Tag Archive for: China

It was late in the afternoon when we left Xining behind, embarking on a 20 hours train ride to Lhasa, through the spectacular and wild landscapes of the Tibetan plateau. During old times, traveling to the “Roof of the World” was always a long journey, but after communist China took over these lands a massive project started being implemented across the vast plateau, including the construction of a highway that stretches all the way through the Himalayan Mountains till the border with Nepal.



The most convenient option among foreign visitors that travel from mainland China to Lhasa is the train, which reserves also more chances to admire the beautiful landscape offered by the tall white peaks of the mountains.

Tibet Travel Permit

An important detail to mention about visiting Tibet is that foreign visitors are not allowed into the plateau if they are not part of a tour. Special permits have to be organized at least 20 days in advance by the mountaineering association in Tibet and a guide must accompany visitors in every day of their stay. For the ones that plan to visit only Lhasa, they can explore the streets of the city outside the tour’s schedule, as long as they don’t leave Lhasa.

We contacted a Tibetan agency right after our arrival in Hong Kong when we were told that our stay in China would be limited to 30 days. Being on the roof of the world was a dream that came true (and I guess that whoever watched the movie “Seven Years in Tibet” felt a desire to experience one day being in this place themselves). Miriam’s enthusiasm was as big as mine when we started planning our trip to Lhasa. Once we got the confirmation from the agency, we booked our train tickets (which sell out fast, so book in advance!) and planned the rest of our trip through China.

The train across the Himalayan Mountains

Three weeks later we boarded a very crowded overnight train from Xining, where we spent two days in order to acclimatize easier to the high altitudes once we would arrive in the Himalayas. We found only standard hard seats on the train because all sleepers were already booked, so we joined other passengers in a carriage more crowded with luggage than with people. It felt like one of the longest rides we ever experienced due to the lack of comfort, but we had many chances to forget about it whenever the view out of the window was able to catch our attention.

We crossed a gigantic sea of sand in which a few little traditional Tibetan houses were the only proof that once humanity took over these mountains. Thousands of yaks (large domesticated wild oxen with shaggy hair) were also part of the landscape. We found out later how much these animals are integrated into the Tibetan tradition and lifestyle.



The sunrise in the morning prior to our arrival was extremely beautiful when the light reflection in one of the lakes brought the shapes of the mountains to life and revealed spots of color in this apparently infinite valley. Each hour that brought us closer to Lhasa lifted up our excitement and the impression when we arrived met all our expectations about how the city would feel like.

We received a copy of our permits for Tibet via email from the agency that we booked the tour with. It is important to keep a copy of it as the ticket for the train to Lhasa cannot be obtained without. The same rule applies at the arrival, where Chinese authorities will collect passports in order to verify that all visitors are in the possession of a valid permit.

Lhasa – the ancient city

Outside the station our guide welcomed us in the typical Tibetan way, offering us traditional ceremonial scarfs, called khatas. Tibetan khatas are usually white and made out of silk. The white color symbolizes purity and compassion of the giver, but yellow-golden scarves are also used. The guide drove us to our accommodation, a beautiful hotel in the old town of Lhasa.

After the Chinese invaded the Tibetan territories in 1949 and later officially integrated them as part of the newly declared People’s Republic of China, Tibet went through major changes starting from the years when the Chinese Cultural Revolution took place till recent times. Modern buildings brought contrast in the architecture of the ancient plateau and foreign brands found their way into the local stores.



The western part of Lhasa is inhabited mostly by Chinese Han people and it is more modern and busy. The old town of Lhasa instead is still profoundly traditional and its architecture continues to reflect the authenticity of the Tibetan lifestyle and the impact of the Buddhist religion on the history and social development of these lands.

The location of our hotel allowed us to lose ourselves on the narrow streets of this ancient labyrinth of tiny houses and temples. While the day of our arrival felt still challenging from the perspective of our efforts to adapt to the new altitude, soon after we were able to explore the neighborhood and understand the particularities of life in the capital of Tibet.

Religion and tradition

From all factors, religion had probably the strongest impact on the way people lived their lives over the centuries. After the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the destruction of more than 6000 monasteries, the religion has been constantly under threat for many years. But nowadays, despite the tumultuous events of the past decades, Buddhism and Tibetan tradition continue to be strong and evident. Tibetans are still proudly wearing their traditional clothes while walking on the crowded streets or while engaging in koras (a type of pilgrimage consisting of a clockwise circumambulation of sacred sites or objects).



The streets were filled with fruits and vegetables stands, butcheries serving yak meat and restaurants inviting passers-by to try the local food and a cup of delicious butter tea.


It all felt like suddenly traveling back in time and life seemed peaceful and beautiful. But the appearance is not reflecting the whole truth about the situation in Tibet. The constant presence of Chinese soldiers shows that tensions still exist. Though, politics remains a taboo subject and tourists are advised to temper their curiosity when engaging in sensitive conversations.


The Drepung and Sera monasteries

It was only the third day of our stay in Lhasa when our guide picked us up from the hotel. The first day is usually reserved for acclimatizing to the high altitude. It is also advised not to take any shower on the first day due to the risk of dehydration. Instead, plenty of water should be consumed, as well as fruits to supply the body with necessary vitamins. Another problem of being at high altitudes is the thin air that might make breathing harder, but oxygen supplies are usually available.

We were a group of 8 people sharing a minivan that brought us around Lhasa, guided by Jigme, our wonderful guide from Tibet Vista. The first stop of the trip was the Drepung Monastery, the largest in Tibet. Apart from a beautiful view over the entire city and a chance to explore the interiors, including their gigantic kitchen, the Monastery offers a deeper understating of religious practices and traditions. And there is no other better way to understand Tibetan Buddhism than by watching monks debating, which is what we did later in the courtyard of the Sera Monastery. The experience was unique and, luckily for us, visitors were allowed to witness it.


We’ve also seen the largest wall painting of Buddha and detailed sand mandalas and we visited a religious text printing house.



The day ended back at the hotel, where we all ate dinner together and had a chance to get to know each other better. The oldest member of our group was Margrit, an adventurous lady that, despite being in her 80s, still ventures out to explore the world.

The Potala Palace

The next day our guide led us on the streets of old Lhasa, to see pilgrims on the Barkhor Street and prayers spinning wheels on a circuit around the Jokhang temple. The afternoon was reserved for visiting the most important landmark in Tibet, the famous Potala Palace. Beautiful and impressive from the outside, the former home of the Dalai Lama hides ancient scripts and secrets, together with magnificent Stupas that are hosting the mummified bodies of some of the previous Dalai Lamas. The most famous is the one of the 13th Dalai Lama, containing more than 590 kilograms of gold and being embedded with 100,000 pearls and precious stones.

The palace has more than 1000 rooms, but only a few are open to tourists and pilgrims. Taking pictures is not allowed inside the palace or any of the monasteries. After a late lunch, we went to the park of “Tibet Peaceful Liberation Monument” (the name does not really describe the real historic facts), located in front of the Potala Palace, from where we could witness the sunset over its mysterious walls.


We walked back to the hotel for our last dinner, before getting ready to say goodbye to Lhasa. The following days would take us on top of the Himalayan Mountains, through the wildest and the most spectacular landscapes of the Tibetan Plateau. Read more about it here.

When speaking of curious things in China, the first question that comes into my mind is: What is not curious about China? It is one of the largest and most diverse countries in the world.
During our one month in the People’s Republic of China we have seen so much of this beautiful country and experienced so many particular things, but we’ve been also quite surprised by some. Here you will find a list with them.

Fact # 1 Music everywhere

One thing we immediately noticed was that the Chinese like to listen to loud music. No matter where and whether someone feels disturbed by it. For example, during our hike in Zhangjiajie National Park we met several groups, that listened to loud music with their mobile phones. Generally speaking, it is not a big deal, but when you are out in nature and the volume of loud music is covering the chirping of the birds, it is a bit annoying. In trains or in the metro, as well as in many other public places, you might get the feeling that headphones have not been yet discovered in China. Also on long-distance trains, shortly before the train arrives at the destination, loud music will make sure that everyone is awake.
However, it was nice to see that in parks, during the evening, dances or sports exercises were being organized, accompanied by music, and everyone could join.


In China, you also find this kind of karaoke cabins.

Fact # 2 People

Another curious thing in China is the people. Before our trip, we have often heard that the Chinese are rude or that they would misbehave. We can not confirm that. For example, shortly after our arrival, a nice man helped us to find our hotel. He even escorted us to our hotel and assisted us during check-in without accepting any favor in return. And from that day we constantly met nice and helpful people.

Yes, some Chinese do spit, burp and fart, but that’s normal for them and just because we consider it as rude and disgusting, it does not mean that the Chinese do so as well. In the beginning, the hustle and pushing in crowded places bothered us a bit, but we learned quickly that it is often the only possibility to move around. It happened not only once that we missed the Metro because we waited politely until everyone got off the train, but weren’t offered a chance to enter due to the crowds. Travelers in China should be aware that there are different manners and the faster you accept them, the faster you can enjoy the beautiful things.

Fact # 3 Food

Chinese restaurants, which we know in the Western world are different compared to the restaurants in China itself. Despite the different and complicated to understand the alphabet, it is very easy to order food, as the menu usually comes with photos. We ate very often at small local street food restaurants. Here you can choose the ingredients without having to worry about things that you do not want to eat. We usually ate vegetarian food, because we couldn’t always be sure whether the chicken was really chicken or if it used to bark before landing on a plate… you probably know what we mean.

Fact # 4 Language

In China, there are approximately 300 different languages and dialects. The most spoken is Mandarin (70%) followed by Wu, Yue, Min, Jin etc. English is very rarely spoken. Therefore, it is absolutely advisable to use an offline translator (keep in mind that Google apps are blocked in China).

Fact # 5 Payment

Payments in China are done mainly with mobile phones. The online payment system Alipay allows the Chinese people to pay in restaurants, shops and for tickets. Even donations to beggars can be done with Alipay. As a tourist, it is wise to have enough cash as foreign credit cards are mostly not accepted for payments. On the other hand, ATMs are widely available, making it easy to withdraw money when needed.

Fact # 6 Time zones

The People’s Republic of China has a population of about 1,4 billion. It is the country with the highest number of inhabitants and the fourth largest by area, almost as large as Europe. But here comes the interesting fact, there is only a one-time zone. Very practical, don’t you think?
China has the time zone UTC +8, which is the zone in which the capital Beijing lies. Actually, China extends over 5 zones, but since 1949, there is only one time. This rule was established by the Communist party at the end of the civil war. The largest time difference to other countries is at the border with Afghanistan, with 3.5 hours difference.

Fact # 7 Be ready to become a photo model

It is certainly nothing new that the Chinese love taking pictures everywhere. However, it was new for us that we had to be in these photos. We were asked many times if we could pose for a selfie with them. What we found disturbing was that many photos of us were taking secretly, which is typical for China, so you better be prepared to accept it.


Fact # 8 Scams

In large cities like Shanghai or Beijing, we saw a lot of information about scammers. Unfortunately, there are not only nice people in China, but, luckily we weren’t victims of any of these scams, but we find it still important to let you know about it.
The most popular is when tourists are being approached by very friendly, well-looking, English-speaking Chinese and offered free sightseeing or guided tours. After an invitation to a restaurant or tea house will follow. One of these persons will order for everyone without showing the menu to the tourists. You might think a tea does not cost a fortune, but as soon as the bill is presented, tourists might get the shock of their lives. The bill will probably have an amount of several hundred euro and the tourist will be forced to pay that.

Fact # 9 Attention, special content !!!

Have you ever seen the signs in toilets showing a person sitting with the feet on the toilet seat? This is partly indicated for Chinese. It is because in this country, there are almost exclusively squat toilets, partially not even with a door, but with small view protection, that offers zero privacy. It is not only in China like this, but here we found Western toilets to be extremely rare. I personally do not consider it a bad thing, since it is more hygienic. Still, I have to say that China is not the cleanest country that we have traveled in.

It is very surprising how this topic is handled. Some Children, for example, wear pants with slots, so that, when nature calls, they can always and everywhere do their needs. Parents will not bother bringing them behind a bush or a special place. No, sometimes they would even stop right in the middle of the street leave their little “human traces” behind.
An important thing to mention is that there is no toilet paper in most of the toilets, sometimes not even in the hostel or hotel, so make sure you always carry some with you.

The list of unusual things could be longer, but these were the ones that we witnessed. Probably exactly these things and experiences made our stay as memorable and unique as it was.

Have you ever been to China? If yes, how would you describe your experience? Leave a comment or send us a message, we are very excited to hear what you have to tell.

Do you want to see more photos of China? Click here.

China has some of the fastest trains in the world, like the one that brought us from Beijing to Xi’an. While Xi’an is an important stop on every traveler’s map through China and therefore needs time to be explored and discovered, we had only one day to spend there. We choose to do so after previously excluding Xi’an from our plan and deciding later that at least a bit of time should be reserved for the ancient capital of China. So we changed our train ticket for an experience that we wish now could have been longer.


Xi’an – beautiful and diverse

The city has a strong and pleasant international vibe, with French bakeries, a German beer garden, diverse Asian restaurants and a huge Muslim market, all surrounded by the ancient walls of an old fortress. Outside these walls is the new part of the city with its modern architecture.

Our accommodation was beautifully placed inside the walls, featuring a bar, a restaurant and a terrace where guests could relax and enjoy a refreshing drink.

We decided to don’t waste time and see as many touristic attractions as we could. So, after a delicious lunch in the city, we got lost in the immense Muslim Quarter and tasted different street food. A short distance walk from there brought us to the Bell Tower.


We were happy that the weather was again on our side, but two hours later we decided to return to the hostel as the sun felt too strong and made the walk less pleasant. So we made it more enjoyable by having a cold drink on the terrace of our accommodation and planned to continue our walk through the city later in the evening.


We found Xi’an to be more beautiful as the sun went down when the dominating red color of the surrounding walls and of the buildings looked much brighter.


The ancient walls

The sunset found us on the ancient walls that enclose the old city. You can access the top part of it after paying an entrance fee of 45 Chinese Yuan. Apart from enjoying the panoramic view over the old and the new parts of the city, visitors can just walk on the almost 14 km long wall or rent a bike to go around. Sometimes also dance and music shows are available at the South Gate for those seeking for more entertainment.


Soon after sunset, we continued our walk in the modern neighborhood, admiring the lights that were turned on everywhere, transforming the fortress and the rest of the city in an explosion of color.

Highlights of Xi’an

One of the attractions that make Xi’an such an important touristic destination is the museum of the famous terracotta army of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. The emperor ordered to be buried together with the terracotta soldiers in order to protect him in the afterlife. For us, it has been just an option that we had to give up, as we wanted to see more of the city and the remaining time didn’t allow us to visit any other attraction.

On the way to Tibet

And so we left one more city behind and took the train to Xining, where we planned to spend the following two days. The reason why we reserved more time for Xining than for Xi’an is not that we found the first to be more interesting. In fact, we were surprised how little Xining has to offer in terms of touristic attractions. But what made it important for us were the elevation of 2275 matters of the city and the fact that Xining is one of the access points to the Tibetan plateau and one of the stops for the train that connects several big cities in mainland China with Lhasa. When we planned our trip to the roof of the world we’ve been warned about the altitude sickness that we might experience in the Himalayas and therefore decided to spend the two days in Xining in order to be able to acclimatize faster and easier once we would reach Lhasa.


While many people arrive in Tibet by plane, the sudden change of altitude makes it harder for them to adapt to the new conditions, which might affect the enjoyment of the first days.

We recommend traveling to mainland China and after taking a train to the higher placed cities or just book a longer stay in Lhasa in order to acclimatize. We experienced difficulties despite the long journey that we planned into Tibet and the constant change of altitude. Medicine or oxygen supplies would help control the altitude sickness, but we think it is important to adapt to it naturally.

Read more about our journey into Tibet by clicking here.

The Great Wall of China can be visited at many places along its length of over six thousand kilometers. Its condition ranges from excellent, at the sections that are closer to Beijing, to ruined or almost destroyed. The same goes for walking on the wall, the access might seem easy on some sections or extremely difficult and even dangerous on others.

Different sections have their own admission fees, so if you want to hike from one section onto another, you probably have to pay twice. Its construction is traditionally associated with the reign of the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang Di in the 2nd Century B.C., but the wall that tourists see today is a more recent one, dating back to the Ming Dynasty.

The first wall was built with the purpose to defend the northern borders of the empire against attackers that threatened the stability and integrity of ancient China. As these attacks have been constant along with history, so were also the plans of continuing and improving the construction of other walls, which gave birth to an incredible and spectacular engineering wonder.

While the longest part of the Great Wall lies in the desert regions of the country, it is the area around Hebei and Beijing that most tourists associate with the Great Wall and that is usually shown in pictures.


The “modern” Wall of China

The “modern” wall is the result of more recent historic facts and the most popular part of it is divided into few sections that are open to tourism. On many other sections, the access on the wall is prohibited due to the unsafe conditions, which are not stopping daredevils to venture out and explore them.

Badaling, Juyongguan and Mutianyu (find here more details about how to reach the Mutianyu section)  are the closest to Beijing and fairly well restored, but also more crowded. Jiankou is the most challenging and wild, which makes the hike on this section also dangerous but exciting. The most popular for hiking is the half unrestored section Jinshanling, which leads the path towards the Simatai section, the only one where visitors can experience night tours.

A particular experience is offered by the hike on the Huanghuacheng section, where, apart from the magnificent view of the wall, visitors can admire a beautiful lake scenery.

Choosing the right time and place

From the western deserts to the eastern sea, the Great Wall is impressive wherever you might want to visit it. The sections around Beijing are the easiest to include in your itinerary while visiting the capital of the People’s Republic of China. But since many other tourists plan to do so, it is important to organize your trip very well. Avoid peak season and Chinese national days, otherwise trying to see the Great Wall might turn in seeing the Great Crowds. There are many villages along the wall and finding a place for the night and food is easy, so if you are one of the lucky ones that have more time in China, we recommend exploring different sections, including the ones that are more difficult to access and farther from the tumult of touristic activities.



Because choosing the right section to start on is difficult, we included bellow a map that shows popular sections of the wall and a summary of all main sections that stretch across China. We felt lucky enough to have experienced even just little of what exploring the Great Wall is about and left with the desire to explore more sometime in the future.


– Click here to open the image in high-quality resolution –

Check out our gallery for more pictures of our experience on the Great Wall.

While many of the historical treasures of China are of little importance to the outside world, others are well known across the country’s borders. The most representative remains the Great Wall of China, a landmark that Chinese citizens are very proud of, but also a destination that many travelers would like to cross off their bucket list.

The history of an engineering wonder

The Great Wall tells an important part of the history that shaped China as the country we know today and played an essential role in the military strategies of many Chinese emperors. What fewer people know is that the fortifications which get crowded with tourists nowadays are only part of the fourth generation of walls and the last ones that have been built. They date back to the Ming dynasty, who constructed structures out of stone and brick.

The term “wall” refers to an entire defense system. According to the research of modern archaeology, from the first wall ever built to more recent times, the Great Wall measures over 21.000 km, which is much more than traditionally believed, and sums up 16 walls that have been built along 2000 years. It started as a project initiated by emperor Qin Shi Huang, who tried to protect the northern border from invaders. The same reason determined other emperors to continue the project and build longer, stronger and more sophisticated walls.



In modern times the Great Wall is as impressive as it always used to be. Unfortunately, due to safety reasons, many parts of it are closed to the public, although adventurous people still dare to venture behind the safe areas. And it is easy to understand why. The wall stretches along mountain peaks and around beautiful valleys, offering rewarding views only to the most adventurous explorers.

We wanted to experience a bit of everything and since our time was short we had to choose wisely. Some of the most famous and easiest to access sections of the wall are Badaling (probably the most popular among Chinese tourists), Juyongguan and Mutianyu. Badaling and Juyongguan are the most touristic and most crowded. After seeing pictures of how crowded it can get, we knew they were not options for us. We even planned our days on the wall to be weekdays in the hope that fewer local tourists would join us. And the result of our planning happened to be positive.

On the way to the Great Wall of China

On our third day in Beijing we walked to the Dongzhimen bus station, from where we took the bus 916 Express to Huairou North Avenue. The station is big and well organized, so finding the right bus was an easy task. We paid for the ride 12 CNY and it took more than one hour to arrive at the Mutianyu Roundabout, where things got a bit trickier. At this point, our options were to wait for the bus H23 (H24, H35 and H36 go in the same direction), that had an uncertain arrival time, and the taxi, that is most recommended as it takes you in less than half an hour to the ticket office at the entrance of the wall. And while deciding which option is better, unofficial taxi drivers surrounded us offering help with the luggage and price offers for a ride. Surprisingly we got a more than an attractive offer, so we decided to give up on other options and threw our backpacks in the back of one unofficial taxi driver’s car.

In the afternoon we could already cross the threshold of the Yue Tong Farmer House, where we planned to sleep for the following three nights. There were no more grey buildings, no noise, no traffic, just a peaceful and beautiful nature and kind people around us. Our hosts were a family of four that also cooked for us and made every moment of our stay more than enjoyable. There are many such farms stays in the area, but we considered ourselves lucky to have found the one where we stayed.

The Mutianyu section – between history and beautiful nature

Our first morning in Huairou has been a very early one as we wanted as much time on the wall as possible. So after paying the 45 yuan at the entrance, we took the touristic bus (which is included in the price of the ticket) that dropped us at the ticket counter of the cable car. There are two cable cars at the Mutianyu section, offering connections with two of the watchtowers, numbers 6 and 14. These two towers offer also some of the best views over the surroundings. For going back down, visitors can use also an available toboggan.

Of course, there is also the option to walk. Since we decided that we want to spend the day hiking, we skipped the cable car and walked up the stairs. And climbing up and downstairs is what we did for the rest of the day.

Mutianyu, known to be the most magnificent of the fully restored sections, is only 2.3 km long, with easy parts to walk on but also very steep ones. We climbed till the 22nd tower of the wall, where the restored part ended. Here the crowds disappeared and nature seemed to have taken over the almost untouched parts of the wall. After passing the last tower we continued on the Jiankou section. From here on, walking on the wall felt less safe and much more challenging, but the landscapes were truly breathtaking.



We were lucky enough to encounter only a few people on the wall that day and most in the areas where tourists arrived by cable car. We walked as long as we could and as far as it felt safe for us. Other travelers that we met on the way seemed more courageous and ventured much further than we did. But as the sun was going down, so did also our energy reserves.

Walking on the Mutianyu felt like quite a touristic activity. We’ve been constantly surrounded by people taking their selfies and by merchandisers offering snacks and refreshments to the visitors. So we were lucky to have the option to leave them behind and continue on the unrestored part of the wall.

Our walk took around 10 hours, with a coffee break in between, and ended before sunset, when we slowly followed the path back to the accommodation.


On the third day, we decided to move less and use the time to explore the area. If you want to visit the wall section at the Mutianyu but plan to spend less time on the wall, you should know that the surroundings and the villages are beautiful and even a walk around will turn into a pleasant experience.

The following morning we ate our last breakfast with the family at the farmhouse and went to catch an early bus back to Beijing. While waiting at the bus station, luckily the same “unofficial” taxi driver that brought us to Huairou passed by and offered us a ride for an even lower fare than on the day when we came to the farmhouse. And the day hasn’t been much longer after. Our plan to catch the 6 o’clock train on the following day called for an early breakfast and an early sleep, so we could save some energy for our arrival in Xi’an.

Check out our gallery for more pictures from the Great Wall.

The second-largest Chinese city after Shanghai, Beijing is home to more than 20 million people and it has been the capital of the Chinese Empire for much of its history. After the Chinese revolution at the end of the Second World War, it became the country’s educational and cultural center.

Luckily for us, the city is well connected with all the other big cities of China, allowing us to travel to Beijing in just 4 hours from Shanghai, by speed train. China is indeed a big country, but its citizens found ways to reduce the time needed to move between large distances by developing fast-moving transportation methods.

So we were once again in the middle of concrete buildings and chaotic traffic. And while Shanghai surprised us with the kindness of its people (which we realized it’s not common in big cities), Beijing happened to be colder from the way people reacted to our presence.

Still, while traveling in China, Beijing cannot be excluded from one’s itinerary. And if the people there are not the best reason to consider the city as a destination, its history remains a strong argument. We spent here only three days, two to explore the city and one to prepare for the destinations that were planned for the last part of our trip. We decided to do so because we wanted to have more time for the Great Wall, which would turn into the highlight of our trip to Beijing.

The Forbidden City

Trying to follow a tight schedule and a strict plan, we headed early in the morning to the Tiananmen Square, with the intention to visit the Palace Museum, best known in the past as the Forbidden City. We need to mention that our two days in Beijing were weekend days and we can only recommend to those who are planning to do the same to just change their plans and try visiting Beijing during weekdays. We didn’t really have a choice due to the limited time of our visa, so we joined the crowd that was lining at the ticket counter.



Despite the high number of tourists, the security check and the selling of the tickets happened to be surprisingly fast and less than one hour later we found ourselves inside this gigantic palace. While few people had the chance to go inside the Forbidden City during the ancient era, modern times allow visitors to invade almost every corner of it.

At the ticket counter we just had our passport details inserted into the computer instead of receiving a ticket and later at the entrance we had our passports checked in order to enter (make sure that they write the right data when you pay for the entrance to avoid problems when trying to go inside… as it happened to us).


The best view of the Palace Museum we got not from inside, but from an outside hill facing the northern exit, the Jingshan Park. The hill is actually an extension of the Forbidden City. From the top of it, visitors can get a better picture of the way the museum is structured. Designed to be the center of the ancient city of Beijing, the palace is enclosed in a larger area, surrounded by walls, called the Imperial City, which, in turn, is enclosed by the Inner City.


The Temple of Heaven

Going around the walls of the Forbidden City, we walked back to the main entrance, crossed the Tiananmen Square and continued to the southeastern part of central Beijing, where we found a complex of religious buildings known as the Temple of Heaven. The place was used by the emperor for annual ceremonies. We spent another hour here walking around the buildings, finding our way through the crowds that seemed to have invaded every touristic place in the city. The two main attractions of the Temple of Heaven are the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and the Circular Mound Altar, two circular structures with a base of marble stones. The area is used by the locals as a space for outdoor social meetings, where they can get together and play card games. We have seen many of them doing so, which gave us the impression that it is a common practice.


While Beijing has much to offer, it requires time, which we had only little from. Short before sunset, we stopped at a local restaurant for dinner and went back to the accommodation. Our one day in Beijing offered us only a bit of enthusiasm compared to the experience of the following days when we would discover some of the ancient secrets of the Great Wall of China.

Click here for more pictures from Beijing.

After being surrounded for more than a week by wide green landscapes during our time spent in Guilin and Zhangjiajie, we thought that the upcoming trip to Shanghai will bring less joy, as the mountains and trees were about to be replaced by grey buildings and noisy crowded streets. But we happened to be wrong.

Shanghai proved to be a beautiful experience. The streets were busy like in any other big city that we visited before, but more animated by the crowds of tourists, the street food vendors, the shops and the big advertisement billboards that gave the city a much more international feeling than our previous destinations in China. And there was still a balance between the modern and the traditional, while many temples still found their place in the modern neighborhoods and traditional food was served next to western restaurants. This mix feels exciting and the walks in the city are beautiful and inspiring for the travelers on the look for urban adventures.



Being one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of more than 24 million, Shanghai is a global financial center and transport hub. It is also hosting the world’s busiest container port. Such a big city definitely requires time to be discovered.

We, instead, dedicated only 3 days of our trip to exploring the Pearl of the East. We stayed in a hostel that proved to be different from others, as it occupied the space of one apartment only, whose rooms were converted into dorms and a large living room was used as a common area, where the owners installed also a few tents. We liked the idea of indoor camping and took a tent for ourselves and enjoyed the beautiful cityscape from the large window next to it. Being in the hostel gave us also the chance to meet a few of the other travelers and be able to speak more English than we previously had a chance to.

We met old friends during our stay in Shanghai and we made new ones. We spent a good time with Florian, a traveler from Switzerland, that happened to be not just a nice company but also an inspiration for the rest of our travels through China. And we had a chance to meet with old friends from the time spent on board, as one of the vessels that we used to work on docked in the port during our time there.



Costa Serena was the first ship that we worked on when we started our adventures at sea. Later the ship was sent to Asia to provide cruise experiences for the Chinese market. It felt good to be on board the ship again, have a cup of good Italian coffee, that we miss so much sometimes, and walk on corridors that once were part of our daily life as people of the sea.



On the second day in the city, after our visit to the port, we decided to return to the center area and witness the cityscape lightning up in the Pudong New District, while spectacular cloud formations on the sky were giving us signs that we should expect rain to poor soon.


Getting around Shanghai

Despite the fact that Shanghai is a big city (and a “big city” in China is bigger than most big cities in the world), it is easy to move around. We used the application Metroman in order to keep an offline map of the subway always with us and we used convenient ferry transfers over the Huangpu River, which divides the city into two parts: the Pudong and the Puxi (we paid 2 RMB per person for one transfer). That gave us also a short feeling of what a cruise on the river might feel like.

Since we didn’t have time to see all of what the city has to offer, we decided to see a few things only but beautiful ones to remember. We walked mostly on the Bund, the waterfront promenade area facing the skyline of the Pudong (the skyscraper-filled center of recent development), and in downtown Shanghai, called Puxi Area (the historic heart of the city), where the most popular scenic spots are located: Yuyuan Garden, People’s Square, Nanjing Road Pedestrian and Jade Buddhist Temple.



While leaving Shanghai behind, we were excited about our next stop in the capital of the People’s Republic of China, where we would be introduced to the ancient secrets of the country.

Find out more about our experience in Shanghai by clicking here.