A trip to China really is an awesome experience. It’s incredibly eye opening to see how a very different culture lives their day to day life. If you get the opportunity to go I would definitely take advantage of it.
If you’re interested in booking a one of the Groupon getaways that’s exactly what I did! In case you missed it, I wrote a blog, here, all about the purchasing process with Groupon and our Chinese travel agency. I gave details on what a China vacation costs and what I thought about booking a China vacation package with Groupon.
Getting right into the *vegan* meat of it, make sure to read all about the purchasing process right here and days 1-4 in Beijing were incredible! You can read all about that in my last blog post right here. In this post about the second half of our trip to China I am going to go over our journey to Suzhou, Wuxi, Hangzhou and Shanghai. It was definitely an action packed few days, so buckle up for this Groupon getaways review!
Suzhou – Lingering Garden
To pick up where the last part of this journey left off we flew from Beijing to Shanghai and took an hour or so bus ride from Shanghai to Suzhou. We got it pretty late at 11pm so we went straight to bed. We were leaving the hotel for good the next morning at 7am so we didn’t even bother to unpack anything. This was probably the nicest hotel that we stayed at the entire week, too bad it was only for 9 hours!
We had our typical Chinese hotel continental breakfast, which is far from typical at any other hotel I’ve been to. There is a buffet of fruit, porridges, DIY soup, salad, and random vegetable, noodle and rice dishes. It’s pretty crazy and amazing.
After breakfast we made our way to the Lingering Garden in Suzhou. This was absolutely the most beautiful stop on our trip. The garden was so jam packed with tourists, but for good reason. The scenery is just incredible and so peaceful. My only complaint was that we didn’t spend enough time here.
Still dreaming about the garden we made our way to a silk factory. Obviously being vegan we weren’t thrilled about this part, but we decided to treat it as a cultural lesson and learn about the history of silk in Suzhou. Apparently the silkworms produce the best silk here because of the abundant mulberry trees. After hearing that all I wanted to do was find one of those mulberry trees and have at it.
After the introduction we walked through the factory and we were taken to lunch on the fourth floor. We were fed basically the same meal as the three previous days and we realized that this sub par food was a trend. But as long as there were rice and vegetables I wasn’t complaining. They also brought us a tofu dish to share.
Suzhou – Grand Canal
When lunch was over we made our way to the grand canal of Suzhou for a boat ride. It was pretty interesting to see Suzhou from this view as it’s a simple canal that goes through a residential area. You get a look at daily life there. At the end of the canal ride we got to walk through a little market that had some souvenirs. We decided to save our shopping for later, but I did find a little fruit stand and bought some delicious grapes!
I would recommend paying for the boat ride excursion. The alternative was sitting on the bus, so it’s absolutely worth it.
After the canal we strapped in for the 3 hour bus ride to Wuxi. On the way we made a stop at a rest area and in China they are like little shopping areas, mostly food and Starbucks and some toilets. Now… I have never smelt a bathroom that smelt quite as terrible as these rest areas, so be warned. That was pungent.
Wuxi – Grand Buddha
Upon arriving in Wuxi we made our way to the Grand Buddha at Ling Shan. The park that this huge Buddha is in is probably the most peaceful place I’ve ever been, I’m sure intentionally. First there was a show where the baby Buddha is born from a lotus flower and then we made our way up to the 89 meter (about 290 foot) tall Buddha. It was so massive and definitely an incredible site to see.
We took some tourist pictures – there is a sign showing you where and how to take the best shots – and explored the park before it was time to go. We arrived kind of late in the afternoon before closing, but if you go earlier in the day there is an all vegetarian restaurant run by the monks. So cool!
We made our way to the hotel and it looked like something on the Las Vegas strip as we drove up. There was a sky bridge that was connecting two buildings and it was all lit up. Pretty neat.
We had the option to venture around town, eat at the hotel or go on a massage excursion. The massage wasn’t part of the itinerary, just an added excursion if you wanted to join. We opted to venture around town, but we quickly found out that we were in the outskirts and there wasn’t much around. Getting food at a restaurant would have been nearly impossible as it was so rural, so we just went back to the hotel.
Wuxi – Manmade Lake
The next morning we made our way to a park on the manmade lake in Wuxi. It was really nice and we got free time to stroll around and check it out.
After our stroll we went to a freshwater pearl sales pitch and again, being the vegans, we were less than interested. We sat through the sales pitch with everyone and then waited in a little waiting area for everyone to finish up. There was actually a nice little fruit stand outside where we got to buy some mulberries and other delicious fruit!
We got some lunch here and then we made the 2 to 3 hour trip to Hangzhou, the romantic city.
Hangzhou – Exploring The Town
We arrived in Hangzhou around 4pm and we went right to our hotel, the Holiday Inn. Not exactly the foreign experience we were looking for, but whatever. There is a romantic theater show you can attend as a paid excursion on this evening, but we decided to skip it.
Our hotel was actually right next to a little mall so we figured it was a good time to go explore a bit. We were actually pretty hungry and started to check out all of the restaurants. We found one at the end of the mall, I couldn’t tell you the name, that was like a hot pot style restaurant. Since we got to pick our ingredients we decided to give it a shot.
We used Google translate to try and read the menu and when we couldn’t figure out what base to get we just typed our dietary restrictions into Google translate and showed the waiter. He pointed out a broth base that we could have and we got sides of a bunch of vegetables, tofu, glass noodles and rice.
The soup on one side was basically just a bunch of Szechuan peppers. Very tasty, but very spicy. We added our ingredients to the other side and just used a little bit of the spicy broth to spice up the mild side.
Erik did try a spoonful of the spicy broth (amateur) and turned bright red and started coughing. The staff thought it was pretty funny and tried to get us to eat more… no thank you, sir. And I love spicy food, that was just too hot on its own.
After dinner we ran into some of the people in our tour group who skipped the show and wound up finding a really weird little bar. Again I couldn’t tell you the actual name, but it said “Nature Beer” out front. Inside they perfectly measured out the beer from the tap in these plastic bottles and these poured them into beer glasses. It took a solid five minutes to get one beer, but it was a fun experience.
After that we went back to the hotel and got some sleep to get ready for the last day in Hangzhou.
Hangzhou – The West Lake & Tea Plantation
When we woke up we had breakfast and made our way to the West Lake on the other side of Hangzhou. It was really beautiful and again super peaceful. We heard the story of the Butterfly Lovers, which is China’s Romeo and Juliet, and got to walk across the lover’s bridge, which had little butterflies on it.
We then made our way over to the boat docks for our ride around the lake. This was an added excursion and I would honestly say to skip this one. The boat ride is fine, don’t get me wrong, but the actual park on lake was even prettier and I would have rather spent the 40 or so minutes walking around the park.
After the West Lake experience we went to a tea plantation for another sales pitch. At least I was much more interested in this one because I love tea. We learned about what makes tea green, oolong or black and then had the opportunity to buy some. I would recommend not buying it here. It’s just way too expensive since you’re in a tour group.
Once the sales pitch is over you get to walk through a little market and buy souvenirs, snacks and other cool items. I think that the things here were priced fairly well so if something catches your eye go for it.
Now that we were well and caffeinated we walked up the street to our lunch restaurant and it was the same meal as everyday. Unfortunately we were all so tired of eating the same meal that we all left pretty disappointed and hungry. But good news, this was our last day eating this!
After the plantation we got back on the bus and began the 4 hour drive back to Shanghai.
Shanghai – Day 1
Our first stop in Shanghai was an acrobatic show that was a paid excursion. Erik and I opted out of this one because we were really close to some restaurants and shops and let’s face it, we’ve all seen an acrobatic show. We struggled to find food at first but we finally walked by a little shop that made soup. You got to put all of the ingredients you wanted into a huge bowl and they made it for you. This was nice because we knew exactly what we were eating. And it was so tasty!
Full and satisfied we made our way into a 7-Eleven to see what kinds of things they carried in China. We found some strawberry stuffed Oreos (yep, they’re still vegan in China!), yes please, and got some drinks. We even found a bag of tea from the company we visited earlier that day for $3! They were selling it for $45 at the plantation!!
We then made our back to the rest of the group to drive to our hotel for the evening.
Shanghai – Souvenirs and Night Cruise
We started our second day in Shanghai, which was our only full day and the last day of the trip, with a ride on the MagLev (magnetic levitation) train. It’s the fastest train in the world! We rode it and it got up to 435 km/hr or 270 mph. I definitely got a little motion sick, but it was a fun experience.
Buzzing from the train we made our way to a silk embroidery shop in a mall and watched how silk embroideries are made. It was pretty neat, but again, not our thing since it’s all silk. We were able to walk around the mall when we were done and we got some sorbets from a little ice cream shop.
We then left the mall and walked down the road to my favorite part of Shanghai that we visited. I don’t know the proper name, but it was a really cool souvenir market. It was gigantic and we got to walk around and check out everything for a couple hours.
Now, our tour guide kept telling us to wait for the government souvenir shop that we would go to after that, but as soon as we heard “government” we highly doubted it would be cheaper. And we were right! I highly recommend buying souvenirs from the first stop as there was a much bigger variety and things were cheaper.
When we thought we had already done our shopping for the day we made our way to an underground wholesale market! I don’t think that was part of the normal tour package, but our guide brought us here anyways. It was so huge, we easily got lost wandering through all of the stalls. Everyone will try to get you to buy whatever it is that they are selling. Just look forward and keep walking or if it’s something you really want check it out. Always haggle… never pay full price here.
With growling stomachs we made our way to the food court (which was so hard to find) as I was so hungry after the ice cream snack. We found a little shop that was making vegetable noodles and went to town on them. Not amazing, but at least it was different food!
We then made our way to the coolest excursion we got to go on. It was a night cruise on the Huangpu river when all of the buildings are lit up and it was really amazing. If you do any of the paid tours I highly recommend this one. It’s the perfect way to end the trip.
Our very last day we got up at 5am and made our way to the airport for a full 24 hours of travelling. Yay! Not really, but we were going to see the kitties, so it was okay. Check out my first post for the types of meals we were fed on the airplanes.
Groupon China Trip Review
Overall I would say that this trip is completely worth it! Sure there are some boring things like sales pitches, but everything else is incredible to see. Buying through Groupon takes a lot of the extra planning and stress out of the trip. China is a little complicated to visit with the Visa process so definitely look into Groupon for a trip.
To recap, Beijing was our favorite part of the trip! I’ve been talking about wanting to see the Great Wall of China my entire life and that is an experience I will treasure forever. We also really enjoyed the trips to the Forbidden City and Summer Palace in Beijing.
The second half of the trip went by fast and we were moving from place to place really quick. It was a great way to see a lot of China all at once, just be ready for a fast paced second half of the trip. I feel like I blinked and all of a sudden we were getting on a plane back to America.
I hope that this travel review was helpful and will make it easier for you to navigate this tour while travelling as a vegan. It’s not always easy, but with a little preparation it’s absolutely doable!
If you have any questions that I haven’t addressed here please leave me a comment or send me a message!
Don’t forget to read the first two posts in this travel series: