MAIN TIP – book your train tickets as soon as you arrive in Shanghai or Beijing. In 2014, it wasn’t possible to book train tickets before we left Australia & advice from everyone (agents, forums, etc) was that there would be no problem buying the tickets at Shanghai Railway Station on the day of travel – that wasn’t the case! By doing so we were forced to buy “the last 2 seats” (see photo) at a very high price – a luxury seat in a private cabin with flowers, slippers etc.; the train staff avoided us – we presume that was because they spoke no English. With sign language we requested our meal which was ok food (nothing special). We look back on the experience with amusement…for a while there we were worried about how we’d get to Beijing!…our last stop (another 4 nights) in China before flying onto Rome.
It was our second visit to China (our first trip was in the early 80s) and our first time in Shanghai and Beijing. Other than the stress related to buying the train tickets/rail journey to Beijing, everything else went extremely well. We organised private guides in both cities using recommendations from other travellers including Trip Advisor. They were both excellent.
In Shanghai, we stayed at Grand Central Hotel – a large modern hotel…enjoyed it there and when arriving late, had our first dinner in the hotel restaurant. It was better than most hotel restaurants. I also loved their indoor heated pool and it was great to be able to stretch out with a swim after a 10 hour flight from Sydney. Our private guide, Darren, walked us around the city including a very special, space age, underground train trip from one inner city location to another. There were lots of other highlights in Shanghai which I will elaborate on with photos and text in the future/on request.
In Beijing, we stayed in the traditional “Hutong” district in an historic, small hotel – Red Wall Garden Hotel. If you stay in this district (we recommend it), have a map to show the taxi driver as there are narrow lanes and it can be a bit tricky to find. It was a very attractive and interesting small hotel (see photo) and while we were pleased with our choice, there were a few minor issues which the management did later address in a very professional way. Another advantage of this hotel is that it is close to the subway – it’s a modern rail system with English information too. Trains are a better way to get around as taxis can be unreliable. The hotel reception staff were very helpful with advice about using the trains/sightseeing/maps etc. Check what station exit to take once you get to your destination – we did that & our day of exploring on our own worked out very well. Lots of fun!
Highlights in Beijing were many, including of course the Great Wall. As you can see from the photo, the sun was shining and there are hardly any tourists. We hear that it can sometimes be crowded with tourists + smoggy. To avoid the smog issue we arranged our one day private tour (with Susan Liu Yun) including the trip to the Great Wall, on a Monday – we had heard that the pollution is often not as bad on a Monday…not sure if that’s always the case but it did work for us. We might have just been very lucky! We had a wonderful day! More details on that later or if requested.
The second day in Beijing (again with Susan) included all the main sites…