What an absolutely amazing experience this trip was!
I flew with Hainan Airlines. It was a direct service Sydney to Xian and the direct service Changsha back to Sydney. The baggage allowance is extremely generous in economy class with 2 checked bags per person. The Sydney to Xian flight was comfortable, with back of seat entertainment however the flight home only had a tablet with very limited options and ran out of charge! The food was great and the meal and drink service was very quick. In between meals they have drinks and a large range of snacks set up at the back of economy class which you can just help yourself in between meals- this was not on the flight home however.
Xian is such a beautiful city. We stayed at the Grand Park Xian which had the most amazing view over the South Gate of the city wall. At night time the gate and wall are lit up and look beautiful. This hotel is in a great spot with lots of restaurants and shopping within easy walking distance. The terracotta warriors were as impressive as I expected! We did a short city tour which was great and ended up in the Muslim Quarter with all the market shopping- you need to barter hard here and there are many bargains to be had.
Next stop was Zhangjiajie which is in the mountains and doesn’t see a lot of western tourists. It is where the movie Avatar was filmed and the Redbull flying competitions are held. There are National Parks and amazing scenery. The area is very pretty and the locals are building more roads, tidying villages and building more 5 star hotels in preparation for the influx of tourists they are expecting! Here you can buy the most amazing silver jewellery at cheap prices. Here we stayed at the Sunshine Hotel and Resort, it was in a central location but there is not a lot around the hotel.
Nearby is the Chinese Grand Canyon where they have a glass suspension bridge. An Australian company has won the contract to run bungy jumping from this bridge from November 2018 and they are also hoping to do quad biking etc, to have a few more adventure activities to attract the tourists.
We also went to Tianmen Mountain which basically overlooks the city. The cable car to get to the top takes more than hour an hour. There is a glass walkway here over the forest and you feel like you aren’t walking on anything, it is a bit disconcerting going across- but quite a rush!
We had a 4 hour coach ride between Zhangjiajie and Changsha. Coach was comfy but it’s best not to look at the traffic because there appears to be no road rules what so ever. Nonetheless we made it safe and sound!
Changsha is a very pretty city also. It was extremely hot here so we really just shopped and ate! It was constantly referred to as Shanghai about 10yrs ago. Here we stayed at the Wyndham Grand Plaza Royale Furongguo. In is in a great location within walking distance of shopping and restaurants.
The majority of our meals throughout the tour were banquets for lunch and dinner. The area’s we travelled to are renowned for their spicy food which cleared all our sinuses!
In China even though we had non-smoking rooms people still smoke in the hotels so you can smell smoke, even in non-smoking rooms.
There are many steps everywhere and not many elevators so beware if you have restricted mobility.
The Chinese use squat toilets. They have realised this is an issue for tourists so are adding western toilets to new facilities, but it is not always possible to get a western toilet. If this is an issue look out for disabled toilets there is usually at least 1. Oh and carry a travel pack of tissues and hand sanitiser!