China: Chengdu Panda Research Base

If you go to China and you don’t see pandas, did you even go?

Chengdu Panda Research Base

But while a lot of the major city zoos in China do have panda enclosures for you to see your favourite black and white fur-pals, if you want a truly incredible panda experience, Chengdu Research Base of Panda Breeding is where you need to be. The base is in the north-east of the city, and about a 20 minute (£5-6) taxi trip from the city centre – probably the easiest way to get there!

Chengdu Panda Research Base

Chengdu Panda Research Base

First things first (quite literally!), to get the best experience you need to arrive early – about 8am – as that’s when the pandas are most active, before the midday heat drives them indoors to sleep! Its often quieter then too, so its a win win.

Chengdu Panda Research Base

Chengdu Panda Research Base

As well as adult pandas, the base has a group of yearlings, which are really fun and cheeky, and love playing together, and two delivery houses: Sunshine and Moonlight. In the Sunshine Delivery House, you’re a pane of glass away from tiny newborns in their incubators, ranging from the teeny pink babies to those developing their fur. Its a walk-by set up, so you can’t just stand and look at them all day, but their asleep pretty much all the time so you’re not missing out on much action!

Chengdu Panda Research Base

Chengdu Panda Research Base

If you’re looking for adorable action, head over to the Moonlight Delivery House as this is where you can see the babies and mothers interacting together. I could have watched them for hours! This is best visited between about 9-10am; the keepers tend to clean out the indoor enclosures at this point but the cubs are still in there and they get really playful with the keepers! After the cleaning is over, the mummies are let back in and playtime continues until everyone’s so exhausted that its nap time again!

Chengdu Panda Research Base

While the classic black and whites steal most of the attention, there are also red pandas living and breeding in Chengdu. The delivery house was closed during our visit due to the number of expecting mothers needing privacy, but we could still do the walk-through of the red panda forest; they can be pretty hard to spot but they’re so cute!

Chengdu Panda Research Base

Chengdu Panda Research Base

And if you too want to make like a panda and have a rest away from the heat of the day, there’s Panda Cafe! This cute little setup involves comfy sofas and stuffed toys, and serves a multitude of cold and hot drinks, including smoothies and milkshakes.

Adult entry to the centre is 58RMB, which is about £8 – a total bargain and worth every penny!

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Haidilao Hot Pot Restaurant, Beijing

This is a fun little story.

So it was one of the first nights we were in China, and we were in Beijing with no idea what restaurants were near us, so we did what all good tourists do: we turned to Trip Advisor, and lo and behold, #4 on the top restaurant list was literally just down the road, so off we trotted.

We come to the shopping centre that the restaurant is listed in, and take the escalators up and up until we eventually found it on the eighth floor..

Beijing Haidilao Hot Pot

It looked good, but when we arrived there was no English menu available for us to look at, so we decided to just take a chance and we lead to a table with a giant hole in the middle.. The staff were really friendly, but there only seemed to be one person who could speak a little bit of English, so ordering was interesting, especially considering we still didn’t really seem to know what was going on!

Here’s the deal: that hole in the middle of the table is filled with a big bowl of a soupy-stock, split into two halves for two different flavours. We were advised which options were spicy, so we opted for the mildest two: tomato and mushroom. This bowl is heated through the table, and bubbles away in front of you.

Beijing Haidilao Hot Pot

Next up, you pick what you want to go into your stock. We did this purely from the pictures in the menu, choosing beef, prawns, glass noodles, spinach and other veggies, and these are then brought to your table raw for you to add to the stock of your choice to cook yourself!

Beijing Haidilao Hot Pot

Beijing Haidilao Hot Pot

That’s right, you’re totally in control over what’s bubbling away in the hot pot! Because its so hot, most things take less than 5 minutes to cook, and then you have the fun task of attempting to scoop it out into your bowl without pouring soup all over the table – which I did every time.. They clearly knew we’d make a mess as they brought us aprons to wear and hairbands!

Haidilao Hotpot

Haidilao Hot Pot

The whole experience seemed really daunting at first, especially with the stress of understanding what it was we were ordering, but it turned out to be so much fun and the food was delicious! And how much did the bill come to for all of us? £20.

Interested? Check out the listing on Trip Advisor here!

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The Great Wall of China

One of the real highlights of my recent trip to China was definitely The Great Wall. This might sound a little cheesy or predictable, but prior to actually visiting The Wall, it didn’t really hold any interest for me; it was something that I kinda felt just had to be done, and I did not expect to be blown away by it.

But I was.

The Great Wall of China

If you’re staying in or around Beijing, there are a few different section of the walls nearby, but my sister had heard from a friend that the quieter and least tourist-y area was Mutianyu, so that’s where we headed. The easiest way to get there is to hire a driver with a car, which costs around 500 yuan, or £50, which can take up to four people; this may seem like a lot but its almost 2 hours drive away and you’ll appreciate the air-conditioning, plus there’s no having to wait for buses!

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

After buying tickets from the information office, shuttle buses which run every 10-20 minutes will take you some of the way up the mountain, where you then get two options for getting up to the wall. Option number 1: you can walk the series of steps and slopes up the steep mountain side, or option number 2: cable cars whizz you up! And once you’re on the wall, you’ll just be blown away..

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

The Wall runs as far as the eye can see, over the peak of the mountains and beyond. Some parts are flat while others are crazy steep, and I suddenly understood why its such a challenge when people walk the wall for charity!

 

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

Mutianyu is one of the best preserved sections of the wall, and I would thoroughly recommend giving it a visit if you’re in the area. Plus, if you don’t fancy the cable car back down, you’ve got the option of a toboggan back down to the shuttle buses!

Is China on your travel bucket list?

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A Look Around Shanghai’s Disney Store

The Disney Store in Shanghai’s city centre is the largest in the world, did you know that? I certainly didn’t until we arrived in Shanghai, and at that point I knew I had to visit!

Shanghai Disney Store

Shanghai Disney Store clock tower

While the exterior of the building is fairly understated, this incredible clock tower is the centrepiece of a large forecourt full of hidden Mickeys and Disney magic, and as for the interior..

Shanghai Disney Store castle

Shanghai Disney Store

Shanghai Disney Store

A castle. A real little castle in the middle of the store. I squealed. The whole inside of the store was full of magical details, from chandeliers and trees to hot air balloons and pixie dust, and I could have spent all day wandering around that shop!

Sure, some of the merchandise was no different to what you can find in a UK or US Disney Store, but there were also some adorable exclusive and unique products to marvel over:

Shanghai Disney Store

Shanghai Disney Store

Shanghai Disney Store

Shanghai Disney Store tsum tsums

The store was actually celebrating its 1st anniversary with these beautiful limited edition tsum tsums – you may have seen in my Shanghai Disney haul that I got the set of mini Minnie and Daisy, but I’m too scared to take them out of the box, ha! They had a huge area of soft toys and tsum tsums, as well as the standard Star Wars and Marvel merchandise, and a whole wall of Disney princess dresses and toys.

Shanghai Disney Store

Shanghai Disney Store
And at night, it gets even prettier! The store is located right in the city’s centre, next to a big shopping centre – if you wanted to make a day of it!

Isn’t this just the prettiest Disney Store?

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Things to Know Before Visiting China

If you’re planning a trip to China, here’s a pretty comprehensive guide of things you might want to know before you go!

The Great Wall of China

Visas

Like many countries, you need to obtain a visa before travelling to China. The process involves filling out a pretty detailed form and sending it off with your passport, or you can go direct to the Chinese Embassy in London. Once you’ve got your visa, you’ve got 90 days in which to enter the country, and the visa only covers you for 30 days once you’re there!

One thing you’ll need to have sorted before applying for your visa is accommodation for the entire duration of your trip; you have to have full details for your application, and if you don’t then you’ll get rejected!

Transportation

Most of the major cities within China – Beijing, Shanghai etc – have excellent subway systems, which cost pence compared to the London Underground. You can pay per journey by selecting your final destination, and your ticket covers any line changes you’ll need to make to get there, or you can top up a pass.

If you’re considering hiring a car for your trip, let me give you a piece of advice: DON’T. The roads are absolutely crazy, with every driver in it for themselves! Driving through red lights is totally normal, beeping is constant and lane markings are more like guidelines..

Compared to a lot of places, taxis in China are real cheap! While some cities require taxis to have a meter by law – guaranteeing fair charging – some places, like Beijing, don’t, and you’ll need to agree a price with your driver before travelling. DO NOT settle for the first price they give you, even if it does seem fairly reasonable – you can haggle prices right down!

Oh, and those 9 million bicycles in Beijing? Yeah most of them are motorised now, but that doesn’t stop them from riding up onto pavements or the wrong way down the street.

Toilets

Even in big tourist areas, most public toilets are not western; yes, you’ll need to squat over a hole in the ground. Some places may have one or two western cubicles, but often you won’t be provided with any toilet paper, so you’re best carrying plenty with you at all times just in case!

Social media and VPNs

Think you’ll be able to go without social media during your trip? Great, you won’t be able to get on it anyway! Chinese internet blocks pretty much all social media sites – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc – and anything Google based, to name a few things. You can get around this by pre-purchasing a VPN, which routes your signal through a different country, allowing these servers to work no problem, but actually going without for a little while is a nice break! Hong Kong, however, is totally fine!

Language

Do not expect everyone to speak English, or even always understand our letter symbols. Try and print out a few key phrases in proper Chinese characters, and any hotel addresses, as this will save you a lot of time and confusion!

General tourist stuff!

  • A lot of tourist attractions discounted entry for students, so if you have student ID then its worth asking!
  • Queuing is not done very well – there will be people pushing in!
  • Umbrellas are used to protect from sun as well as rain, so everyone carries them pretty much everywhere
  • Selfie sticks are also everywhere!
  • Some places, including some tube stations, require security bag checks on entry – not unlike going through airport security!
  • Tourists can be a novelty for some, so you might find you’re approached and asked for selfies and photos! Some people don’t even ask though, I had my picture taken slyly on trains and in the street..

China is such a fascinating place, would you ever visit?

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Shanghai Disneyland – Day 3!

Today was our last day in Shanghai, and after a lie in I was in a bit of a rush to get into the parks, worrying that we’d lost an hour by sleeping. What I’d forgotten was that being a Monday, the park didn’t open til 9..

Shanghai Disneyland Pirates of the Caribbean

Mum and Hannah had decided not to come into the park today, so once Dad and I caught the shuttle bus over, and after bag and ticket check, still made it in just before 9am. We took a bit of a slow wander through the parks on our way to Pirates of the Caribbean, after which we headed back to Mickey Avenue to grab some breakfast at Remy’s Patisserie. There was a band playing in front of the Walt and Mickey statue, which we could watch from where we sat to eat.

Shanghai Disneyland Remy's Patisserie

Next on the agenda was the Dumbo ride, but with an hour wait, we didn’t really fancy that, instead heading back for a final ride on Pirates. If you’ve read the last two days as well, you’ll notice we’ve done this a lot, but it’s so good!

Shanghai Disneyland food

Only having an hour left before needing to meet Mum and Hannah in Disneytown, we wandered back to Tomorrowland, and finished our half-day with a final intergalactic mission with Buzz.

After leaving the park, we grabbed lunch in The Cheesecake Factory in Disneytown, before heading back to pick up our bags and getting a taxi to the airport for the next leg of our trip: Chengdu!

I’ll be of the radar for a few more days now, then once in Hong Kong I’ll be back with access to social media and will bombard you with updates from there, as well as blogging our time in Hong Kong Disneyland! See ya real soon Shanghai!

Shanghai Disneyland – Day 1!

What a magical day!

So this morning we were up at 6.30am to get from our hotel in central Shanghai to the Disney resort area – although there was a bus that ran from nearby, we decided to get a taxi to save a bit of time, which was about £20 to the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel.

From the hotel reception area we could see out across the lake, and there was the castle..

Shanghai Disneyland castle

I cried, obviously.

We caught the ferry across the lake, and spent quite a while in bag checks and ticket check queues, and then we were in! While the park doesn’t have a classic Main Street USA, it has Mickey Avenue which is full of charm and the most amazing little details. The castle show was just finishing, so we headed off to start exploring!

Shanghai Disneyland station

Unlike the classic US park set up, here Adventureland is on the right hand side of the castle, and Tomorrowland on the left, so we started an anti-clockwise loop, with the first ride being Pirates of the Caribbean – a bit of a family tradition. It was a Pirates like no other; completely raising the bar for all the other PotC rides around the world! I won’t spoil it too much, but it was way more than just a boat ride.

Shanghai Disneyland Royal Banquet Hall

From there, we headed into Fantasyland land, did the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ride, and Pooh was actually hanging out outside the exit when we left so we got in a quick cuddle and photo! We then went on to do Peter Pan’s Flight, then went to explore the beautiful Enchanted Storybook Castle, where we were stopped and asked if we were interesting in lunch at the Royal Banquet Hall – the character restaurant inside the castle – how can you say no to that?! It was just the most magical meal; the food was incredible and the characters were in the cutest outfits!

Enchanted Storybook Castle

After feeling thoroughly stuffed, we queued up for the Once Upon a Time Adventure, an interactive walk up and through the castle, with the story of Snow White being told along the way. While I didn’t mind the fact that it was in Chinese – I mean, I know the story! – what really peeved me was the Chinese families pushing in line and children forcing their way to the front..

Star Wars Launch Bay Shanghai

Onwards to Tomorrowland, we queued up for Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue, which sadly meant missing the parade, but the newer technology in the ride made it pretty awesome, and because my mum’s blaster didn’t work on the first go, they let us ride it again! We then headed to Star Wars Launch Bay, which is tucked right out of the way of Tomorrowland, which meant it was really quiet; hello 30 second wait to meet Kylo Ren and R2D2!

With the Tron ride queue over 2 hours, we headed back towards the gardens in front of the castle, with the intention of visiting some of the shops in Mickey Avenue, but instead detoured back into Adventureland to watch the Tarzan show, which was pretty incredible! After doing a few of the shops, we headed back to the hotel to sort out checking into our room!

A few Mickey shaped desserts in our tummies, and we headed back into the park for the nighttime show. We stood in the centre of Mickey Avenue to watch it, with a great view of the castle, but as soon as it began, the crowd just turned into a sea of phones in the air, which was a little saddening as no one was watching it, and none of the rest of us could see it properly, so I moved to the side of the street in the end. The show itself was a classic projection show, like Disney Dreams or Celebrate the Magic, with a few new clips from Star Wars and Mulan.
With most of the crowds heading out of the park, but with an hour of opening left, we pegged it back to Tomorrowland with the hopes of getting into the elusive Tron rollercoaster, and despite advertising a 70 min wait time, we were on and off within 40 minutes and WOW IS THAT RIDE WORTH THE HYPE!! Absolutely unbelievable, such a unique and incredible ride.

Shanghai Disneyland Tron ride

With 5 minutes til park close, we managed to sneak in two goes on Buzz (again) before taking a slow walk out of the park, and popping into World of Disney in Disneytown – the Downtown Disney equivalent area – before catching the ferry back to the hotel!

Shanghai Disneyland castle

I’m exhausted but it’s been such a wonderful day! Tomorrow we’ll be up nice and early to get into the park for opening, and another Disney day!