CHINA ITINERARY – 10 DAYS IN BEIJING, XI’AN & ZHANGJIAJIE
April 22, 2020
In this 10 days China Itinerary, we visited Beijing, Xi’an and Zhangjiajie to sightsee some of the country’s most iconic landmarks and breathtaking views.
Table of Contents
Our China Itinerary Route
The reason why we planned these 3 cities for our China Itinerary was because there were certain places we knew we wanted to tick off our bucket-list for sure. The main 3 attractions included The Great Wall of China (Beijing), Huashan Mountain (Xi’an) and Zhangjiajie National Forest Park (Zhangjiajie). We did a lot of walking during our time in China because of this, so this itinerary is for those who don’t mind a physically tiring holiday.
– Beijing: Day 1 to Day 4 – Xi’an: Day 4 to Day 7 – Zhangjiajie: Day 7 to Day 10
China Itinerary | Pre-Essentials & Tips
Payment Methods in China | Alipay & WeChat Pay
Many places in China do not accept foreign cards such as Mastercard and Visa. Most foreigners travelling to China would hence have to resort to mainly cash payments. However, this would mean you may not be able to use their transportation app called DiDi (it’s like Uber but China’s version).
Currently, locals mainly use Alipay or WeChat for pretty much all of their daily transactions. It is also possible for you to set up an Alipay or WeChat account with your local credit card. However, do test this out before going to China as your credit card may still get rejected. Mine got rejected by Alipay’s app, hence we had to get a friend to do the top up for us using his China Bank Account.
There is a difference between Alipay and WeChat:
1. Alipay – This is more of a prepaid account whereby you’ll have to top up cash into the account before being able to use it. 2. WeChat Pay – WeChat directly links your credit card to the account and any transactions made will be deducted from your bank account. I did not try this during my trip, but you can still play around with the app to see if you’re able to work it out.
Transportation | How to get around China
I mentioned earlier of this Uber-like transportation app called DiDi in China. It was our main mode of transportation as taking it is relatively cheap in China. For example, a 10-minute journey costs about 10 yuan (SGD 2.01).
It’s quite a user-friendly app and we used is all over China. The downside is that you’ll have to set up either an Alipay or WeChat account to use it as your mode of payment. I tried to add my credit card into DiDi’s payment methods but it was rejected when I tried to book a ride. However, once you’re able to settle the payment method, it’s going to be really convenient to get around.
Weather | The Best Time to Visit China
The best times to visit China are during their Spring (April-May) and Autumn (September-October) seasons. We visited in October and the weather was just perfect for us to take long walks along mountain cliffs. I would not recommend visiting Beijing or Xi’an during winter as it gets extremely cold. When we were there in October, the temperatures were already as low as 8 degrees celsius.
SIM/WIFI in China | Access to Social Media in China
You will not be able to access your favourite social media websites such as Instagram, Facebook or Twitter in China. There is only one solution for this – download a VPN beforeyou arrive in China. China makes it difficult for you to access these sites so don’t procrastinate and wait till you’ve landed there to download it.
In addition, there are some parts of China whereby google maps will not load. If you are Chinese literate, consider downloading the Baidu app to help you get around. Otherwise, remember to download offline google maps beforehand just in case.
Our China Itinerary
China Itinerary – Day 1 to Day 4: Beijing
Accommodation | Where to Stay in Beijing, China
We stayed at the Howard Johnson Paragon Hotel in Beijing (Beijing Bao Chen Fan Dian). It was easy for our DiDi driver to find it as it is located just opposite of Beijing Railway Station. There are also a couple of grocery shops just 2-minutes walk away from the hotel.
Transportation from Beijing Airport to the City Centre
Option 1: Taking Taxi / DiDi from Airport to City Centre Cost for DiDi: About RMB 80 Cost for Taxi: About RMB 100-130 This is the most convenient method especially for foreigners who are unable to speak Chinese.
Option 2: Taking Train from Airport to City Centre This is the most popular option as it is cheap and relatively easy. The ticket will cost RMB 25 for a one-way trip. The Airport Express Train connects to Line 10 at Sanyuanqiao station and then continues to Dongzhimen station where it connects to Line 2 and 13. You can make a stop at either of these 2 stations and transfer to another subway line from there which will cost another RMB 2.
You can buy subway tickets from vending machines at the entrance to each platform. The machines can only take in one-yuan coins, five-yuan and ten-yuan bills. If can go to the ticking window to exchange money if needed.
We arrived in Beijing at 1pm in the afternoon and we hopped straight into a Taxi to reach our hotel first. Due to the massive traffic jam at the city center, we only arrived at our hotel at 4pm.
Explore Wangfujing Street
Wangfujing street one of the most popular and vibrant shopping districts in Beijing. There is a mix of large department stores, retail & souvenir shops and markets here.
After exploring the street, we decided to stop by Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant for Dinner. Beijing is famous for their Peking Duck and a must to try when visiting the city.
Temple of Heaven (Tian Tan Gong Yuan)
This iconic attraction is an imperial complex of religious buildings located in the southeastern part of central Beijing.
Be prepared to wake up early to arrive at the complex before 7.30am if you do not want to be slammed by large groups of tourists when you reach the area.
Opening hours of the park: 6am to 11pm Opening hours for the buildings: 8am to 5pm
Entrance Ticket fee: RMB 15 (April – November); RMB 10 (December – March) Through Ticket fee: RMB 35 (April – November); RMB 30 (December – March). This ticket will grant you access to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, The Imperial Vault of Heave and the Circular Mound Altar.
We bought the Through Ticket as we wanted to be able to explore the compound more thoroughly and sightsee some of the historical buildings. The entrance ticket will only give you access to the park.
Haidilao is China’s biggest chain of hotpot restaurants. Their superb customer service and food quality has been constantly driving customer loyalty back time and time again. You’d never fail to see crowds outside their restaurant during lunch and dinner timings, waiting for their turn to be seated.
We decided to visit their newest restaurant outlet in Beijing that was powered by Artificial Intelligence. It was an extremely interesting experience as you can witness robots aiding staff in the delivery of food from the kitchen. The design of the restaurant was also spectacular as its walls were lined with futuristic digital artwork, transporting you back to different seasons.
Address: B1, Bldg E, Zhongjun World City, 8-9 Jinhui Lu, Chaoyang Opening hours: 11am to 2pm (Lunch); 4pm to 9pm (Dinner)
Explore Qianmen Street & Forbidden City
Qianmen Street is another famous pedestrian street for shopping and sightseeing. You can try their various local street snacks here and visit the forbidden city which is just a 10-minute drive away.
Houhai Lake & Houhai Street Bar
This is a large artificial lake in the northern side of central Beijing. We visited Houhai at night as we wanted to experience some of Beijing’s bars and nightlife. There are also shops selling street snacks around the lake that you can try. We bought this crabmeat xiao long bao that tasted amazing! You can find it around the corner near the entrance to the lake, just before all the souvenir shops.
Visit to the Great Wall of China
Probably the highlight of our time in Beijing, we visited one of the greatest wonders of the world. The two most popular tourist spots to visit along the great wall would be Mu Tian Yu and Ba Da Ling.
Difference between Mu Tian Yu & Ba Da Ling:
Mu Tian Yu Pros: More Authentic, Less Crowded, Better Architecture, Toboggan Ride Available Cons: Harder climb to the top, less accessible
Ba Da Ling Pros: Easily accessible by public transport, easier to get to the top Cons: More crowded
After careful analysis of the two areas, we decided to go to Mu Tian Yu instead. We booked a Mutianyu Great Wall Day Tour from Beijing with KLOOK. It was one of the cheapest tours we could find online and the booking process was also smooth and easy for us to follow. The bus picked us up on time and our guide was a really cheerful lady. In addition, she also spoke English and would be suitable for foreigners who can’t understand Chinese.
They gave us 4 hours of free time to explore the wall on our own. In addition, your tour guide will ask if you’d like to opt for the Toboggan ride down the wall for a small extra fee (RMB 100) which I highly recommend you going for instead of the cablecar ride down.
Dinner at Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant
We were pretty exhausted after our trip to the Great Wall, so we went back to rest for awhile before heading out for dinner. As it was our last night in Beijing, we went out to eat roast duck again but this time at another famous restaurant called Quanjude Roast Duck.
Train travel between cities is pretty simple in China. We booked our tickets online at Trip.com a few weeks before our departure date in order to secure seats.
Departure: Beijing West Railway Station Arrival: Xi’an North Station Duration: 5-6 hours
Simply show the mobile ticket and your valid ID for all passengers at the main gantry to enter the station. There are different platforms so walk towards to the one that is indicated on your ticket. You can also find your platform number on their digital sign boards at the station.
China Itinerary – Day 4 to Day 7: Xi’an
Accommodation | Where to Stay in Xi’an, China
We stayed at Holiday Inn Express Xi’an Bell Tower for our accommodation. The room was new and clean and very affordably priced as it was located just a 2-minute walk away from Xi’an Bell Tower. Outside our hotel was a shopping district and we also found a night market just across the road where we had dinner often.
Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum
This is probably the number #1 tourist attraction in Xi’an. Here is summary of the history and meaning behind this museum for those who are too lazy to google: The terracotta warriors (bing ma yong) were built in 246BC by Emperor Qin Shi Huang in order to protect him in his afterlife. The army was only found by accident in 1974 by farmers who were digging a well.
Do note that since it is such a popular tourist attraction, there will be tons of people outside the museum trying to sell you an audio tour. While you can opt for one, most of the people that approached us only spoke in Chinese.
Option 1: Public Transport or DiDi/Taxi We took DiDi to go everywhere in China but if you’d like to save up a little, alternatively you may take public transport to get there – Tourism Bus No. 5 (306) from East Square of Xi’an Railway Station. The first bus departure will be at 8am and it will leave when it is filled. The bus will stop at Huaqing Springs along the way as well which you can visit later. For the Terrocotta Army Museum, be sure to get off at the last destination (the 12th stop). – Price: RMB 7; Duration: 1 hour
Just a 20-minute ride away from the terracotta army museum, you’d reach Huaqing Springs. This park consists of royal gardens with traditional Chinese architectures that was built during the Tang Dynasty and sits below the northern slop of Lishan Mountain.
After touring the royal grounds, we climbed all the way up Lishan Mountain to reach it’s peak to have a panoramic view of the City of Xi’an. The hike up took us about an hour and we were greeted with beautiful scenic views of the city along the way up.
Day Trip to Hua Shan
We booked a day tour with our hotel at Holiday Inn Express for trip. Our tour bus came at about 7.30am to pick us up and we reached Huashan Visitor Centre at about 10am. By this time, huge crowds of tourists have already flocked to queue at the ticketing entrance.
You can avoid the large crowds by taking public transport there on your own at an earlier timing. I have done up another detailed article about travelling to Mount Huashan in my post – Mount Huashan Travel Tips.
Muslim Quarters (Hui Min Jie)
Muslim Quarters is a hub of the Muslim community in Xi’an. It is an area of several intersecting roads and is known as a food street featuring a wide variety of Chinese Muslim good.
We also went to a narby grocery store from our Hotel. The prices of snacks in China are really cheap and they have a wide variety of pocky flavours to choose from as well, so don’t forget to visit one while you’re there.
Bike Rental to Tour the Ancient City Walls
Head to the South Gate to get your entrance ticket. The City Walls of Xi’an provide a calm and scenic walk around the city. You can choose to walk or rent a bicycle during your time here. Alternatively, you can opt to join the Cultural Xi’an One Day Tour which will bring you to various popular landmarks in the city.
Entrance Fee: 40 yuanBike Rental Fee: 20 Yuan / 100 minutes / Single Bike or 40 yuan / Tandem Bike Opening hours: 8am to 9pm
Travel from Xi’an to Zhangjiajie by Plane
The best way to travel from Xi’an to Zhangjiajie is by air. Our flight departure was at 9.45pm and we arrived in Zhangjiejie at 11.10pm. If possible, you may want to book an earlier ticket there so that you wouldn’t reach too late at night.
Travelling from Zhangjiajie Airport to the City Center
Take note that there will be taxi drivers pressuring you to get on a ride with them at the airport to reach your accommodation. As Zhangjiajie is less developed than the first two cities we visited, DiDi was not widely available and we had no choice but to take a taxi.
Make sure that their taxi meter is displayed when you get in the cab. When we got in our cab and asked our driver where the meter reading was, he simply shrugged us off and pointed to his name card saying that he’s a licensed driver. Although we did end up paying more than we should for our taxi fare (because the meter was running before we got in the cab), I was thankful that the amount was not too expensive.
China Itinerary: Day 8 to Day 10: Zhangjiajie
Accommodation | Where to stay in Zhangjiajie, China
There are several locations you can choose to stay at while in Zhangjiejie: 1. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park Gate Area 2. Zhangjiajie Downtown Area 3. Entrance of Yangjiajie
Since we only had time for 2 full days in Zhangjiajie, we decided to stay at Downtown Area as it was closer to the airport and Tianmen Mountain. The name of our hotel wasXiao Wu Ding Inn (小屋顶客栈). It was located just a 5-minute walk from Tianmen Mountain Station and a 15-minute walk from Zhangjiajie’s central bus interchange.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is well known for its unique geological formations that have a striking resemblance to the movie “Avatar”.
The park is huge and 1 day will not be enough if you want to explore the area fully. If possible, it’s recommended you give yourself at least 2 full days here. There’s a lot of information regarding touring the park, so I’ve written a separate post on it here – Zhangjiajie National Forest Park Travel Tips.
Entrance Fee: 258 yuan (valid for 3 days) Opening hours: 7.30am to 6pm
How to get there from from Downtown Area:
At Zhangjiajie City Bus Station, once you’ve passed the gantry (bag check area), turn left and walk 150 meters along the path. You’d reach an open-air carpark with mini-buses lined up. Get on the bus that has the sign ‘Zhangjiajie National Forest Park’ (you may want to double check with the driver in case). The bus will stop directly outside of the ticketing entrance to the park – everyone will get off here. Duration: 40 minutes Price: 12 yuan per person
Tianmen Mountain Adventure (天门山)
Tianmen Mountain portrays a stunning view of the city and its geological formation with its vertical cliffs, heaven’s door, 99 bends and a glass skywalk. It is easily one of China’s most beautiful mountains and a must to visit when in Zhangjiajie.
It is highly recommended that you pre-book your tickets online to secure your Cable Car ride to Tianmen. It is also slightly cheaper booking online as compared to purchasing it at the ticket office entrance. There are 3 ticket options that you can get to tour the mountain:
Entrance Fee: 258 yuan
Option A: Cable Car UP + Bus DOWN (most popular) Option B: Bus UP + Cable Car DOWN Option C: Bus UP + Bus DOWN
Do remember to bring along a valid form of ID when purchasing your tickets. The reason why option A is so popular is because people would rather walk down the 999 steps to heaven’s door than to walk up it. However, if you want to make the best use of your time, you may want to opt with Option B so that you don’t spend hours queuing for the Cable Car ride up.
The Main Attractions at Tianmen Mountain:
Heaven’s Door After sitting on the bus up the 99 bends, we arrived at Heaven’s door to climb 999 steps to Heaven’s Door. It was tiring but the view from both the top and bottom was incredible.
The Glass Skywalk There’s also a Glass Skywalk you can experience on the mountain. It’s just a 1-minute walk along the side of the cliff. However, it’s not much different from all the other side platforms that you’ll be walking on.
It took us about 4 hours to complete the entire route on Tianmen Mountain. By the time we were done, it was about 12pm and we headed back to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park to utilise our time fully there.
On our last day of our China Itinerary, we flew back home early in the morning, so we booked a taxi with our hotel to get back to the airport.
China is an amazing place to visit. It’s has one of the most unique and scenic places in the world and is extremely rich in its culture and history. 10 days is definitely not enough to to fully tour the whole of China, but these are the few highlights and must-sees if you’re looking for a comprehensive travel plan there with limited time.