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Pandas, Pagodas and Two Weeks Without Facebook

‘You do know there is no Facebook in China, right?’
‘Wait … what? Why is there no Facebook? How am I supposed to brag about being on holidays?’

I’ve always wanted to see China and having finally organised my trip through Nexus Holidays, a friend broke the news to me about the country's ban on the social media site.

But visiting China is like journeying to another planet. Different culture, different architecture, different life; during my travels I almost didn’t want to share this amazing place with my friends on something as banal as Facebook.

Our group tour started in Beijing where we were guided through the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, plus we learned all about the famous dynasties, their emperor’s and concubines. I had no idea just how BIG these places are. The Forbidden City is over 150,000 sq kms, while Tiananmen Square is the third largest city square in the world.

Day Two was the big day when we climbed the Great Wall of China in 40 degree heat; not exactly my idea of a holiday, but this was something I always wanted to do. Despite the crowds, the altitude and the sweat dripping from every part of me, I pushed through and made it to the top of the section at Badaling, stopping only briefly (about twenty times).

**Travelzoo tip** The Great Wall of China is a lot steeper than you might think! The steps are high and uneven and climbing it will make your legs feel like they are on fire. Regular stops and a large bottle of water are a must!

As I struck a pose at the summit, I was disappointed to learn that the Great Wall cannot actually be seen from the moon as many believe.

After our climb we went to see ‘The Golden Mask Dynasty’, which has been nicknamed ‘the Chinese Cirque du Soleil’. An amazing show combining acrobatics, dancing and music, it incorporated a moving stage and numerous water features; at one point the stage was flooded to mimic a rain storm.

Our third day started with a visit to the giant pandas at Beijing Zoo. Did you know that every giant panda in the world is owned by the Chinese government and is only on loan to the country that it resides in? We stopped at the Olympic stadiums before lunch. The Bird’s Nest and Water Cube are much bigger than I expected and the area is still so well preserved and maintained that you can almost imagine what it was like when the 2008 games took place there.

Our last day in Beijing was the highlight for me when I was in total awe of the Summer Palace, which is like a 5-star park. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, the 3 sq km palace is comprised mostly of a man-made lake, while islands with temples and gardens are dotted across the area. An enjoyable day can be spent renting a paddle-boat and taking in the wonderful sights.

We went to Xi’an in a comfortable overnight sleeper train. One of the oldest cities in China, Xi’an holds some unmissable sites including the iconic Terracotta Warriors. These ancient statues were built over 2000 years ago to guard the tomb of the then-Emperor Qin. Some 8000 are estimated to exist in the pits which are still being uncovered.

The city wall of Xi’an is another major tourist attraction where visitors can ascend the wall (not nearly as steep as its Beijing cousin - only about 100 steps) and rent bicycles to cycle the full 14km around the top of it. I made it in just under an hour, which in 40+ degree heat and a maxi dress is some accomplishment!

A short 2-hour morning flight to Shanghai was followed by a day touring the Yuyuan Gardens and Bazaar and shopping in the markets of the Old City of Shanghai. Our trip was topped off with a night cruise along the Bund River where we got to see the famous city skyline which included the iconic Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center, which is the city’s tallest building.

I cannot wait to get back to China to explore more but I think next time I will try it in winter. Travelling in July is very hot and sweaty but all the hotels we stayed at (Chinese 5-star) were spacious and air-conditioned so it wasn’t a huge issue. The tour was a great introduction to Chinese life, history and culture and I can certainly recommend the Golden Triangle itinerary.

You can book the exact tour I did through Nexus Holidays for just $1599 per person, twin share (book by 22 September, 2013). It includes all flights, accommodation, meals, activities and guide. Click here to see the deal.

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Tips by

Deal Expert, Sydney
Friday, September 6, 2013
See more Tips from
Niamh Walsh