I hear from many families that they are intrigued about the prospect of heading to China with kids, but they just aren’t sure where to go and if it would be a fun destination to explore as a family. We just got back from a trip to Shanghai, paired with a few of the beautiful towns nearby, and loved our experience. Is it kid-friendly? Absolutely, but the secret sauce is in the setup of the daily itinerary.
Mandarin Journeys organized our tour, including a dedicated guide and driver who stayed with us for our entire 10-day trip; there were plenty of opportunities for education and information. Our trip was successful in part because it was very active and engaging — we spend time “doing,” not just “observing,” and this was the key to what made our itinerary fun and impactful for parents and kids alike.
Here’s a look at a few of the highlights:
Taihu Lake was our base for a whirlwind of local activities. Mandarin Journeys partners with a cultural center called Taihu Home, where we experienced an introduction to Chinese traditions.
We learned to make pottery typical of the region in a local workshop. Our visit was brief, but we had enough time to try our hand at sculpting teacups.
We visited a Kung Fu academy where kids of all ages live and pair school with martial arts. I find that cultural divisions disappear when kids have the chance to interact with other kids, and this is what happened here. We toured the school to get a sense of the way these kids live, and then had the chance to practice with them. We were the entertainment this time!
Chinese dumplings were our favorite food of the trip, and it was fun to have a chance to learn to make them with locals.
Families and gardens on a sunny day are a match made in heaven. Suzhou is known for its UNESCO-protected historic, classical gardens. We visited the Lingering Garden and, true to its name, we did just that … the pathways, bridges, halls, and pavilions are wonderful to explore. We were the only Western tourists in the garden and the boys were quite popular.
A rickshaw ride is China is a tourist must. We took a brief ride through town, and the boys got a feel for what it would be like to transport their moms.
The highlight of our stop in Suzhou for the boys was most definitely their meeting with an artisan who specializes in making miniature figurines of people in Pinjiang Lu, an ancient shopping street running along one of Suzhou’s famous canals. The artist didn’t speak a word of English, but the boys were mesmerized by his work. We commissioned him to create “mini-me” figurines of the boys. A crowd gathered to watch his unbelievably detailed and accurate creations from scratch; the boys may forget the other trip details, but they’ll remember this experience forever.
Biking on the paths around West Lake in Hangzhou on a spring day should be on every family bucket list. The paths were crowded, so the ride is not about speed, but weaving through locals enjoying the splendid scenery was a blast for all of us. We were able to cover some ground, and the ride is entirely flat and suitable for all ages.
The Impression West Lake Show is something to see. The show is at night and the lake and the surrounding scenery are the stage and set. Lights and music create a surreal ambiance — the entire performance is visually spectacular. Young kids won’t understand what is going on in the show, as it’s all in Chinese (and frankly, it was hard for us to follow as well), but it is relatively short and very worthwhile.
Some of China’s most famous tea, Longjing, comes from the hills around Hangzhou. The scenery is right out of a movie, as people work the fields in traditional cone-shaped hats. We took a kid-friendly hike into the plantations and then went to a local cooperative to try the tea. I wouldn’t do this with very little kids, but our school-age boys enjoyed learning how tea is made from start to finish.
I dedicated an article to what to see and do in Shanghai with kids. We had a terrific experience and made the most of our short time there.
One hundred percent of the credit for our fantastic itinerary in China goes to Mandarin Journeys. We loved the setup of our private tour, where a guide was with us for our entire experience. If you have weeks and weeks to get lost and smile through language struggles, than a dedicated guide isn’t a must, but in any sort of short trip, a guide is the key to optimizing every moment.
Our Mandarin Journeys guide, Aron, was the ultimate host, and he considered it his mission to make sure our needs were always met. Aron was great with our boys and it was clear that he truly enjoyed interacting with them. It’s difficult to condense centuries of complicated political and cultural history to kids in a week on the road, but we all walked away with an understanding of Chinese history basics, thanks to Aron’s stories and explanations.
I challenged Mandarin Journeys to craft an itinerary that would engage our kids and thrill the parents, and that is exactly what they did. They showed us a beautiful, awe-inspiring side of China. If there was more time, we would have added Beijing and the Great Wall. Mandarin Journeys wisely advised us to focus on places that we would enjoy without complicated logistics, given our short time in the country.
Head to the Mandarin Journeys website for information on their custom itineraries to China with kids.
China with kids tips and advice on Ciao Bambino
Five surprising discoveries while traveling in China with kids
Top things to do in Shanghai with kids
Editor’s Note: Mandarin Journeys provided a media trip for us to experience their version of China with kids. As always, all thoughts and opinions expressed here are our own. Photos by Amie O’Shaughnessy except where noted.
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