The big OE at 52

11 days in China were flawless

11 days in China were flawless

The Terracotta Warriors are known as the eighth wonder of the world.
Gaylene walked to the highest point of the wall in this photo.
On her way up the Great Wall of China.
The Tiger Springs in Jinan.
The Tiger Springs in Jinan.
Baiguoshu Waterfalls.
Gaylene at the Temple of Heaven public recreation area.
Gaylene with her Beijing guide Chen in front of the 2008 Olympic Water Cube.
Gaylene travelled with a cabin bag only, which streamlined her trip.

I’m writing this article to encourage other single people to follow their dreams of travel. With Google and a good travel agent, it’s not as hard as you might imagine. I did my big OE at the age of 52.

I started with a map of China knowing my key points of interest were Beijing for the Great Wall and Forbidden City and Xi’an for The Terracotta Warriors.

I planned to fly from Auckland to my starting point in Shanghai so I then Google-searched the images of towns between Shanghai, Beijing and Xi’an that had temples, greenery and water. I narrowed this all down to day one here, day two there etc, noting two or three things I would like to see or do in each place.

Everyone I spoke with said to go to Elliott Travel and ask for David Borrie — “he’s the man” — so in I went, fully expecting him to hand me a brochure and say, “Look love, just pick a tour.”

But no, to my delight, he was impressed with my schedule and said, “Leave it with me”.

Through his contacts with CTS tours, he came back with a customised itinerary, whereby I was met in Shanghai by my English-speaking guide and driver, had two meals per day (at my request), all my accommodation (4-5 star), two flights, five trains and entry tickets, all sorted and covered for what worked out at around $500 per day — which was a fair asking price for everything I got.

My trip began with a day and a night in Shanghai visiting the tranquil Yu gardens, which has beautifully hand-crafted furniture, carvings and paintings. The ancient artifacts museum displays an impressive array of Chinese relics while the Jade Buddha Temple is a peaceful place in a busy city. I walked through winding alleyways of old Shanghai, where local people gathered to shop and share their day.

Shanghai station was my first-ever train station experience. About 26 million people live in that province alone and there were thousands at the station. I followed my guide’s instructions, shuffled my way down the escalator to board the bullet train. I travelled for four hours at a speed of 290-300km an hour. Once the train hit its travel speed, it was a very comfortable smooth ride over land, passing farming, factories and high-rise appartments where the people live.

Jinan

At the next city Jinan, (16 million people,) my guide was waiting with my name on a sign ready to tour me around his beautiful city, boasting the best springs in the world. The most popular are the Baotu Springs where the artesian waters have travelled through the mountains for the past 3000 years, providing drinking water for the local people.

My guide also took me to a more local area, the Tiger Springs where I mixed with folk filling their containers with the crystal clear, beautiful fresh water.

After a good night’s sleep, I took a 90-minute bullet train to Beijing (population 19 million) where I had four nights and three days to explore the Great Wall of China. If I had died that day, my life would have felt complete! I got to the highest peak on hands and feet and then collapsed along with the Chinese people who had also reached the dizzying heights. We congratulated each other with pats on the back and then ate the food from our backpacks.

I then continued on to the Forbidden City which has over 7000 rooms. We could only walk around the outside and see into a few inside areas but this did not retract from the enormity of emotion that stirred in me to actually be standing right there. The Forbidden City caps ticket sales each day at 80,000. When we bought our tickets at 9.30am, 50,000 tickets had already sold, the majority of the visitors being Chinese people from other provinces, visiting for their first time.

I also visited Tiananmen Square, a vast paved area where people gather for various reasons, and the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven which were created for the people to enjoy recreation, beauty and peace, to unwind, stretch and relax. I took a pedi-cab tour of Hutong, the ‘old city’ where it was very humbling to be given such a private look into local life.

Bullet train to Xi’an

Next came a six-hour bullet train to Xi’an. My guide there had messaged ahead to get a photo of me from the Beijing guide so she was waving my name at me as soon as she saw me exit the arrival hall. We had 40-degree heat to contend with, but off we went to the Terracotta Warriors. Known as the eighth wonder of the world, there is now a museum to display the warriors and horses which were made in the Qin Dynasty. Three very large buildings contain this wonder and a fine team of diligent archaeologists who work tirelessly to piece together the clay warriors.

We visited the Huaqing Hot Springs built in 723 by Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty. Also known as the Winter Palace, it was the scene of a beautiful but tragic love story between the Emperor and his consort. It would be breath-taking to visit during a Chinese winter. I was told the best time to visit China is April-May or October-November.

As I journeyed onwards with a 90-minute flight to Yichang, I enjoyed seeing the land from above with its many, many cities and clusters of houses belonging to farmland and factories.

My day in Yichang, home of the Yangtze River, was spent in the company of my well-informed local guide. We walked along a path following a river with waterfalls, to the Baiguoshu Waterfall which is 102m high and 80m wide. We got to walk behind the waterfall to the other side. Having the cool water falling on us was a very welcome relief from the 40-degree heat of the day. Again, most of the visitors were Chinese — there were very few Westerners so I felt honoured to be sharing the experience with them.

We then visited the Sanyou Cave, situated in the side of the Xiling gorge. Chinese people took refuge there when Japan invaded from 1937-45. Opposite the cave was an impressive bungy site of great height.

My guide then took me to her local Chinese massage place where the two of us enjoyed a 70-minute feet leg, back and neck treatment before I was taken to the station for my two-hour train ride to Wuhan. There I was met by a guide who took me to my hotel, picked me up in the morning and drove me to the airport where I flew to Hong Kong. My 11 days in China were flawless.

Busy in Hong Kong

I stayed two days and nights at the Kimberly Hotel in the middle of Hong Kong and had a busy but fabulous time. I took a boat ride and a swim in the Northern Territories’ town of Sai Kong, which reminded me a lot of the Auckland Harbour and its outer islands. Then did a day tour to Ngong Ping on Lantau Island to see the Golden Buddha Temple and monastery and finally a cable car ride to Tung Chung. The highlight was the cable car ride, the views and the food at the monastery — so fresh and full of flavour.

I also had time to check out a local swimming complex before taking the shuttle bus to Hong Kong International airport to catch my plane to Heathrow for the UK leg of my trip which is another story . . .

I’m writing this article to encourage other single people to follow their dreams of travel. With Google and a good travel agent, it’s not as hard as you might imagine. I did my big OE at the age of 52.

I started with a map of China knowing my key points of interest were Beijing for the Great Wall and Forbidden City and Xi’an for The Terracotta Warriors.

I planned to fly from Auckland to my starting point in Shanghai so I then Google-searched the images of towns between Shanghai, Beijing and Xi’an that had temples, greenery and water. I narrowed this all down to day one here, day two there etc, noting two or three things I would like to see or do in each place.

Everyone I spoke with said to go to Elliott Travel and ask for David Borrie — “he’s the man” — so in I went, fully expecting him to hand me a brochure and say, “Look love, just pick a tour.”

But no, to my delight, he was impressed with my schedule and said, “Leave it with me”.

Through his contacts with CTS tours, he came back with a customised itinerary, whereby I was met in Shanghai by my English-speaking guide and driver, had two meals per day (at my request), all my accommodation (4-5 star), two flights, five trains and entry tickets, all sorted and covered for what worked out at around $500 per day — which was a fair asking price for everything I got.

My trip began with a day and a night in Shanghai visiting the tranquil Yu gardens, which has beautifully hand-crafted furniture, carvings and paintings. The ancient artifacts museum displays an impressive array of Chinese relics while the Jade Buddha Temple is a peaceful place in a busy city. I walked through winding alleyways of old Shanghai, where local people gathered to shop and share their day.

Shanghai station was my first-ever train station experience. About 26 million people live in that province alone and there were thousands at the station. I followed my guide’s instructions, shuffled my way down the escalator to board the bullet train. I travelled for four hours at a speed of 290-300km an hour. Once the train hit its travel speed, it was a very comfortable smooth ride over land, passing farming, factories and high-rise appartments where the people live.

Jinan

At the next city Jinan, (16 million people,) my guide was waiting with my name on a sign ready to tour me around his beautiful city, boasting the best springs in the world. The most popular are the Baotu Springs where the artesian waters have travelled through the mountains for the past 3000 years, providing drinking water for the local people.

My guide also took me to a more local area, the Tiger Springs where I mixed with folk filling their containers with the crystal clear, beautiful fresh water.

After a good night’s sleep, I took a 90-minute bullet train to Beijing (population 19 million) where I had four nights and three days to explore the Great Wall of China. If I had died that day, my life would have felt complete! I got to the highest peak on hands and feet and then collapsed along with the Chinese people who had also reached the dizzying heights. We congratulated each other with pats on the back and then ate the food from our backpacks.

I then continued on to the Forbidden City which has over 7000 rooms. We could only walk around the outside and see into a few inside areas but this did not retract from the enormity of emotion that stirred in me to actually be standing right there. The Forbidden City caps ticket sales each day at 80,000. When we bought our tickets at 9.30am, 50,000 tickets had already sold, the majority of the visitors being Chinese people from other provinces, visiting for their first time.

I also visited Tiananmen Square, a vast paved area where people gather for various reasons, and the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven which were created for the people to enjoy recreation, beauty and peace, to unwind, stretch and relax. I took a pedi-cab tour of Hutong, the ‘old city’ where it was very humbling to be given such a private look into local life.

Bullet train to Xi’an

Next came a six-hour bullet train to Xi’an. My guide there had messaged ahead to get a photo of me from the Beijing guide so she was waving my name at me as soon as she saw me exit the arrival hall. We had 40-degree heat to contend with, but off we went to the Terracotta Warriors. Known as the eighth wonder of the world, there is now a museum to display the warriors and horses which were made in the Qin Dynasty. Three very large buildings contain this wonder and a fine team of diligent archaeologists who work tirelessly to piece together the clay warriors.

We visited the Huaqing Hot Springs built in 723 by Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty. Also known as the Winter Palace, it was the scene of a beautiful but tragic love story between the Emperor and his consort. It would be breath-taking to visit during a Chinese winter. I was told the best time to visit China is April-May or October-November.

As I journeyed onwards with a 90-minute flight to Yichang, I enjoyed seeing the land from above with its many, many cities and clusters of houses belonging to farmland and factories.

My day in Yichang, home of the Yangtze River, was spent in the company of my well-informed local guide. We walked along a path following a river with waterfalls, to the Baiguoshu Waterfall which is 102m high and 80m wide. We got to walk behind the waterfall to the other side. Having the cool water falling on us was a very welcome relief from the 40-degree heat of the day. Again, most of the visitors were Chinese — there were very few Westerners so I felt honoured to be sharing the experience with them.

We then visited the Sanyou Cave, situated in the side of the Xiling gorge. Chinese people took refuge there when Japan invaded from 1937-45. Opposite the cave was an impressive bungy site of great height.

My guide then took me to her local Chinese massage place where the two of us enjoyed a 70-minute feet leg, back and neck treatment before I was taken to the station for my two-hour train ride to Wuhan. There I was met by a guide who took me to my hotel, picked me up in the morning and drove me to the airport where I flew to Hong Kong. My 11 days in China were flawless.

Busy in Hong Kong

I stayed two days and nights at the Kimberly Hotel in the middle of Hong Kong and had a busy but fabulous time. I took a boat ride and a swim in the Northern Territories’ town of Sai Kong, which reminded me a lot of the Auckland Harbour and its outer islands. Then did a day tour to Ngong Ping on Lantau Island to see the Golden Buddha Temple and monastery and finally a cable car ride to Tung Chung. The highlight was the cable car ride, the views and the food at the monastery — so fresh and full of flavour.

I also had time to check out a local swimming complex before taking the shuttle bus to Hong Kong International airport to catch my plane to Heathrow for the UK leg of my trip which is another story . . .

Travel tips

• A tip for those with time at Hong Kong Airport — by gate 60, to the left, in behind some plants, there are lounging chairs to sleep on.

• Pack lightly — I travelled with a cabin bag only which streamlined my trip. It was so easy — no luggage to check-in and no waiting at baggage claim. All you need to do is wash your clothes each night in the shower, wring out, roll them in a towel and hang them up to dry.

• Always carry loo paper, hand sanitiser and a damp cloth.

• Be early on the days you are travelling.

• Between long-haul flights, find a shower and carry a full set of clothes and a toothbrush.

• Go and get lost and see what finds you.

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