Oh China. Where do we even start. We arrived in Beijing, and coming from the luxury of Tokyo we soon realised we were in for a bit of a shock. Our first impressions of the place were not great - we turned up ready for the Chinese summer heat only to be met by absolutely freezing weather, and no appropriate clothing to go with this (not helped by the fact that our hotel didn't have heating). The language barrier made life really difficult - later on in the trip, one guy on our tour accidentally asked a waitress how much she cost a night while actually trying to just say thank you - and we were met by cold stares and generally really rude people. The Chinese hygiene was a bit of a culture shock - we found ourselves immersed in a society where people spit every all the time and children's trousers have bum slits so they can poo in the street... However we did get to see some of the tourist destinations Beijing has to offer, spending our first day on the Great Wall which was a bit of a rude awakening for us, given that we've been doing virtually nothing but eating, sleeping and sunbathing for 10 weeks, but a really good day out. We visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City which were both really interesting, and also the Olympic Park - cool but again, not as good as London. We also went to a Kung Fu show, which weirdly had the same story line as Star Wars 3 according to Eli. Chess wouldn't know, she fell asleep. It was from Beijing to Shanghai that we had our first overnight train experience - 3 tier bunk beds, which even we were having trouble fitting into, squat toilets and indoor smoking areas for 16 hours. Having now done 5 of these, we can firmly say we never, ever, ever want to experience one again.
We arrived in Shanghai hoping things could only get better and luckily the did. We visited Yu Gardens - small Chinese markets - and in the evening went to an acrobat show which was awesome, and Chess even managed to stay awake in this one. We went up the Shanghai World Financial Centre to the 100th floor glass lookout over the city, which would have been great had the smog not been so bad, and that evening we did a river cruise looking out on the night time Shanghai skyline.
Next up was Xi'an, where we had much better few days. We tried lots of traditional Chinese food including hot pot and dumplings and visited all the touristy sites too. We cycled along the city wall, which was really fun though neither of us could sit down for 2 days afterwards, and visited the Terra-cotta Warriors which we really enjoyed. We went to a karaoke bar that night too which was great fun, Eli banging out the Eminem raps, while Chess chose One Direction and Justin Bieber - maybe a little bit of Steps too...
From Xi'an we took a boat cruise down the Yangtze River - via the zoo where we saw pandas! It was cool to see them, but sad too as the animals weren't really being looked after properly. From the zoo we boarded the boat, our home for the next 2 days while we cruised down the river, going through the three gorges and ending near the Three Gorges Dam.
After the boat cruise we arrived in Yangshuo, a small touristy town which was our favourite place. We did bamboo rafting on the Li River, and visited the is baths and hot springs in the water cave. We cycled back from here - anyone who's experienced Chinese roads will know how terrifying this was! We were riding in between the cars, on dual carriageways and roundabouts, with no helmets and little to no brakes! We also did a Chinese cooking lesson here, where we learnt to make dumplings and other yummy Chinese dishes.
Last stop in China was Hong Kong where we didn't have much time before flying to Laos, but we visited the waterfront and spent a fun evening at the horse races, losing far more money than we won. We can say that China was 'an experience' - though an experience I'm not sure we were really ready for!