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CHINA


VISITING THE GREAT WALL


“Lots of my guests cry when they arrive there,” says our Abercrombie & Kent guide Milly as we begin our drive from Beijing to the Great Wall. “The majority of A&K guests are older and the wall has been on their wish list for many years, so it overwhelms them when they arrive.” While I may be only 29, I felt I could relate to


what Milly was saying because I’ve also wanted to see the wall since I can remember. We drive an hour and a half from the capital


ABOVE: The Forbidden City, Beijing


their country really shone through. The excursion offering was a little mixed. In Fengdu, our first stop, we visited a local market and a new town where those relocated following flooding have started a new life. Day two saw the best excursion of the trip, travelling on the Shennong Stream on a sampan – a traditional longboat rowed by Tujia boatmen. Our Tujia guide, who went by the English name Debbie, sang traditional folk songs while we made our way up and down the stream. The final excursion took us to Three Gorges Dam, the largest power station in the world. The Yangzi Explorer cruise is packaged up by a number of operators, including sister brand Abercrombie & Kent. My trip with A&K included a pre-cruise stay in Beijing and a visit to Shanghai after disembarking the vessel.


64 — aspire september 2017 HISTORIC BEIJING


The capital is almost like a big sister to the modern, glitzy and more westernised Shanghai but the two are poles apart. Visiting Beijing first is recommended and doing so allowed me to build up my knowledge of the country’s past – with history and heritage deeply ingrained in the city and its 21.5-million population. A visit to the Forbidden City, the imperial palace from the Ming dynasty, is an absolute must. This sprawling historic site consists of 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 buildings and more than 8,000 rooms. Make sure you arrive early as there is a cap on the number of visitors permitted each day, and domestic tourists descend en masse.


Neighbouring Tiananmen Square has a somewhat chequered history, having been the site where hundreds of civilians were shot


to Mutianyu – a section of the wall that is a little off the beaten track. This is just one of the perks of travelling with A&K: the expert knowledge of our local guide ensures we visit an area that is far less crowded than many others, allowing you to actually enjoy the experience at this man-made wonder. Badaling, which is closer to Beijing, is where the majority of domestic tourists tend to visit and it is insanely busy during peak times. Milly has worked for A&K for 12 years and is a Beijing native – something that is key to the brand, which prides itself on employing local guides who can share their local knowledge. Having arrived in style by private transfer,


we make the short journey to the top of the wall. The view is breathtaking and leaves you marvelling at the size of this vast structure and the effort it must have taken to build it.


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