Hi beautiful friends!
As many of you who keep up with my Youtube channel may know, this April I finally had the opportunity to travel back to China with my mum and visit many different, new and beautiful places. I have said this a thousand times already, and I will continue to say it every single time I reflect back- I am simply so grateful for this trip. It wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my amazing parents and grandparents.
The last time I visited China was 7 years ago. Before then, I had lived in China for 2 years as a toddler and went back to our hometown every 3 to 4 years, so revisiting my favourite childhood places was just beyond special. Going back this time with a whole new mindset, outlook on life, and deepened maturity really allowed me to learn so much more about China as well. I gained many insightful perspectives, expanded my knowledge on Chinese history, experienced the daily life there, and I think that my biggest take away would probably be just having even more heartfelt gratitude for my life as it is…if that was possible! It seems that there really is no limit as to how wide our hearts can open. Of course, this trip also allowed me to practice my Chinese and Sichuan dialect too!
I always return home from travel feeling different for the better, and this time was no exception. It’s one of the reasons why I love travelling so much. Despite contracting food poisoning during our stay in Chengdu, I do believe that everything happens for a reason, and it certainly didn’t take away from an overall wonderful trip. To any soul reading this, I highly recommend China as a place to travel to if the opportunity arises for you. There is so much to explore, so much culture to be immersed into, and in this post I will be sharing with you the details of my trip, which can hopefully give you some inspiration and aid in your planning. I did also vlog my entire trip on my Youtube, so you can watch that here, as well as briefly share my experience in another video, such as what it was like for me travelling there as a Eurasian. I truly appreciate all of the support I received for my vlogs incredibly much, and I hope that you can find this post helpful too.
Now, let’s dive into the details of my trip to China!
- When: Thursday 12th April to Tuesday 24th April 2018
- Airlines: All of our flights were with China Eastern Airlines, which we booked the tickets for in early January.
- Weather: April marks the transition into warmer weather for most parts of China, however we just about experienced all four seasons! Shanghai was on the chilly side with rain drizzling on both days; Xi’an was pleasantly cool with beautiful blue skies and a warming sunshine; Mianyang was hot and quite summery; Chengdu was warm and slightly humid. We definitely received a colourful taste of Mother nature.
- Transportation: As we had family and friends in all of the places we visited, with the exception of Xi’an, we were taken around in their private cars and sometimes used a Chinese uber called ‘Didi’. In Xi’an, aside from the transportation arranged by the tour, we used a taxi.
- Itinerary: Unlike our trip to Korea, where I had thoroughly planned out each day of our itinerary, this time my mum had organised most of our days, and in general we were really relaxed about it all. I really wanted my mum to be able to see as many of her friends as possible, so I simply went with the flow of her plans. I did, however, plan our one full day in Xi’an, in which I booked a day tour to keep things simple. Other times when we had no specific plan, we just spontaneously explored the area and enjoyed every moment!
- Packing: April would be the month to bring a little bit of everything in terms of clothing, as the weather is not always ‘stable’. Thankfully, I went prepared with jackets, a scarf, a few long sleeves, jeans, light tops and skirts. Most importantly, I brought comfortable walking shoes, which I always highly recommend no matter where you travel to.
- Language: Standard Mandarin is the main language of China and used throughout the country. Each province and district also have their own unique dialects, such as Shanghainese in Shanghai, or Sichuanese in Sichuan, which mostly stem from Mandarin. As a foreigner with no knowledge in Chinese, I think that you can get around just fine in major cities, as many signs are accompanied by English. It is, however, always best to learn some basic Chinese phrases not only for respect, but to get around with ease as well. Not every local speaks English, and it is certainly not used everywhere (as we shouldn’t expect). For example, situations where communication may be challenging include using the taxi, public bus, eating at a local restaurant, going to the supermarket, or asking for directions from a local.
- Expenses: Overall, we personally found expenses in China to be generally cheaper than Australia. The major differences I noticed were in food, transportation, and services such as fixing a phone screen (which my mum got done while we were there). Please do keep in mind that every person will have a different experience when it comes to expenses, as it depends on a huge variety of factors. This includes flight tickets, accommodation, how you choose to get around (metro, taxi, bus, etc.), which cities you visit, where you eat, entry tickets, and what you buy. I always recommend that you prepare some spare emergency cash to carry around with you, and to factor in a wifi rental device or SIM card purchase.
- As we had arrived late at night the day before, we stayed in an airbnb near The Bund for one sleep which was kindly organised by our family friend. I can’t find the exact apartment we used, however I found another very similar one that is in the same area here.
- On this evening, we checked into the Lavande Hotel, located in Jiading (about an hour drive from the centre of Shanghai). Our room was decorated so beautifully upon arrival, and the room itself was so elegant too, including a spacious bedroom, large bathroom, and a separate living room. You can find out more here.
- ShunFeng Restaurant
On our first morning in China, mum and I took our time to get ready in the morning, and at around 11am we met up with one of my mum’s friends who kindly wanted to take us for a look around Shanghai. Our first stop was for an early lunch at a restaurant called ShunFeng, located near The Bund, specialising in Shanghainese food. This experience also turned out to be my first time eating at a revolving restaurant! Despite the cloudy weather, the view of Shanghai was simply spectacular, not to mention the amazing selection of vegetarian/vegan dishes and beautifully decorated interior.
- Yu Garden
This was definitely the top item on my ‘must-visit’ list for Shanghai, and you can probably guess why (if you have watched my previous videos)- for the stunningly unique Chinese architecture and culture. I remember visiting here 7 years ago and falling in love with this place instantly, so this time I surely had to make another trip back. Located next to the City God Temple and along Old Shanghai Street, Yu Garden is beyond extensive, elegantly decorated Jade rocks, pavilions, bridges and towers. I simply adore the wooden and reddish building frames complemented against the greenish ponds, and within the gardens you can also find lots of different delicious Shanghainese food and snacks, many of which are vegan friendly! As we did go on a weekend, the area was quite crowded, but nonetheless I really enjoyed exploring this beautiful classical garden.
- The Bund
The Bund is certainly one of the most well-known places to visit in Shanghai. Though our time there was short, I definitely appreciated the gentle waterfront walk along the area accompanied by the stunning skyline view of Shanghai’s tallest buildings- including the Oriental Pearl Tower and World Financial Centre. Many historical French-styled buildings also line along The Bund, which is what I think makes this area so unique. After our visit, our friend dropped us to our next destination before parting ways.
- Oriental Pearl Tower
Coming to the famous Oriental Pearl Tower was definitely an interesting experience. Initially, we booked our entry tickets on Klook so as to skip the ticket queue if there was one, however upon passing the entry gate, we didn’t realise that there would be another incredibly long queue inside, lined with visitors waiting to go up the elevators. This was on a day where rain was pouring, and from outside, we couldn’t actually see the top of the tower, which is why we were surprised to find a few hours worth of waiting in front of us. As my mum had already organised another catch up with her friends, and knowing that we wouldn’t get much of a view, we decided to leave without entering the top of the tower, and that’s okay. We were completely cool with that idea, and ventured off to a nearby shopping mall where I met my mum’s friends, had a lovely dinner inside a food court, before returning to our hotel for the night.
- Zhujiajiao Ancient Water Town
Prior to visiting Zhujiajiao Ancient Water Town, I had done some research at home and seen some incredibly picturesque photos of this area, so as I woke in the morning, I was feeling none other than excited. Again, our very generous family friend offered to take us for a day trip there, which was roughly an hour’s drive from our hotel. Although the weather was chilly and the rain drizzled here and there, upon entering this popular water town, my breath was simply taken away.
This area was so beautiful, so calming, and reflected exactly the type of place that I have always wanted to visit in China. A gentle canal flowed in between two banks decorated with olden-style buildings, occupied with local shop owners from restaurants to souvenirs, bustling with visitors taking a look inside. Within the town, there are also many other points of interest to take a look at, including popular bridges, buildings, and you can also take a boat ride along the canal. First, we had lunch inside a local restaurant, where I remember the kind ladies being so extremely accommodating and gentle to their guests. My mum also bought some traditional and piping hot rice cakes, coated in something sweet (it tasted like a combination of sugar and peanuts), which were decadent indeed. As we walked along the green waters, we spotted a shop offering a traditional dress service, and had to take the opportunity to try them on. Ever since I was young child, I had always wanted to dress up in traditional Han clothing, wearing long flowy material and pins in my hair, so this moment was one to cherish forever. We simply picked out a dress inside, changed, and the owner quickly did our hair and makeup, before she set us up for a little photoshoot inside. I must say, she was professional indeed! Within an hour and a half, we had our photos printed in our hands, and continued to venture through the water town. We came across the Fangsheng Bridge, one of the main attractions, and enjoyed our time there until the real rain started to fall, and we headed back to the car. Overall, this was one of the most unforgettable days in China, which I enjoyed so much with all of my heart. I would highly recommend anyone to take a day trip there and explore this beautiful ancient town.
Shanghai to Xi’an
Located right in the city centre of Xi’an, we had the most amazing stay and experience at Eastern House Boutique Hotel. For a total of around $250 AUD for two nights, the service was simply incredible, not to mention the convenient location! The staff were all so friendly and kind, and a buffet breakfast and afternoon tea were all included in the booking too. Oh, and snacks upon arrival into your room! Other services included access to the gym and laundry. We stayed in a standard room, yet it was stunningly organised and beautiful, with a wonderful bathroom, comfortable bed and desk to work at. If I ever visit Xi’an again, I would most definitely come back to this hotel.
- Plane from Shanghai Hongqiao Airport to Xi’an
In the morning, my mum and I left hustling Shanghai via Hongqiao Airport, and arrived in sunny Xi’an by mid afternoon. I was so grateful for the warm weather which greeted us, a contrast to Shanghai, though in complete honesty, we were feeling a little bit uneasy upon arrival as we had no family friends in this city and weren’t too familiar with the area. This changed, however, when we hopped into a taxi outside the airport and met our lovely taxi driver. He was so friendly and gave us lots of insight into Xi’an, describing the history of the city walls we drove past them (which was incredible, by the way) and giving us tips about visiting tourist attractions. Upon reaching our hotel, we were feeling much more reassured about our time in Xi’an, so much so that we exchanged contact details as he agreed to drive us around on our last day before taking us to Xi’an North Railway Station. I definitely believe that the universe sent him to the airport that day for a reason, because without his welcome into this new city, we wouldn’t have felt as safe, which for that I am so grateful for.
- HuiMin Street
Located a short and sweet walk away (a few hundred metres) from our hotel and directly next to the Bell Tower, that evening we discovered HuiMin Street, otherwise known as the Muslim Quarter. I instantly fell in love with the warm atmosphere that vibrated there, as the sun set in the beautiful spring weather, and people lined the street filled with vendors upon vendors selling all kinds of street food. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a big variety of street food in one place before! Everything was based on Muslim or Uighur culture, which was really interesting for me, and even as a vegan I found some delicious snacks and food to try. Exploring this street was truly a highlight of our time in China!
To make getting around a little easier for our one and only full day in Xi’an, I had booked a day tour with Klook online before we arrived in China. On this day, at around 8am, our tour guide came to pick us up from our hotel in a mini tour bus (we gave them our hotel details prior and they also called us the day before to confirm), before heading to pick up the other guests from their various hotels too. It was around 9am until tourists of all nationalities, 10 of us in total, were gathered, and we were on our way to our first stop, the Terracotta Figures Factory. Though our stay there was quite long, it was still super interesting to see the ladies make miniature versions of the terracotta warriors. At around 11am, we were finally off to the destination I had been looking forward to most since we booked our trip to China…the Terracotta Warriors!
Visiting the Terracotta Army was something that I had always wanted to do…and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to tick this off my bucket list! Upon arriving, I actually didn’t know that there were 4 different pits in this area until our tour guide explained to us. As someone who has been fascinated with ancient Chinese history from a young age, seeing the main pit with the real, historical Terracotta Warrior clay figures was simply breathtaking. Amazing. Beyond what words can express. I mean…I was looking at thousands of years of history right in front of me! How these clay figures were carved still astounds me, and it was truly a moment to remember.
After we were taken around to all of the pits by our guide and appreciated our experience, we headed over to lunch at a local restaurant within the grounds of the Terracotta Warrior Museum. To my great surprise, on the bottom floor of the restaurant sat Mr Yang, the alleged discoverer of the Terracotta Warriors! It was truly amazing to see him in real life, as he sat quietly, writing beautiful strokes of calligraphy. Our lunch in the Xi’an-style restaurant was lovely, and very accommodating towards my dietary needs. It was also a nice time to further get to know our fellow companions from around the world, sharing insights about our travels.
Following lunch, we visited the Ban Po Museum, another preserved place rich in history. We saw the remains of a 6,000 year old Neolithic settlement, which again was really interesting to learn more about, especially the way of life of this ancient civilisation!
Around 6pm, we were dropped off back at our hotel, and decided to have an early dinner at a nearby restaurant and have an early night. Overall, mum and I truly enjoyed our time in Xi’an, and I think the most unique part about this city was that everywhere was a blend of the old and new.
- Although I do still recommend this tour, a lot of our time was actually spent transporting around and inside the Terracotta Figures Factory, which was mainly a place for buying overpriced, but beautiful, souvenirs.
- If you don’t want to join a tour, you can easily get to the Terracotta Warriors by taxi, which is quite affordable in Xi’an.
- We went during a weekday which was considered not too crowded, though of course there were still many people. The most crowded area was definitely the entrance to the main Terracotta pit, the place where you stand and get an overview of the entire display. My greatest tip is to be patient, but be firm. There will be tourists who will push and shove you just to get a photo. I was pushed around with force quite a lot, so I had to be unlike myself for a minute and get firm, otherwise I would have never been able to stand and see the view.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes, as there is some distance between the entry gate and the actual pits of the Terracotta Warriors in which you have to walk.
Xi’an to Mianyang
- Fulin Metropolitis Hotel
This incredible French-inspired hotel was built only a few years ago, and I was simply blown away from the moment we walked in to the second I opened the door to my room (as you can probably tell in the vlog). We definitely wouldn’t have been able to stay there without the generosity of my mum’s friend from high school, to whom we are so grateful for. Aside from staying in a 5-star-like room including a separate living room, our booking also included a buffet breakfast each morning and access to spas and gyms (though we didn’t use them).
- Han Yang Lin Museum
In the morning, our taxi driver recommended for mum and I to visit the Han Yang Lin Museum, as it was on the way to the railway station. This place is the mausoleum of Emperor Jing, the fourth emperor of the Western Han Dynasty, and his Empress Wang. Inside, we saw many ancient artefacts dating back thousands of years, which I gained lots of new insight from.
- High Speed Rail to Mianyang Station
We then made our way to Xi’an North Railway Station, where we would get the High Speed Rail to Mianyang Station- our hometown! Initially, the journey to collecting our pre-booked ticket at the station was quite confusing, as no matter how many people we asked, we were given different directions. Eventually, we found the ticket processing area after needing some help with carrying our heavy suitcases down the stairs (there were no elevators), however there were long queues ahead. Thankfully, we finally collected our ticket in time, passed bag check, and made our way to our gate number. In our experience, we probably wouldn’t take the High Speed Rail again with heavy suitcases, as it wasn’t very convenient finding a place to store them inside the train, but we somehow managed and ultimately, nothing took away from our excitement to finally come back to our hometown.
- Mianyang city
3 hours later, we made it to Mianyang! My mum’s generous friend came to pick us up from the station, and we went straight to the hotel in the city centre. As we drove through the streets, so many childhood memories were coming back! That evening we had dinner in a restaurant within the hotel, and mum had lots of catching up to do with her high school friends.
- RenMin (People’s) Park
On Our first full day in beautiful Mianyang, we were taken around by my mum’s generous friends, and did some exploring in the main city area. After lunch at a local restaurant, we visited one of the main parks called RenMin Park, also known as People’s Park. It was (and still is) my favourite area in Mianyang, and I remember visiting this garden place many times as a child, where my dad would take my sister and I to some of the rides they have nearby too. I absolutely adored the greenery there, and loved the atmosphere of people gently strolling around, relaxing on benches, and the elderly dancing to some ‘cool’ music or doing taichi. Another reason why this area is so special to me, is because it is also where my old kindergarten is located, called ‘Shao Nian Gong’ (or Children’s Palace). It was here that I learned how to play the piano, make clay, paint Chinese art…it’s surreal just how much of my childhood I remember from this kindergarten, so visiting again was truly a memory that I will cherish forever.
- Fu Le Shan (Fu Le Mountain)
I keep on saying ‘my favourite place’, but I can’t deny the fact that Fu Le Mountain is another one of those places that holds a very special spot in my heart. As a child I loved coming here with my family and spending a day playing games and drinking tea in this tranquil area, so it quickly became a favourite. Not only is there beautiful Chinese architecture preserved on this mountain, but it is very spacious too, where lots of people come to relax in the glorious nature on the hills. I especially enjoyed coming here with my sister and playing the ‘hoop’ game, where we tried to win a toy by aiming accurately and throwing a hoop over it. On this day, my mum and I enjoyed sipping some hot tea inside one of the many teahouses while chatting with her friends. It was definitely very calming and I felt so present in the moment.
- Yue Wang Tower
After dinner, we headed over to the newly built Yue Wang Tower for some night views, that overlooked the main river running through Mianyang. I was truly blown away by how spectacular it was, with the buildings lighting up and animations popping up on them. The tower itself was incredible too, and while we didn’t get to go inside as it had closed, I adored (as always) the beautiful and detailed architecture that represented the ancient Chinese culture.
- MianYang High School
On our last full day in Mianyang, my mum got to revisit her old high school with her friends, and it was truly special to witness this place and be there for the first time. Although most of it has changed compared to what it was like when my mum studied there, I loved how big and spacious this school is, where there are large basketball courts, buildings, cafeterias, and even dormitories on site. We walked through some buildings where classes were taking place, and I always find it interesting to see how different the education systems are around the world. Overall, it was lovely to visit a high school in China, and it definitely reminded me to be grateful for the education I received back home in Australia.
Mianyang to Chengdu
- Before we left Mianyang in the afternoon on this day, we spent the morning exploring the city for the last time, and bypassed RenMin Park again. Leaving felt bitter sweet, but I knew in my heart that one day I will be back again. After lunch, our kind friends drove us from our hotel to our accommodation in Chengdu, around 2 hours drive, where we stayed in our family friend’s apartment in a residential area just outside of the main Chengdu area.
Day 9 & 10
- I was super excited to be in a new city again, however on days 9 & 10, I contracted food poisoning from a restaurant in Mianyang a few nights earlier, and it was definitely to a degree that I had never experienced before. I was quite literally bed-bound for 2 days, not having any appetite to eat or drink, and the pain in my stomach was very intense. Although I didn’t get to explore Chengdu during this time, I saw this as divine intervention from the universe, and I became so much more grateful for my health and body. I’m also grateful that this happened because it certainly flushed out all of the not-so-necessary bacteria inside my body from travelling, and reset my digestion again! I learned to take care of my sacred temple more, and to give it rest when it needs to. My mum took care of me the whole time and also fed me some traditional Chinese herbal medicine, which I give much credit to for my recovery. Thankfully, by our last full day, I was able to do leave my bed and do some gently exploring.
- West China Medical University
On top of visiting her high school, my mum also got the chance to visit her university campus in Chengdu too, where I tagged along and experienced the atmosphere of a Chinese University. My mum showed me her dormitory and talked about some of her memories here, which was incredibly special from a daughter’s point of view. It was quite a large campus with some international students, and there was even a large lily pond beautifully decorated with greenery and glowing lilies.
- Kuan Zhai Alley
This was definitely a big highlight of my China trip. I remember visiting the Kuan Zhai Alley the last time we came to Chengdu, and was most excited to explore this again. If you watched the vlog, you may have seen just how excited I was! It was like entering into another era of China despite being located among the city, full of Chinese culture such as tea houses and architecture, and it was purely just beautiful in so many ways. ‘Kuan Zhai’ translates to ‘Wide and Narrow’, and that for sure described the multitude of alleys in this area. We tried some delicious Chinese snacks such as one of my favourites, Tang Yuan’ and ‘San Da Pro’, both made of rice cake, and had a lovely dinner inside a vegetarian restaurant too! I really enjoyed every moment here, and even got to make some poses with some cool guys that dressed up in a Chinese traditional clothing.
Chengdu to Melbourne
- On the morning of our last day in China, mum and I first took a taxi to Chengdu Airport, and flew to Shanghai for a brief stopover before boarding the plan again and heading straight back home to Melbourne. Although this trip felt like a dream, I still remember every day so vividly, and my heart is full of gratitude.