated web/network of rivers going through. We went on a cruise through what could only be described as poor man's Venice. The first night in Shanghai proved to be quite interesting as the taxi drivers would not pick me and my parents up because we did not look foreign enough and thus could not be cheated as easily. This was on National Day, and we were at Nanjing Road (which was freakin' packed!), so they figured they could get better business elsewhere.
Day 10 - Shanghai This full day in Shanghai consisted of first visiting old Shanghai at the Yuyuan gardens and the adjacent bazaar. The peaceful nature of the gardens was a complete juxtaposition to the insane 'packed liked sardines' feel of the bazaar outside. The afternoon was spent on a Huangpu river cruise, allowing us to see the modern day skyline of Pudong on the east, and Puxi on the west. At night, we attended a subpar acrobatics show at the Ritz Carlton that consisted of gymnasts, aerialists, hoop jumpers, chinese yoyo-ers, and various other random acts. Day 11 - Shanghai Spending the morning at the National Museum = boring again. But at night, we went to the Oriental Pearl Tower, which was at the time is the 3rd tallest building in Shanghai (soon to be 4th). This was the last day, and saddest day of all. I had enjoyed seeing my parents for the first time in four years, and I had also grown to really like meeting a lot of the people in the tour group. Thanks for a great time and for the great memories!