The full on full fat China holiday
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So I didn’t know a fat lot
about China, a population in the billions, hugely successful, a rising middle
class, great food and as culturally different as it gets. Hence for once I
decided to do a holiday that covered some ground, got me out of my comfort zone,
and might prove to be the full-fat exploration of the nation that is taking
over the world.
Journeys have packed a lot in for
the money – in three weeks we covered thousands of miles with internal flights,
three bullet trains, and a three-day river cruise down the Yangtze. It would be
impossible to navigate this lot on your own as pretty much no-one speaks
English and the red tape involved was a full-time job for our guides – we
needed two on every leg. Security checks everywhere are complicated by the fact
that the Chinese are suddenly tourists in their own country, so often we’d be
navigating football crowd type numbers doing some of the same itinerary as us.
We’d smile at them and they’d smile at us and take photos; the people are
utterly enchanting - although have sharp elbows. You can forget queuing, push –
it’s the only answer.
Most difficult of all, you
can’t google anything. As in nothing. How disenabling is that! There was a
moment when I stepped off the cruise ship in the middle of the Yangtze to visit
a pagoda at the last minute. I walked round a town down on its luck, devoid of new
affluence but with a big fat pagoda in it, and realised that I had stepped off
the boat with a mobile that was running out of charge, no passport and no
credit cards. I got distracted buying little pandas to hang on the Christmas
tree (as you do) and realised that missing that boat would have been
catastrophic. I simply have no idea how I would ever have got out of that place
on my own. Never have I been so aware of the consequences of missing a boat. It
wasn’t that I ever felt threatened, or in danger exactly, but simply that the
umbilical cord with the West was stretched to breaking point at times. This is
a holiday for the inquisitive tourist.
We did all the biggies – The
Great Wall (utterly amazing, the steps are all uneven to stop armies from running
along it and the scale of it is astonishing), Tienanmen Square with thousands and
thousands of Chinese waiting in line for a glimpse of Mao’s tomb – although what
they did when they got there I’m not sure, the Terracotta Army and the sheer
wonder of each soldier, all looking like they were captured in a moment almost
from a photo, and the sole of the shoe of a kneeling archer – it could have
been from a Clarks shoe, but made in 246 BC.
Of course, we saw the pandas
– I got close enough to to hear one munching through the bamboo and saw the
panda nursery with a play pen and a rocking horse. Needless to say I have come
home with pandas a plenty.
In Pingyao our hotel had a
traditional kang bed which occupied the entire width of the room with a day
table in the middle of it for TV remote/snacks/room service – ideal if you were
lucky enough to have time to spend the entire day in bed. Something of a
personal ambition which I have not yet managed and certainly not one you’d have
time to do on this holiday. Gosh I loved that bed.
It’s the people and their
work ethic that I will remember most. We visited one city that had 33 million living
in it - Chongqing – and none of us had even heard of it. They work hard. Most of
them have a two hour commute from the new towns that sprawl endlessly from
every city and they live in apartment blocks within washing line distance of
one another which they’re buying with mortgages rather than renting, and they
are even paying for their children’s education after 16. Communism seems to be
changing with the move from the country to the cities that continues to gobble
up the land so evidently. 30 years ago only 10% of them lived in the city and
now 60% do. That’s a lot of apartment blocks.
Perhaps then it is not
surprising that the parks are the thing.
That’s where to head to see the Chinese enjoying themselves. They make
use of every inch, setting up choir practice, dance classes, games and tai chi.
There’s a distinct feeling of
being watched. Managed, even. There are cameras everywhere, photographing every
vehicle, and the facial recognition screens in airports tell you your flight
and gate departure number without you even having to key anything in. Notably
the news from Hong Kong is blacked out immediately it begins. It wouldn’t be a
country that many of us could live in.
My favourite city was
Shanghai, it’s a really buzzing city with amazing architecture and easily the
most cosmopolitan of all the cities we visited. Perhaps that’s why I liked it
Tea bags and mini cheddars you will crave cheese so badly by Day 10.
Loo roll – a distinct absence apart from the hotel rooms.
not to take:
A good book. You’ll be busy looking out of the window and cramming it all in.
23-day Very Best of China tour operated by Distant Journeys
Prices from £3,695 per person
Includes: Return scheduled flights with Cathay Pacific or Emirates, all domestic flights, coach and rail travel, hotel accommodation, three-night Yangtze river cruise, 42 meals, many sightseeing tours and the services of a Tour Manager and local guides.
Holidays are fully ATOL protected.
01695 577 961
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