New adventures in an ancient land
Evie Farrell and daughter Emmie fall in love with China on a mother and daughter adventure.
We are gliding down Yangshuo’s Yulong River on a handmade bamboo raft pushed along by a local boatman who expertly navigates bubbling rapids with a skinny bamboo pole. Seven-year-old Emmie is wearing a fresh flower crown and screaming with delight as the river splashes over our feet. We float downstream past the peaks of mountainous limestone karsts, waving to guests lunching by the river and riding bikes through the golden fields.
“Best day ever,” screams Emmie as the raft surges over a rocky drop, and enterprising locals snap photos they try to sell us from the riverbank. It’s just another heart-swelling moment in our adventures in China, a country we have grown to love. As a family destination China is a safe bet for well-organised experiences, reliable transport, friendly locals and nature so diverse it’s hard to believe it’s all in one amazing country. And for every astounding natural wonder there is also a world’s biggest man-made attraction to complement it; China is super-sized and super wonderful.
Food, friends and family fun
We camp overnight on the Great Wall, watch giant pandas play in Chengdu, climb mountains and brave sky-high glass walkways in Zhangjiajie. We race past lush green countryside on bullet trains, spotting waterfalls, mountains and families tending crops with buffalo and ancient machinery. We visit Shanghai Disneyland, sail on Hangzhou’s freshwater West Lake and in Xi’an ride bikes around the city walls and stare with amazement at the Terracotta Army.
We eat hundreds of xiao long bao, deliciously delicate hand-twisted dumplings filled with soup and pork, plus green beans, sizzling Sichuan hot pots and spicy kung pao chicken. We sit in local restaurants and use our own form of sign language to order, and fill hungry bellies with shallot cakes and soft, steaming buns from roadside stalls.
And everywhere we meet kind, caring locals who pass Emmie apples and treats, take us in their cars to wherever we are going, jump into taxis with us to make sure we find our hostel and who always, always ask if we need a hand.
Pandamonium in Sichuan
In Sichuan’s Chengdu our first stop is the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, just 10 kilometres from town. We follow organised pathways and watch delightfully clumsy giant pandas as they play, stumble and lay spread-eagled on bamboo platforms chomping into their daily diet of around 30 kilos of bamboo. The sprawling park is easy to wander around and our highlight is the panda nursery where four tiny pink newborns are ministered to by uniformed nurses in their humidicribs as we stare, spellbound, through glass windows.
An eight-hour bus ride (or short flight) from Chengdu is the natural beauty of Jiuzhaigou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau where colourful clear lakes are surrounded by soaring forest-covered mountains and plunging waterfalls. We wind along pathways – wide and smooth for wheelchair accessible travel – and shuttle buses take us deep into the forest. It can be busy with domestic tourists, but the trick (as with any attraction in China) is to start from the furthest point and work your way back.
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Mighty Wall, Mighty Mouse
In Beijing we absorb the atmosphere of ancient dynasties as we camp on the Great Wall of China, sleeping on a watchtower under the stars and waking to see the Wall winding out before us like a twirling ribbon through the forest.
In Shanghai we visit Disneyland for its opening day and fall in love with its magnificent castle, wide streets, joyful parade and happy, magical vibe. With a little strategy we avoid the crowds and revisit our favourite rides, Tron and the incredible new Pirates of The Caribbean, over and over again. The park is amazing. Everything here is bigger, and contrary to rumours, it is clean, orderly and friendly.
Adventures in Zhangjiajie
Emmie decides we need to visit Tianmen Mountain in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, fascinated with the seemingly terrifying glass walkways that are bolted onto the side of the mountain. And so we do, taking the world’s longest cable car to the top of Tianmen Mountain and striding across the glass, 1.4 kilometres high and absolutely spectacular. We ride the world’s tallest outdoor lift – the glass Bailong (Hundred Dragons) Elevator – 320 metres up the side of a cliff. As we gaze at the incredible vertical pinnacles of the Avatar Mountains rising out of the earth like a jagged sandstone forest, covered in green shrubs and wisps of fog, we know we’ll back and our travels in China will never end.
Solo Sydney mum Evie and her seven-year-old daughter Emmie left Australia in February 2016 to explore the world.They've been travelling ever since and share their adventures on Instagram and on their blog.
Not speaking Chinese is easily overcome with a bit of planning. Always take hostel or hotel cards with you, and screenshot pictures of where you’re going and addresses in Chinese. Buying a local SIM card will give you constant access to maps and translate apps.
Qantas offers codeshare flights with China Eastern Airlines to destinations throughout China from major Australian cities
This article appeared in volume 52 of Holidays with Kids magazine.
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