My kids love to travel. As a result, we’ve been able to take some amazing family trips. China was the biggest challenge so far. Taking the family to Europe is one thing, but taking the leap to China … it’s just different.
The 2008 Olympics in Beijing opened up the idea of travel to China for many Americans, and families are no exception. Traveling through China with my kids was an amazing experience. But I recommend doing some homework with your family before you go — it will make the trip better and easier.
I wrote an article for PeterGreenberg.com on experiencing China with kids, including tips for traveling so far from home. Here are some highlights:
To get my girls ready for our trip, we did some ancient history research. Thanks to the Internet, the world is at your fingertips.
My kids took a spring break Mandarin language camp. In my mind, it was really just for fun — c’mon, how much Mandarin can an 8-year-old learn in a week? But more than once on our trip, my novice speakers came in very handy.
Chinese food and kids don’t always mix. Before the trip, we went shopping in San Francisco’s Chinatown and did some Asian cooking together at home.
Blending in is not something my kids did well in China. With their blond hair and blue eyes, I anticipated they’d be popular and explained that folks might want to take their picture. My girls were all over their unique status and smiled happily in hundreds of photos.
It’s a bathroom must. Carry tissues everywhere you go. And both my daughters would agree: Being able to squat is key to bathroom survival.
So now you know what to do before you go. But what are you going to do once you’re there? The choices are endless, but here are some of my family’s favorites.
There’s a good chance your flight will bring you into Beijing. You could easily spend a week exploring this crowded city, known for its palaces, temples and squares. The Great Wall is an absolute must-see, and Badaling, about 50 miles from Beijing, is its most popular stretch. Give yourself time to climb a section of the wall and get a sense of its enormity. There are a good number of steps, but my 8- and 10-year-olds didn’t have any problems. Take some snacks and water and you’ll be good to go! If you need a break afterward, there are plenty of shops and restaurants close by.
Be sure the Summer Palace fits into your Beijing itinerary. The kids will love riding in the “dragon” boat on Kunming Lake. Back on firm ground, walk the 728-yard Long Corridor. At every turn you’ll see vibrant Chinese design, gardens and temples. A former summer resort for emperors, this is a great place to spend a warm afternoon. Grab some ice cream if energy levels start to get low.
Next stop is Xian and the Terra Cotta Warriors. Local farmers made the discovery in 1974 while digging a well. The ongoing archaeological dig has uncovered more than a thousand life-size clay figures from the underground pits. Generals, soldiers, officials, servants, horses and chariots, all believed to protect China’s first emperor in the afterlife, are lined up in battle formation, as if ready to charge on command. Even more amazing, an estimated 7,000 more are still buried in the dirt.
You can’t visit China and not see pandas. Unfortunately, time and geography constraints usually mean you’ll see them in a zoo rather than in the wild. For us it was the Chongqing Zoo. I’m not a fan of zoos, so I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of “wasting” precious travel time there — I’ll admit it, it was all about the kids. Wow, am I glad I have kids! The pandas were amazing. We spent hours in awe watching them munch on bamboo. We were there first thing in the morning, so we had the cuddly critters to ourselves. We basically bought out the souvenir cart on our way out. What young girl doesn’t need a panda purse?
The China you see in all the classic photographs can be seen on the Li River. Your kids will think it’s just as amazing as you do, for the first hour. Then you may need to do some entertaining. So I propose a compromise: Go on a Li River cruise. See the mist-shrouded mountains, quiet villages, fisherman and salesmen on bamboo rafts. Then, once on dry land, take the kids to the Reed Flute Cave.
Just a few miles outside of Guilin, the Reed Flute Cave is a water-eroded cavern full of stalactites, stalagmites and other various rock formations. High-tech lighting brings the place to life. Plan on about an hour for the tour. At one point in our visit, there was a light show of sorts, and the next thing you know we were surrounded by bubbles. The kids were smiling ear to ear. (So was I.)
The cave gets its name from the reeds growing outside that can be made into flutes. Bargain with a vendor and get some flutes for the kids and friends back home.
Plan on flying from city to city to optimize travel time.It goes without saying, China is a BIG place, with endless possibilities for parents and kids. Take the family—you won’t regret it. You’ll just want to plan another trip.
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