Travel Around the World to Asia

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Next on our journey as we travel around the world in 7 days, is a stop off in Asia!  I’m delighted to have  one of my most favorite online-and-not-yet-in-real-life friends, Shawni, share about taking her family to Asia to live for a few months!  I love to read all about their family adventures on her website, 71 toes, and I don’t doubt that you will fall in love with them, too!

Tips to Travel to Asia

My name is Shawni and my husband and I were lucky enough to be able to shuffle things around with his business (import/export) to arrange to live in China for one semester (last Fall) with our five children. To say it was the experience of a lifetime would be an understatement. To say it was difficult would be an understatement too (crazy trying to maneuver the lives of so many people you love through such a different culture and school situation), but that’s what we braced ourselves for and each of us learned things we couldn’t have any other way and came out incredibly grateful for that opportunity.


When you think about it, one semester isn’t really that long in the whole scheme of things, but it has the power to change your heart and your family dynamics and the way you view the world in so many positive ways if you let it seep into your soul.
Ok, so on to the information Kristen wants me to get to:
We lived in Shanghai and explored different areas of China itself, but also took advantage of living on that side of the world to explore some neighboring countries as well. We traveled to Cambodia, Vietnam and Japan as side-trips and each was very unique with its own specific character. For the sake of not making this post a marathon I will focus on China but I’ll weave in a little of these other countries as well.
Questions from Kristen:
What tips do you have for traveling with children?
My children are 17, 16, 13, 11 and eight. We lived in China for a couple months one summer when they were 9, 8, 5, 2 and 32 weeks in utero 🙂 so my advice for traveling with children has changed over the years because needs change so much. Younger kids need so many more distractions…snacks and sticker books, iPads filled with movies, etc.  They need diapers and bottles and formula and strollers and all that jazz. That is tricky. Sometimes when you travel with kids that young you think they will never remember it.  
And sometimes when kids are older in their moodiness and distractedness you wonder if they’ll remember things too.  
But guess what? They will. You know how? Through the pictures you take.

My first biggest piece of advice for traveling with kids at any age is take a lot of pictures. Ok, maybe don’t get crazy enough that your children start to roll their eyes at you every time you pull out your camera (like mine sometimes do), but taking pictures is the single most important thing to help kids (and YOU!) remember the details. Who cares whether the pictures are from a deluxe camera or from your iPhone, recording little pieces of time can recreate a whole day of memories in your mind.

Sure my kids were pretty young the first time we traveled to China but even my two-year-old-at-the-time felt like it was “her” China (that’s what she called it even up until we went again this year). She looked through those pictures over and over again through the years…the ones of her beet red face on the Great Wall:
…the ones of her little smirk wearing her little red Chinese suit:
…and those pictures (along with so many others) made that fading experience become real to her again.

Older kids, in my opinion, need assignments.  

We do “reports” and re-cap journal writing. I want them to know and understand the places they’re visiting so we assign each of them to do a “report” on different parts of the places we travel. Even if it’s just to Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, kids have a much more vested interest in where you travel if you give them some responsibility to do the research. Each place we visited we assigned them each a topic to research and do a little report on before we visited arrived.

Here are two of my girls doing a joint report on Angkor Wat before we traveled to Cambodia:

And another two telling us all about the Great Wall in the train on the way to Beijing:

(Our eight-year-old, Lucy, usually gets paired up with a sibling for reports although she did her own on the weather in Japan before we traveled there.)
We do the “before-the-trip” deal with reports, and the “post-party-recap” by writing in journals as we travel home or as soon as possible after the trip. I want them to remember what they learned, what they saw, how they felt. And the best way for them to do that is to write all about it. I don’t care if they ever even read it again (although they probably will), just the act of writing it down solidifies it in their minds.
That helps with their writing skills too, which is a great added bonus in my book.
What are some “hot spots” readers should try to work into their plans if they travel there?

We wish we could have seen more of China! It is huge and there is so much to see. We lived in Shanghai, which made us fall in love with it. All those super tall skyscrapers and the awe of the fact that so much of that city was built within the last twenty years. “The Bund” is a must in Shanghai:


Much more about that over HERE.
We also loved the museums at “People’s Square.”  One in particular has a model of the city that is fascinating when you learn about the history and realize how quickly the Pudong side was built.
Yu Yuan Gardens is an ancient and gorgeous spot nestled right inside the bustling city.
More about our kind of hectic trip to Yu Yuan over HERE, (it was kind of crazy for us this time around but it’s a gorgeous must-see in Shanghai).
Also, on a side note, one of my family’s favorite spots in Shanghai was the “Fake Market” located in the underbelly of the city at the “Science and Technology” metro stop.  You can find knock-offs of everything from Patagonia jackets to name-brand eyeglasses to all kinds of handbags and you can also pick up a few “selfie sticks” while you’re at it 🙂
There are “river towns” all over around Shanghai that are gorgeous and show a more traditional, old-fashioned aspect of “real” China. You can research several close-by. We were lucky enough to get to go to my husband’s business partner’s home town that I adored because it was out of the hustle and bustle of the “big city” and we got to see more traditional Chinese culture.


That’s where we got a taste for real Chinese food:

…and even found a place for “fish foot massages:” 🙂

As far as other areas of China, Beijing is of course a “must” while in China. I loved the history there, and the Great Wall is like nothing I can even explain.



Way more pictures and information on the Great Wall (and the specific spot we visited…there are three main places to visit the Great Wall and we love the one with the huge slide that takes you down when you’re done) over in this post over HERE.
Loved the Summer Palace:


The Beijing “Night Market:”


Try some scorpions while you’re there…or sheep stomach or crickets or anything you might have a hankering for.

The “Temple of Heaven:”

Be SURE to check out all the elderly Chinese exercising their hearts out through the entrance to this place.  We were mesmerized by their flexibility and strength!

Tiananmen Square:

…and The Forbidden City:


All the details about all these things in Beijing are in this big, long post over HERE.
We had a pretty outstanding tour guide in Beijing named Glenn. If you are interested in booking him for tours his email is glenn_wu at aliyun dot com.
I wish we could have made it to visit Xi’an which I hear is quite fabulous, but we did make it to Guilin and Yangshuo which were breathtaking:


More on that side-trip over HERE.
As far as “hot spots” in the other countries we visited, I’m just posting a few pictures here with links so you can check them out if you’re interested. 
CAMBODIA is one of my favorite countries filled with smiling, beautiful people and the amazing temples of Angkor Wat.  


More about Cambodia HERE. (We went to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh so there are a few posts all connected to that link.)
We loved learning all about the government and history in VIETNAM with a food tour in Hanoi:


Many countries have “food tours” if you seek them out and they are amazing to introduce you to the best kinds of foods in that particular country.
We loved exploring the city with great tour guides on scooters:


I love hiring tour guides if at all possible because there is SO much history to do, and no matter what kind of “reports” you do, there is endless information to learn.
All about our visit to Hanoi HERE.
But our favorite part of Vietnam was Ha Long Bay where we rented an overnight boat with just our own little family.



All about Ha Long Bay and how we rented that boat over HERE.
JAPAN was an another pretty amazing little excursion. It was fascinating to us to see another Asian country so very different from China. I would definitely recommend traveling to Japan during the Fall so that you can see the height of the gorgeous foliage.


We were in Kyoto and Tokyo. All about Japan and the details of that trip over HERE and HERE.
Phew! That’s a lot of “hot spots” and there are hundreds more.
What cuisine is unique to the area, to make sure to try?
When my kids told their friends we were moving to China for a semester a few of them were really excited for our food experience there.  One said, “It’ll be like you’re eating at Panda Express every day!!” with envy in her voice.  
My husband and I chuckled.  Chinese food is far from Panda Express.  Lots of fish and sticky buns depending on which area of China you are in.  When we traveled to my husband’s business partner’s hometown we got some “real” Chinese food. (see that picture above).

But our favorite Chinese cuisine hands down were Chinese dumplings.  There’s a place called Din Tai Fung that had the best dumplings.  

You can actually get them in the states too:

What cuisine should you avoid?
I think it’s great to try it all although we were forwarded some scare-tactic articles warning against buying from street vendors. I think in any foreign country it’s smart to just be aware of how the food is prepared and try to stay with reputable places. Be really careful of the water as well…stick with bottled water if at all possible.
What immunizations are needed, if any?
You don’t need extra immunizations to go to China.
Is tipping customary?
No it’s not. Which is actually a really great little treat.
What unique souvenirs to bring back?
We brought back a ton of chopsticks and some Chinese pajamas plus a whole slew of things we got made at the fabric market but I wish we had found something really uniquely “Chinese” to put in our home to always remind us of our time there. 

Traveling with kids is pretty rewarding if you can get over the whining and the grumpiness from jet lag and sleepless nights. Yes there are highs and lows for sure. And it takes a lot of saving and planning and research and more saving.

But it’s all worth it when you watch your eight-year-old march up to the customs officer and know exactly what to do (complete with her Cambodian pants:)

And when you watch your 13-year-old’s eyes gleaming, hugging her passport close with stars in her eyes about how much she wants to fill that whole thing some day.

I think their hearts (and mine) are changed forever.

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