David visits China
China & Singapore
With Singapore Airlines & CTS (China Travel Service) Tours, Oct/Nov 2012
As this was to be my first visit to China and being a destination that has become extremely popular, I was really looking forward to experiencing all that was on offer. I was not disappointed with the cultural treasures, amazing cuisine, not to mention the fantastic shopping.
Our first stop was Shanghai, the heart of modern China, a fast moving city focusing on business, communications & technology. The first thing that struck me was huge number of high rise apartment blocks, home to the millions of locals, a far cry from the kiwi quarter acre section. We visited Old Town with its winding alley ways lined with shops, tea houses and restaurants, leading to the elegant and tranquil Yu Garden, a classical Chinese garden.
Later that day we visited Tianzifang, a bohemian enclave featuring the cities unique “Shikumen” houses, which have been converted into cafes, restaurants, bars and art galleries in the maze of narrow alleys.
A popular promenade along the Huangpu River called the Bund, is where the old meets the modern in Shanghai. We saw the local people gathering to dance and perform Tai Chi. The evening Huangpu River cruise offers remarkable views of the Bund, highlighting the stark neon contrast between old & new Shanghai. For those interested in the history of China, the Shanghai museum is definitely worth a visit.
Our next stop was Suzhou, a small town famous for its classic gardens in the south of China and often referred to as the “Oriental Venice”, because it is an ancient town built centuries ago along canals, a typical Chinese style water town. We were lucky enough to be taken to a market for the locals where one could buy everything from fresh vegetables, fish, famous aged eggs and live poultry which is culled while you wait! Suzhou is home to one of the famous Silk Factories. The factory tour was very interesting as we were shown the silk being processed from start to finish. Many of our group made purchases of silk duvets, pillows, tablecloths etc.
On to Beijing via a 5 hour high speed train journey. The train was extremely comfortable with food and refreshments available for purchase. It was a great way to relax and see some of the Chinese countryside whilst travelling at speeds up to 305kms per hour.
Our first stop in Beijing was Tian’anmen Square, the largest city square in the world. While there were several thousand people in the square when we visited, because of vast size (440,000 sq metres) it seemed quite empty.
The square is also the gateway to the Forbidden City, the former residence of the Ming & Qing emperors of China. With the local guide explaining the history of the Forbidden City, it gives you an understanding & appreciation of a time passed.
No visit to Beijing would be complete without a visit to the Great Wall. Named as one of the ten wonders of the world, it was amazing. We walked along the Juyongguan section, approximately 1 ½ - 2 hours from Beijing.
This section of the wall is quite steep, so a reasonable level of fitness is required. The steps of the wall are quite narrow and also worn in places due to the tourists walking up & down. You can walk as much or as little of the wall as you like, in your own time.
We also visited the Summer Palace, the largest and best preserved of all the imperial gardens, featuring the famous Marble Boat and the ornately painted ‘Long Corridor’.
For those wanting a bit of retail therapy, try the Silk Market. The Silk Market is a shopping center in Beijing that accommodates over 1,700 retail vendors, notorious among international tourists for their wide selection of counterfeit designer brand apparel. Alternatively, the famous Wangfujing Street comprises upscale & flea market shops as well as unique street food like grilled stuffed scorpions, starfish, wood worms, sea horses and more!!
The people in China were very friendly. Outside of the hotels, most people could not speak English so at times, communication was difficult. Probably the biggest thing for me was the necessity of having CTS English speaking local guides in China. They would meet us in the morning, travel with us throughout the day and return us to the hotel in the afternoon or evening. As well as providing a running commentary, they organise your tours, tickets & entry to the attractions as well as being on hand to help with any communication issues. They also ensure that you don’t get lost! The food was amazing, especially if like me, you enjoy Chinese cuisine.
On arrival in Singapore, the first thing that strikes you after coming from China, is the many parks, open spaces and clean green environment. Taking a city tour of Singapore is a good idea as this helps you to get your bearings. If you fly Singapore Airlines, as we did, you can utilise the SIA hop on hop off bus at half price. This takes in the main attractions including the Botanical Gardens, Singapore Flyer (like the London Eye), China Town and the famous Orchard Road.
We also travelled to Sentosa Island, home to Resorts World Sentosa with Universal Studios, Marine Life Park (opening Dec 2012), Casino, Convention Centre and several 5 star hotels along with a few shops and restaurants. This is a good alternative for families or those who have visited Singapore previously and are looking for something a bit different.
As expected, it was a pleasure to fly Singapore Airlines flights. The cabin crew were excellent, the meals were good and the flights were on time.