Chasing pandas in Chengdu

We are here for Jemima. When we first discussed exploring China this year for our family trip, this was her one bucket list requirement. So who am I to stand in the way of a 13 year olds bucket list, particularly as our one mantra has been for the kids to not only discover the world around them, but truly appreciate it’s differences.

Chengdu 成都 – Is the relaxation capital of China, and is considered to be one of the most laid-back cities in China. After 16 hours by overnight train from Xian and with only one full day here, we decided to make the most of our stay. Chengdu has more bars, restaurants, majong dens, and tea houses per square kilometre than any other Chinese city. Chengdu was one of my favorite cities in China

Our main part of the day was spent at the panda research base. This is the only place in China that pandas are still found and this base is aiming to increase its bred in captivity capacity, so that they are no longer an endangered species. I did have my doubts about visiting here and was hoping it wouldn’t turn out to be a zoo, but all fears were put to rest on seeing the area is basically a large bamboo forest with huge enclosures for all the bears. 

Learning to climb – check out the concentration

We got here super early in the morning to both beat the heat and the crowds. Thank goodness we did as it turned out to be another 40°C day, with alarming smog levels and horrific crowds of people queuing everywhere as we left just before lunch. 

The afternoon was spent exploring town and finally heading to the night markets for people watching and dinner. We had the most amazing dish – Beggars chicken, a while chicken warppaed in newspaper and bamboo and roasted over hot coals. 

I did a tea tasting and yes the sales tactics won me over and I bought enough tea for a year! 

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Xi’an is a large city and capital of Shaanxi Province in central China.Visiting the Terracotta Warriors Museum was the main reason for our trip to Xian. Our first venture into town started with a visit to the bell and drum towers located in the centre of the city. In Chinese Ming Dynasty history, each city had a bell tower and a drum tower. The bell was sounded at dawn and the drum at dusk each day. These 2 buildings connect the four roads from East, South, West and North within the city wall. The views of the city and surrounds are fantastic for getting your bearings. 

Xian has the most complete city wall existing in China. It stands 12 metres tall and covers 14 kilometers in length with a deep moat surrounding it. We decided the best way to circumvent the wall was to rent bikes and cycle the wall. Whose brilliant idea was that when it was 40°c and on tandems! 

The Muslin Quarter was a great part of the city, especially in the evening, when the whole place lights up. The streets are narrow, lively and noisy, absolutely packed with people, vendors, and delicious street food. Go to Beiyuanmen Street behind the Drum Tower – this is where the action is. 

Robin found a favourite for the evening – roujiamo, which is corned beef stuffed inside a freshly baked bun. That along with the Kao Rou which are everywhere in the Muslim Quarter. Around 5rmb a stick, the beef and lamb is cooked over charcoal. Finger food at its best. Jemima and I tried the other famous snack Persimmon cake – sticky and sweet flavoured by rose petals and honey, forgoing the chicken feet as we’d had our fill of those in Chengsha.

For day 2 we had arranged a day trip to see the Terra-Cotta Warriors. The original site was found by a local farmer digging a well in 1974.  The army of Terra-Cotta Warriors were supposed to safeguard China’s first emperor – Qin Shihuang in his afterlife, and the whole area stretches over 3 large pits. 

We finished with a visit to his tomb. It is said that his tomb has an anti-gravedigging system including secret crossbows and a large amount of mercury making it toxic around the tomb. Really it’s just a mound of dirt in the middle of nowhere! If your short on time I would say it’s safe to give it a miss! 

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Overnight to Xian 

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We had been told it was best to get all out train tickets in one hit, due to queue times for picking up tickets. Most train stations in China are packed, with lots of lines. On reaching Beijing main Train … Continue reading

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Climbing The Great Wall of China

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Jiankou Great Wall is located at Xizhaizi Village, 70 km from Beijing. It takes two-hours to drive there from Beijing. Leo our guide, from Beijing Walking Tours kept us entertained for most of this, with history about the wall and … Continue reading

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Best of Beijing

Having lost almost 2 days of our time in Beijing due to the delay and ridiculously early morning arrival, we were up at 9 ready to grab breakfast and see the sights. We set off to the nearest train station, Zhushikou, and spent 10 minutes figuring out how to purchase a ticket… apparently once you know it’s as easy as 1 – Choose destination, 2- Insert money, 3- Push button labeled confirm ticket, 4- Get on the train, no problem there then, I’m putting it down to jetlag! 

We exited the subway at the Tianammen East station and found our way up to street level. The sky was a brilliant blue, so much for all the rain! We had finally made it to Tianammen square. This place is big, with large crowds of Chinese locals wielding self sticks. We walked around for a look, then headed off to The Forbidden City. 

The forbidden city can only be described with one word – massive. This place stretches for miles, just when you think you’ve covered all the pavilions – harmony, You are faced with a whole new wing to conquer. The signage does leave a lot to be desired, with very little information available about any of the buildings. But walking around you get the gist. 

Chaoyang Acrobatics Theater – This is a must do. What these acrobats can manage to do with one bike and some chairs is amazing to see, even if their costumes and the production value lacks finesse. Dinner was dumplings and Peking duck of course! What else would you eat when in Beijing?



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Beijing – rules of engagement 

Most people travel to China on a tour, which obviously takes the hassle out of, but I love a challenge, particularly when it comes to itineraries, transport and sightseeing. Independent travel is our preference and even in China it is possible, it just takes a little more planning. The thought of a prearranged “follow the flag” tour is our living hell on holidays. Travelling through China is perceived as a challenge, but is mainly due to the language barrier.

Some rules or what we’ve learnt so far…..

China and Google aren’t very good friends – multiple VPN’s are a must – if one is down, the other generally works. Wifi is intermittent – a major point of angst for the kids. 

No smiling – everyone has been friendly and polite so far, apart from the woman who threw my credit card at me, as if it was on fire, when it didn’t go through the first time! But that still doesn’t mean you get a smile! 
Don’t expect a “sorry”, “excuse me or “thanks”. In crowded areas, such as on the subway or getting onto an escalator , just stand your ground with elbows out! It’s every man for himself here, and pushing and shoving will happen. It’s not personal it just is. Rules of engagement kids – stick elbows out and shuffle around defensively to keep people from stepping in front of you, if necessary look menacing!

Queuing – A general mulling of people is what constitutes a queue here, being next in line means nothing, someone will try to cut in. The problem is, a big gap, or anything wider than your body being pressed on the person in front, will be perceived as the end of the line, effectively just asking someone to slip in, it seems. 

Why is everyone yelling? They talk loudly here, REALLY LOUDLY, especially when they are on mobile phones, or 2, as most of the population seems to be – at once. They’re not angry or fighting, just conversing apparently. On the point of mobiles, I have phone envy! Everyone, and I mean everyone, has the latest and biggest phones, or 2. They use them for everything. QR codes are ubiquitous, and it’s a constant juggle, as people push past to get to the golden egg – the QR code! 

Celebrity status – If you’re a foreigner, you will be stared at, people pull out their mobile phone to snap photos with you, but what I find amusing is the locals don’t even try to be discrete about it. They stand a few feet in front of you, or pull you into their photo, without asking. 

Beware of the trough toilet – While hotels and fast food restaurants like McDonald’s have Western-style toilets, this is certainly not the case everywhere you go. It’s highly unlikely you’ll find toilet paper, and soap/ hand sanitiser is non existent, so carry your own. There are dividers but these don’t offer much privacy as they are only about a metre high, and not all stalls have doors……which can be a little confronting. 

Beijing apparently has a thriving coffee scene – we haven’t found it and believe me it’s not for lack of trying!

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First stop Chengsha…. then Beijing who knows when?

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I had been warned that both weather and last minute flight cancellations, can hinder travel in China at this time of year, but as always took the attitude of how bad can it be? We have always travelled in Asia … Continue reading

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Countdown to China

So three days to go before our arrival in Beijing and we’ve already crossed quite a few hurdles to get there. Who knew that this trip would take more organising than previous Asian journeys, that Visas would be a harder … Continue reading

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Easter in Gippsland 

We realised recently that we haven’t been away for a Easter break since 1998, pre kids. We were scarred by the fact it seems to rain every Easter and ’98 was the year of the glamping disaster, but that’s another story… another attempt to enjoy a break away at Easter was long overdue!

We decided to head South East to Gippsland primarily because Robin had never been there and the kids had been talking about the beach for ages. Robin was bolstered by the fact everyone he talked to leading up to the trip had nothing but great things to say about Inverloch,  happily retelling their family bonding story that involved Inverloch, its beaches and scenery. So Inverloch it was then!  

So did it live up to expectations? It rained the first day and wasn’t the warmest but hey it’s Victoria in Autumn! We still managed to get out and about exploring the area. We visited numerous little inlets, rock pools and sleepy little villages. We stopped at a lovely open gate farm where numerous lovely cheeses were waiting to be tasted, so we spent the afternoon amongst the cows eating cheese and trying local wines. 

The Easter bunny delivered surfing lessons this year. What better place to learn to surf but Victoria in grey skied Autumn weather! Almost a right of passage – those in the know tell me the best time for surfing really is in Autumn, as the onshore winds provide bigger waves. All I can say is I’m glad they had steamer suits available! 

Despite it not being the warmest, we made the most of being at the beach. At least until our next holiday…..

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Penang – street art and street food 

We have landed ourselves at possibly the friendliest guesthouse with the most helpful staff I have ever come across! Literally nothing is too much trouble – the manager even comes out on the street to point you in the right direction for dinner! Luckily for us, she is a walking fountain of knowledge about local places to get the best street food. Located in the old quarter of George Town we are centrally located to all that this Unesco heritage town has to offer. 

stir fried oysters

There’s a saying here, that a big tummy is a sign of prosperity. The kids keep reminding Robin, that it is a saying not a challenge! With Penang being widely touted as one of the world’s street food meccas, the local food culture is strong. On our second night, we chanced upon this street side hawker stall by sheer coincidence. We had got lost and were trying to find our way back to the guesthouse. The place was absolutely heaving with local patrons, always a good sign – right?

Exploring Chinese quarter of Georgetown

There is no lack of food options here, and is difficult to find a store that falls short of a rating lower than delicious,  Robin was prepared to scour every nook and cranny of Penang’s streets for these must eat local street foods.

We have really enjoyed the last four days of our holiday here. We had to cancel our last nights accomodation at the beach due to unforeseen renovations at the hotel, but to be honest we aren’t that disappointed as the beach is really average compared to some we have been to on this trip. 

There are many artists that have contributed to the streetscape of Georgetown, one of them is Lithuanian Ernest Zacharevic who unique artworks are appreciated both by tourists and the locals. These murals have transformed what used to be normal streets into more unusual, lively, and engaging spaces. We had a four seat bicycle that we rode around the streets in search of different artworks. Kids steering in Penang traffic in the middle of the day, what were we thinking! Luckily the locals seem used to bikes making sudden turns in front of them! 

We didn’t follow a set route, mostly due to our driver and navigator!  We simply rode around freely, stopping every time we wanted to and discovering Penang’s art at our own pace. We recommend doing it in the same way. Walking around trying to find the street art in Georgetown is an amazing free activity that showed us so many areas of the city that you would normally just pass by. We also managed to squeeze in a free city walking tour organised by the tourism council, that was definitely worthwhile. They take you around all the historical buildings and explain the history of Penang. 

Gee Hiang the biscuit dude is everywhere in Penang!

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