Our Family’s Must-See China Travel List

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Kid-friendly destinations are the only way

When we first came to Beijing, we made a Must-See Travel List, which included, in no particular order, the pandas in Chengdu, the warriors in Xi’an, the ancient sites of Yunnan, the beach at Beidaihe and a cruise of the Yangtze River to see the three gorges before all was flooded into oblivion. List items ticked so far? Zero. Our family has seen quite a bit of China, yet our original list remains curiously untouched.

Is this because when you get settled in Beijing, your Travel List priorities change? You quickly realize it’s not so easy traveling in China with small kids. You also get new entries sneaking in from every side. People start raving about their family-friendly travels and you slowly get sucked into the highly-recommended vortex. You start pouring over maps, flicking through tomes of lime green tea fields in the south, toothpick temples clinging to cliff faces in the north, seasides from the 1950s in the east, and dust laden markets smelling of sandalwood in the west. China is full to bursting with so many contrasts, so much beauty – how can one ever decide what to see in the space of a few short years, especially when one has kiddliwinks to consider?

So, now that we’ve seen a bit of this enormous land, we’re returning, interestingly, to our original list – and, frankly, the thought of leaving China one day without seeing these original list entries is panicking me a little. We are turning our minds fervently to the retro coast east of Beijing (which once paled in comparison to Elsewhere) – namely a weekend of sailing with the Beijing Sailing Centre. I’ll be pulling memories out of a 30-year-old skill-bank to effect this long-forgotten sporting activity – keep your fingers crossed they don’t find a sunburned family of four drifting up on North Korean shores two weeks later.

The three gorges cruise was always on shaky ground thanks to a spate of mama huhu (average) reports, but, like the pandas, we’re wondering if not seeing this will be the mistake of a lifetime (I have romantic notions of my children telling their grandchildren about the day they held a now-extinct – God forbid – giant panda, and sailed the Yangtze before it swallowed half of China’s ancient past).

Xi’an is a definite weekend trip (once summer subsides) – so easy to do from Beijing. And, let’s face it – how would it really be possible to leave China without eyeballing the real warriors (as opposed to the supposed “real” warriors shacked up in miniature at Ya Show market)?

Chengdu. A bit harder to talk about. For a while there, we were so overloaded with Jingjing and expat pandamania, we were kind of avoiding bothering the black and white fuzzballs altogether. Then, just as we decided it was time to make a move and go to Chengdu (and Jiuzhaigou), the earth decided to tremble and cause terribly tragedy in that God-forsaken place. Now, not only do we feel sick over the calamity that’s shaken Sichuan, we also feel an ache that travel may be restricted there for a long time to come.

Yunnan – that’s still on the cards. My husband has been lucky enough to see loads more of China than us three more stuck-at-home-bodies, and this has been one of his favorite places. Kunming, Dali, Lijiang, Tiger Leaping Gorge, the Tibetan highlands, Shi Lin (Stone Forest), the minority people – I mean, come on. What’s not worth seeing in Yunnan?

So, we’re plotting. We’re trying to carve more trips into our rock-solidly busy Beijing life. By hook or by crook, I’m heavily invested in this before the call of Australia starts echoing across the Pacific Ocean and into the China Sea. Oh – and add to that original Must-See List some new desires to see Chongqing, Shaolin, Longmen Grottoes, Datong, Suzhou, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Macau and Guizhou.

Hmm. I hope I’m not being too ambitious.

Where have you travelled to in China with kids and particularly loved?

For the record, our family’s absolute top five favorites are Pingyao, Yangshuo, Hong Kong, Chengde and Hainan Island. My husband and I mutually agree on Harbin as our non-kid favourite, as our kids didn’t come with us. They were tiny at the time, Harbin was gripped by a particularly cold winter (-27 degrees Celsius in the day, -38 at night) and we didn’t really fancy the prospect of thawing iceblock children!

First published on the City Weekend Beijing website.

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