China might not immediately spring to mind as a ‘family friendly destination’ but we were actually very surprised at just how family friendly China really is!
*prices are accurate as of January 2015
Taking Your Family to China
Before you travel with your family, if you are anything like me, you research, research, research. By checking out the internet, visiting a travel agent in person, reading guides books from the library and speaking with Chinese friends I soon learned most of what I needed to know about when to go, which sights were worth seeing, how to get to them.
Because I was travelling alone with a young child, I decided to hire a personal tour guide. Through friends’ of friends we arrange our own guide who, for a mere $100 AUS a day + his expenses, arranged our travel in/around China and travelled with us every day. Being a local of Beijing, he knew all the short cuts, helped us avoid any scammers, haggled to get us good prices when necessary and could take us to the authentic, non-touristy locations to have a genuine (more reasonably priced) experience. We highly recommend hiring a reputable personal tour guide!
China has seasons opposite to Brisbane. We went in April, which was their spring. We also went just after the Easter holidays to avoid the bulk of the tourists travelling on school holidays. We booked our flights through Qantas, travelling via Hong Kong and on to Beijing. It took approx. 13 hours. We arrived quite late into Beijing – around 11pm which made for a very tired family upon arrival. Luckily our aforementioned tour guide was there to meet us upon arrival to whisk us away to our hotel.
Sight-seeing for families:
There are so many awesome things for families to do in China. We divided our time amongst 3 cities: Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai. Like most sight-seeing activities, be prepared to do lots of walking! One of the best tips ever is: children under 120cm tall are FREE on public transport and most sight-seeing entry fees!
Beijing for families:
Subways are the fastest transportation in Beijing and they are a good way to avoid frequent traffic jams. Each journey is approx 40 cents regardless of distance. We visited Tiananmen Square (free entry), The Forbidden City (approx $11) and The Temple of Heaven (approx $3) using the subway and public buses. On the following day we caught a public long distance coach which took about 1.5 hours and climbed the Great Wall of China! The absolute best thing about climbing the Great Wall was the toboggan ride back down, particularly for kids (although I loved it too!) If you go to The Great Wall, you absolutely MUST take the kids on the toboggan ride down. I promise you won’t regret it! (approx $15 adults, $10 children or under 120cms FREE!) Check out our video of the toboggan:
The next day we used a local taxi (approx $20), to get to the Summer Palace (approx $6) where we enjoyed the paddle boats on the Kunming Lake (approx $6 for an hour). On our last day in Beijing, we went to the Beijing Zoo (approx $3) and Panda Home ($4) as well as the Aquarium which had the SeaWorld Dolphin, Sea lion show (we actually purchased a combined ticket for approx $25 for the whole day!) Because they are together there is no need for travelling in between and makes for a jam-packed day of kiddie fun.
I don’t know about you, but I simply could NOT go to China without seeing the Terracotta Warriors. I saw them as a young child at the Queensland Museum in Brisbane and I knew that I wanted to visit them again when I was in China. The only problem is, the Terracotta Warriors are a long way out of the way from Beijing or Shanghai – in Xi’an. We took a high speed train from Beijing ($100 each) which took nearly 6 hours and got up to speeds of 305 km/hr.
Personally, I think this was well worth the trip and added expense. We stayed two nights so that we could arrive, rest and then go out to the site the following day. We took a public bus (15 cents), again because our guide could read the timetables and knew how to navigate the way around. And the trip was something that my son and I will never forget. The museum covers an area of 16,300 square meters, divided into three pits. Altogether over 7,000 pottery soldiers, horses, chariots, and even weapons have been unearthed from these pits. Most of them have been restored to their former grandeur. The entry fee was approx $30 per person and this was one place where even children under 120cms had to pay to enter!
We often host students from China, so stopping in Shanghai was more of a personal visit with old friends, than a sight-seeing & cultural experience. We enjoyed meeting with them and meandering through ‘The Bund’, a famous waterfront area that is regarded as the symbol of Shanghai. It is on the west bank of Huangpu River and houses 26 various buildings of different architectural styles including Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, Classicism and the Renaissance. We roamed it by day and by night (beautiful) and we also visited the amazing (and busy) Yuyuan Garden Markets to shop for some souvenirs including silk ties for $2!
If you are thinking about travelling somewhere different in the future, and think that China might be for you, I wholeheartedly support you. We found China and the Chinese people to be extremely friendly and welcoming…. And the (planned) nine hour layover in Hong Kong on the way home, with a sneaky visit to Disneyland was the perfect way to end a wonderful, family holiday!
Remember, travelling to China requires planning and safety considerations:
- You will need visas for everyone entering China. Check the Chinese consulate in Brisbane website:
- The weather can be very temperamental – we baked in Beijing and froze in Shanghai! Check predictions and pack a variety of clothes – just in case!
- Always check: www.smartraveller.gov.au
- Make sure you check out these tips for flying long haul with a toddler.
Written by Janine Mergler (Editor – Families Magazine – Brisbane)
This article was published in Issue 8 of our print magazine, February/March 2015.