Country #103 - China

Day 1 – The Disney Welcome

The flight to Shanghai went by quite quickly and I was so excited to start my time in China with Edward. It will be the longest time I have spent in a country so far, and we get to start it off with a day at the newest Disney park in the world! Immigration was a breeze and afterwards we used Didi Chuxing for the first time. It’s basically the exact same thing as Uber, but in China. My favorite feature was how it automatically translated chat conversations with the driver – hopefully Uber will do this someday!

It took about twenty-five minutes to arrive at Disney from the airport. By this time it was dark outside so we couldn’t see very much, but I was very excited. We finally pulled up to our hotel, the Toy Story Hotel, and I was just blown away by everything from the very beginning. The hotel uniforms were adorable Woody outfits, the design of the hotel was impeccable Disney, and our room was just like Andy’s! Yes, I was way too into it but Edward was enjoying it as well. To show just how easily amused I can be, the honest to goodness best part of the hotel was how every time you used the elevator the green alien guys would announce which floor you were going to with a funny quip. It got me every time!

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After we finished having fun exploring the hotel we headed down to the cafeteria area to grab a quick bite. The main restaurant was already closed as it was after 10pm, but we got some cute Mickey shaped pastries and a tasty lemonade/ice cream drink. We then headed back to the room to get a great night of sleep before inevitably walking ourselves to death tomorrow!

Day 2 – The Disney Shanghai Experience

I set out with the mindset that today would be an amazing day and it even surpassed my expectations. After a great night at the Toy Story Hotel I was already enthralled and couldn’t stop smiling from ear to ear. I had spent about an hour before going to sleep last night planning out our day today so we would be able to see as much of the park as possible. As we were staying on property we had a special gate to enter through to help save time. Once in the park we headed straight to, in my opinion, the main attraction – Tron! If you have never seen the ride in action definitely look it up. Even the line to wait was super futuristic. We did not have to wait long, though, and before I knew it we were sitting on the bike style coaster. It was absolutely incredible! My only complaint is that it was not longer. It was the smoothest and most fun coaster that I have ever ridden, and I cannot wait for it to come to Disney World in a few years!

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After Tron we spent the morning riding as many rides as we could, including Soaring, the Mine Train, and more. Yes, we have some of the same rides at home, but it was still so fun! We stopped for breakfast at Chip and Dale’s, where we had some adorable treats for breakfast, along with a nice and toasty hot chocolate. It was actually pretty chilly outside since it was early so that warmed us up. From there we headed for some more rides! One of the most interesting rides of the day was the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. It is completely different from the one in Orlando, and is touted by many people as one of the best theme park rides in the world. Needless to say, that made our expectations quite high. The line finally wasn’t too long and we decided to give it a go. I will say this - the ride was visually very impressive, but it wasn’t the best ever. That’s not to say it wasn’t amazing, because it was, but I think it is a bit overhyped.

For lunch we ate at Barbossa’s Bounty where we split some tasty ribs before continuing on with the day. Our next stop was to go up inside of the castle which was a very unique experience! It is basically a walk through ride where there are animatronics and projections throughout. Next, I was able to grab an ice cream cone (there is no Dole Whip in Shanghai, sadly) and then afterwards we fit in some lower intensity rides, such as Winnie the Pooh! It was so fun to hear the story told in Chinese throughout the ride (every ride was in Chinese) and see all the classic characters. We also did the Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue ride and after a heated battle I pulled out the victory. Another fun part of the day was the parade! It was cool to see which characters got the most reaction from the crowd and how some characters were more popular here than at home. Unsurprisingly, I would say, Mulan was the highlight!

Our next stop was to buy souvenir Disney Shanghai Mickey ears. We were super touristy and got our names written on the back in Chinese because, well, why not! Mickey ears were not super common in the park (but Minny ones were everywhere) so we were glad to find them in our size and wore them proudly for the rest of the day! We were able to ride so many rides and see so much of the park throughout the day. Before finishing, though, we sprinted the park minutes before closing, in typical Demonbreuns visiting a Disney park fashion, to be able to ride Tron one last time. It was amazing to ride at night and I’m so glad that we did! We then made our way to the center of the park for the Ignite the Dream nighttime show. Unlike at home the show focuses more on lasers and lights instead of fireworks to help with air pollution. It was quite an impressive show! There were still a few fireworks but it was actually really cool with the lasers, and I enjoyed it a lot. 

By this point we were both struggling to walk even though we knew our hotel was nearby. We tried to stop for food but everywhere in the Disneytown area was packed with people, so after I bought a Disney Shanghai sweatshirt we dragged our feet to the shuttle bus and just ended up just snacking at the hotel. It was a very fulfilling exhaustion because we had had such an incredible day. We enjoyed every aspect of the park and had so much fun at Disney Shanghai. It was a highlight of my trip for sure and just such a fun day!

Day 3 – The Day in Shanghai

We were about as exhausted as possible after our magical day at Shanghai Disney. While it goes against my nature when traveling in a new city, there was no fighting the necessity to sleep in today. We both needed it so much - and our feet definitely did! We got a great night of sleep at the Toy Story hotel before we unfortunately had to check out. I’m going to miss it! Before we headed out though we were in luck. Jessie and Woody were doing a meet and greet outside - couldn’t leave without a picture! 

We bid Disney farewell and took the shuttle bus to the main transportation hub. From there we took the subway system, which was adorably Disney themed, into the city. It took a little under an hour and was quite easy. We just found a cheap place to stay in the heart of town to be able to see as much as possible with our one day in Shanghai. After we dropped off our bags we made our way to the first stop, a tasty dumpling lunch. The service was so fast it was amazing! Afterwards we headed to the Shanghai Museum. We only had about an hour but hurried through to be able to see most of it. It was very impressive! There were so many artifacts and I learned a lot in a short amount of time. After finishing the museum we walked over to People’s Park. People’s Park is crazy because it is basically a marriage market where parents go to basically advertise their single children to try and find them a partner. I’ve never seen anything like it!

After the park we walked down the Nanjing pedestrian street. It was filled with tons of shops and we made sure to stop at plenty of interesting ones. Edward bought more candy to take home and it was a very enjoyable walk down Nanjing to the Bund area. The Bund is arguably the most famous part of Shanghai. It is a walkway along the water that allows you to look out at all of the amazing Shanghai buildings. They are all lit up at night and it was quite spectacular to take in! We timed it just right because we were able to get there at sunset: the buildings were normal when we got there and lit up before we left. It was great! We enjoyed the Bund for a while before deciding to find dinner. We struggled a bit to find somewhere to eat but we finally found a very good Italian restaurant of all places. It was a bit pricey but some of the best pizza that I have had in a while. We wanted to find a Chinese spot but once again our stomachs got the better of us and we didn’t want to walk all over the city to find a restaurant that we would both like. So tasty Italian won out and it ended up being a great, if unorthodox, decision.

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After dinner we ended up being close enough to our hotel to be able to walk the rest of the way back. It was a very enjoyable walk back getting to see more of Shanghai at night. We fell asleep right away when we returned as we have a very early morning tomorrow - we are taking the bullet train to Beijing!

Day 4 – The Bullet Train

We woke up super early to get a Didi ride to Shanghai Hongqiao station for our 7am bullet train bound for Beijing. Our train, the D10, would hit speeds up to 217mph. It is fastest scheduled train in the world! It really was so fast and such an interesting ride through the Chinese countryside and the outer suburbs of both Shanghai and Beijing. It took a little over four hours for the entire journey - it was quite impressive!

When we arrived in Beijing we took a Didi to our hotel for the next few days. We stayed at another cheap place in the center of town that worked out quite well for our purposes. After checking in and resting for a few minutes we headed out for our day in Beijing. Our first stop was an unexpected visit to APM mall after the place Edward had chosen for lunch had closed down. After trying in vain to find it we were now running out of time to make it to the Forbidden City before it closed. So we, unfortunately, we had to eat at McDonalds. In China. We did at least get foods unique to the Chinese market so it actually ended up being fine. It was just unfortunate at first, for sure!

After grabbing a quick bite we made our way to the Forbidden City. It was still open and we ended up having a good amount of time to see it all. It was, truly, amazing! It is massive and just keeps going, and going, each section as impressive as the last. After walking through it all, and walking all the way back to the entrance, we tried to walk towards Tiananmen Square. However, we weirdly kept having to wait in really long security lines. After waiting for a while, and hearing some faint chants in the background, we finally realized what was going on. This morning China ruled to give its president the possibility to rule for life by removing term limits, and we think what we heard was protesters. So, for safety reasons, we gave up on that pursuit and instead walked along the street for a while until we decided to take a Didi to the Hongqiao Market, also known as Pearl Market.

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We had so much fun at Pearl Market! Yes, the place was just teeming with counterfeit goods and we were constantly being asked to buy things, but I loved bargaining the prices on everything we bought and finding so many fun things. We bought a suitcase (because we literally are now out of room for Edward to get everything home), some fun dog shaped pillows, presents for family, a waving solar powered cat, Nashville Predators jerseys, and even more. All of which I was able to haggle down to reasonable prices. We were like kids in a candy store, which is appropriate because that evening we went back to the hotel and tried all of the crazy candies that we have picked up on this trip. It might not have been exactly the night that we planned, but we had a great time anyways!

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Day 5 – The Great Wall

Today Edward and I embarked on yet another adventure, and this one was one of the best yet - today we visited the Great Wall of China! The Great Wall is obviously huge and we had to decide which segment to see. We ended up choosing Mutianyu Great Wall, as it had some of the best reviews and a fun way to get back down, though it is a bit more difficult to get to. We took the metro to the bus station where we took a bus for about an hour to Huai Rou Bei Da jie bus station about an hour out of the heart of the city. It was a bit cramped but otherwise it was a really good bus ride. It was interesting to see China outside of the city and see more of the smaller towns. From the bus station we called a Didi to take us to the actual Mutianyu Great Wall center.

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Once we arrived at Mutianyu Great Wall we purchased our tickets and walked to the cable car entrance. I had never envisioned taking a cable car up to the Great Wall, but then again I really had no idea how people got to it. Once we got to the top it was incredible. It stretched so far and was really just breathtaking. There is a reason it is a wonder of the world, I guess! We took plenty of pictures, FaceTimed our parents, and just enjoyed taking it in for a while. We turned right at the top and walked along for about an hour. It was always interesting to go in each tower along the wall and look around inside. There were lots of stairs but thankfully there was only one section that really made us out of breath. We decided to FaceTime our Grandmother because she has been to the Great Wall before and we wanted her to see us there. It was a very normal phone call until she blew us away: based on the FaceTime video she knew exactly where we were on the Great Wall and had been exactly there before. She listed off all the things that we would have just passed and everything - we were so impressed with her memory! I guess that’s where I get mine from?

After we walked a bit more and took some more pictures it was time to head down. And I was so excited for our method of transportation - we would be tobogganing down the Great Wall of China! We each had our own toboggan and sped down the side of the incline. It was so much fun! It was an incredibly unique experience and the views on the way down were fantastic. I only wish we could have gone again! Once we reached the bottom we went in a few of the gift shops before, grabbed a snack at Burger King, and then called a Didi to take us back to the bus. It took a long time for someone to pick us up but eventually a car came. We timed it very well because a bus picked us up right when we got to the stop. 

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Once we were back in Beijing we took the metro to try and see one last sight, the Temple of Heaven and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest that’s inside. We had been right next door yesterday when we visited Hongqiao Pearl Market but it was already closed, so we were excited to have enough time after visiting the Great Wall. The Temple of Heaven was basically a really nice park to walk through and, though we couldn’t see inside the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest for some reason, it was an amazing structure to just see from the outside. After walking through the park we made our way back to APM mall to eat at a restaurant Edward had wanted to go to yesterday. We had a very tasty final meal in China and got to try a few different things. It was a fun dinner and great end to another great day in China.

Day 6 – The Day Off

This morning I, unfortunately, had to tell Edward goodbye. It has been the absolute best time having him along and I only wish he could have missed more school and stayed for longer – silly college! We had such a fun time and were able to see and experience so many things. I have a long trip through Asia ahead of me and I’m so glad that I was able to start it off with him.

We figured it would be easiest and not horribly cost-ineffective to call a Didi for Edward to take straight to the airport. He had to leave very early, while my flight was not until the evening, so I woke up to send him off before I went back to sleep for a few hours. I actually had quite a few things to work on today before my crazy schedule takes me to a different place every day, so it was quite a relief to get a bit of a late check out. I was able to sleep in, work for a bit, and they even allowed me to use the lounge upstairs to easily print a few things. 

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I left for the airport in the early afternoon and was not a happy camper when I found out that my already unfortunately short time in Mongolia would be cut even shorter – my flight was delayed by hours! I had originally planned to go to Mongolia in the morning but due to a change in dates the flight was only offered in the afternoon, and now it was going to be delayed until late at night! It was not ideal at all. All I could do was let my hotel know and just sit and wait. There was a nice lounge to wait in in the airport, at least, but it wasn’t much consolation.

I finally boarded around midnight and after a few hours I was in Mongolia – and it was so cold! I knew it would be freezing, but after Mongolia I will be incredibly hot for the rest of my trip so I sent almost all of my cold weather clothes home with Edward. My hotel, Best Western Gobi's Kelso, arranged to pick me up at the airport

103 countries down, 92 to go.