Chinese New Year celebrations begin and I am reminded of my once-in-a-lifetime adventure in China. I explored the sights of Beijing, Mutianyu, and Xi’an.
Five years on, the experiences that still resonate include Tiananmen Square, the birthplace of the Republic of China. Next to it lies the Forbidden City. This was the Imperial Palace, home to centuries of Emperors right up to the 20th century. Now the Palace Museum, visitors can enjoy the spectacular architecture, landscaped gardens and art throughout this palace complex. 2024 will see a century has passed since it was opened to the public. It is serene & spectacular in equal measure.
At the outskirts of Beijing lies Mutianyu, home to one of the best-preserved sections of the Great Wall of China. This extraordinary structure stretches across China’s vast landscape. You can walk a section or opt for a cable car. It’s worth noting the walk is steep slope but friendly locals selling beers along the route makes for a welcome distraction.
My preference for something a little off the beaten track drew me to Xi’an. Xi’an formed the end of the “silk road”. With a guide, the escorted tour explored the remaining defence walls of the city. A cycling tour, along the top of these walls, enabled us to cover 13km of ancient architecture from towers, drawbridges and parapets. There is a wonderful freedom to pedalling through the city, witnessing life go by in another culture and was a highlight of the tour.
Xi’an is also home to the Terracotta Warriors that will stop you in your tracks. Each of the full-sized 8,000+ hand-painted statues dating back to the 3rd century is unique. Laid out in a colossal museum, the collection includes various ranking soldiers, archers, acrobats and even musicians. There are even cavalry horses and horse-drawn chariots. The size of the collection, the detail, and their preservation are almost unbelievable.
China was an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime trip. There is a significant advantage to having guides, as part of an escorted tour. They provide context to culturally significant sights, navigate logistics and converse with locals (English is not widely spoken). The food was fantastic though Irish palettes may not be accustomed to Chinese food morning, noon and night. The tip of packing a few plain crackers, just in case, proved very helpful to settle a stomach. Also, toilet facilities outside the comfort of your hotel room are rustic at best – be warned & enough said.
To all celebrating this Chinese New Year, I wish you great happiness & prosperity. To those born in the Year of the Monkey, it has served me well (now I’m showing my age). As for China, I would return in a heartbeat.