Discover China with your family

A fourteen-hour flight separates us from our vacation destination this year: Shanghai, China.

14 hours and 20 minutes, 860 minutes precisely, to cover with our little 16 month old monkey. These figures lead us to a pseudo-scientific statistic: there is a 13,760 chance that this flight will be torture. With small toys in hand, multiple snacks, a phone full of baby shows, the baby carrier pre-installed, the doggie nearby, the Benadryl ready to drug him... we attack this journey as if our life (or survival) depended on it. Normally JP and I love flying. We are part of this small cohort who appreciate even the longest flights, who appreciate dry food and the lack of space. For JP, he barely has time to buckle up before he is already asleep. And for me, this little moment of imposed downtime allows me to cram in as many films as possible depending on the length of the flight. But not this time, we know that well. These little moments of happiness with children on board are over.

As soon as we take off, we take out the gear. Baby is buried in toys, mouth full of snacks, entertainment on... the very definition of overstimulation. But baby doesn't care. All he wants is to kiss the little girl behind and give her half of his “slinky” to play with, to stroke the hair of the man in front, to say “hello” to our neighbor and say “hello”. -babye” to all personnel on board. And because that's not enough attention, he wanders the aisles even patting those who are sleeping to make them look nice. Babe in action.

So we said, two o'clock. We eat, we play, we nap. We wake up, we play, we eat again, we play again, then an airplane-style sleep “routine”: diaper change, pajamas and brushing teeth in the 2 square foot toilet. Story, bottle and sleep on the floor. All without Benadryl. Small victory here! After a good 5 hours of sleep and some fidgeting, we are already at our destination. Not bad is not it?!



How do we know we are arriving safely? You just have to look out the window to see the beautiful big, thick and dense ball of brown-gray-yellow smog that you are about to enter. A little nausea at this first glance, true. The famous skyscrapers are barely perceptible through this polluted fog. The air quality index that day showed “Unhealthy”… A little worrying at the time but I assure you, the following days were clear and fabulous. The proof:

We therefore arrive in the country of “the most (…) in the world”, we quickly realize this, starting with the fastest train in the world: 430 km/h on the odometer at full speed. Photo and video proof. Surprisingly, we don't stick to the bench like the fiery top of La Ronde, in fact we don't really feel the speed. We cover 45 kilometers in 8 minutes to get to the city center. Impressive, the Maglev.


Shanghai is the very definition of an extravagant, overcrowded and hectic metropolis. An urban center that is not very cosmopolitan, contrary to what one might think, with few or no signs in English and few or no people who speak the international language. The city offers multiple neighborhoods for all tastes: Xintiandi for slightly more high-end restaurants which serve meals with a slightly more Western flavor, French Concession and its magnificent streets lined with mature trees where many people gather. expats who came to taste the city's rare croissants, Nanjing and its dazzling neon shops, Yu Yuan Garden and its typical little village... We joined our friends in the heart of The Bund , a vibrant neighborhood that resembles the old port of Montreal with its colonial buildings and nearby, a grandiose city center. Our home for the next few days is located there, probably “the smallest apartment in the world”: a charming Airbnb accommodation on the 3rd floor of a rather dubious building where we cook as much as we dry the laundry in the corridors of the room. gloomy building. Close to everything, we take the opportunity to contemplate the city at sunrise (thanks, jetlag...) to escape the crowds. Tai chi here, dragon kites there, morning is the ideal time to discover the jewels of the awakening city.


Besides our apartment which breaks records for smallness, our next “the most (…) in the world” will be the underwater tunnel to get to the business district. I no longer know why this tunnel stands out but it is considered “the most (……) in the world”. Important to clarify! We then go to the “2nd tallest tower in the world” (after the famous Dubai Tower) to discover the city seen from above… very high. 632m, 128 floors, 5 basements. To get to the panoramic observatory, you board the “fastest elevator in the world”, which travels at a speed of 74 km/h. I confirm that the ears suffer on the descent.

The view is magnificent and allows us to observe the scale of the metropolis of 24 million inhabitants.



A beautiful sunny day with too many people in the city (given the Golden Week which monopolizes the entire country) invites us to a getaway to the suburbs. Zhujiajiao is a pretty little water town about thirty kilometers from the mainland. An easy outlet to get away from the city and its chaos. Error. It takes more than double the time by bus to get there due to road congestion, even worse for the return, and there, an unimaginable sea of ​​people makes us want to isolate ourselves in March. Impossible to appreciate the ancient and typical old city that looms before us, all we see are hordes of local tourists jostling each other. The Chinese are used to being numerous per square foot. Peripheral vision is not a constitution of their physiology, awareness of others is optional and the notion of a personal “bubble” is completely absent. We Canadians, underpopulated and a tad annoyed by mere physical contact with another human, feel a little cramped. In the end, we appreciate the “experience” but we have almost no memory of Zhujiajiao!



A short internal flight of 2:15 brings us to the Hunan province, in central China, in the village of Fenghuang. Fenghuang means “phoenix”. The story goes that 2 phoenixes discovered this small, well-preserved city and never left it again. The region, listed as a UNESCO heritage site, has kept its character dating from the ancient colonies of the 14th to the 17th century and has survived wars and other human destruction due to its isolation across the mountains. It is also said that we find the 2nd Great Wall of China there, “only” some 200 km long, but we did not have the chance to visit it. This city is simply magical. A destination popular with Chinese tourists, especially during Golden Week, which is worth every photo. In Fenghuang, we wander all around the Tuo Jiang river to observe the typical buildings with upturned gables and a few boat trips allow us to discover new points of view. At every hour of the day, the brightness offers us a setting that changes in color but is just as enchanting. We never tire.

In photos:

We also discover that here, in the remote countryside, eating habits are a little different from Shanghai. Goodbye to the famous xiao long bao (the best thing that exists on this earth) and hello to the 'live' animals in cages near the restaurants, which serve as menus, we suppose. Chickens, capibaras, other unidentified rodents, large toads, turtles, snakes, sea molluscs with funny shapes…. and even cats. On this subject, we never had confirmation that they ate them but there were indeed cats in cages next to the chickens. We therefore opted, in Fenghuang, for more classic options, safe values ​​to avoid eating the animals. Fried rice, dumpling, noodles, pizza…. and even PFK is part of our menu. It's not in Fenghuang that we ate the best, let's say. We also have to consider that no menu is in English and no one can translate it for us… so we have to point to photos and cross our fingers that it won't be a joke.

After almost 4 full beautiful days contemplating the old city, its ancient wealth, its authentic character and its magnificent people, we leave for another countryside, this time much more popular: Zhangjiajie.


Wulingyan and Zhangjiajie

Still in Hunan, a 5-hour bus ride with the babies takes us to our next destination, where we will spend a whole week. A little aside about babies, actually. They love each other, these two. We discreetly observe them engaging in a real courting waltz worthy of feathered animals: Rafael acts handsome, he squirms, giggles, flaps his wings... Simone looks at him with round, passionate and deep eyes and she giggles at each of his movements. They are beyond adorable.


End of aside. Here we are in one of the largest and sumptuous national parks in China: Zhangjiajie National Forest Park which is located in the Wulingyan Scenic Area.

The place is known for its 3000 quartz rock peaks which inspired James Cameron for his floating forests in Avatar. That's what they say, that's what is known, but we also learned that this story is false and that it was rather the locals themselves who, after the release of the film, noted a striking resemblance between the floating peaks in the film and the real peaks in the region. They would have decided to use this to “sell” the park to tourists. In any case, true or not, these forests are indeed reminiscent of the beautiful, misty and enchanting mountains of the highly awarded fantasy film.

Several attractions are offered to keep tourists busy in the region, a week won't be too long! Not 1 cable car but several routes, glass suspension bridges (yes, “some”), mountainside trails, natural bridges, peaks, peaks and more peaks. Rain or shine, we explore.

We try everything: a perilous bus climb up the mountainside in Tianmen which makes us regret being born at every turn, a steep climb in “the longest cable car in the world” (I told you it was not not finished..) which leaves directly from the city of Zhangjiajie to climb to the peaks of Tianmen, descent into hell in “the highest outdoor elevator in the world” in the forests of Avatar, walk on the edge of the cliffs on a glass platform 1400m from the mainland, another terrifying cable car, another glass bridge and this time, “the longest and highest in the world”, nothing less of course… And yes, all that with the babies. You may think we are irresponsible parents, come on. We accept judgment, we sometimes question ourselves.

Our follies, in photos:

So during the day, we do a series of thrilling activities. In the evening, we find the pleasure of Chinese gastronomy in the lively little town of Wulingyan with lots of typical little restaurants where we find, of course, our much-loved classics: noodles, dumplings, won-tons…. still no xiao long bao but several other great discoveries! On the other hand, we deliberately neglected to try the local specialty, salamander. A nice big flabby, slimy lizard, served whole. We see him, he is there, alive and well, in his aquarium waiting for his time. It's disgusting. On the other hand, we wanted to try the famous chicken soup style hotpot. NEVER AGAIN. We didn't eat anything. Large cartilage legs were floating, with blackened skin that was slowly peeling off from the heat of the broth... that didn't really inspire us...

And because all this as well as the cable cars, glass bridges and other suicidal activities were not enough in terms of thrills for our friends, the boys rush to taste a large unidentified vile insect. This monstrosity looked like a large larva cocoon. Once the belly is well protein, these gentlemen practice making Chinese sweet snacks. It must be the force-feeding of rice wine that is making Mr. Boutet delirious. In order, this evening looked like this:


Goodbye, Shanghai

To recover from our strong emotions of the last week, return to Shanghai for a few days before heading to Montreal. One last little internal flight and here we are in town. The 2nd look at Shanghai is even more wonderful. The city is so beautiful, so grandiose, so bright day and night, the food is extraordinary, hello again xiao long bao!! And what about shopping…. our last days will be devoted to the famous fake market in Shanghai. Located right in a metro station, this maze of bags, clothes, shoes, toys, jewelry, decorations, electronics and so on, makes us spend all our little remaining ¥ yuan, and more. So if you see us covered in designer clothes soon, you may doubt the veracity of our goods!


A final 14-hour flight brings the 4 of us back to Montreal. Basically, with our Western eyes, here is what we remember about China:

– China is a world in itself: they are a little (a lot!) cut off from the rest of the world. Let's remember that Google (and all its derivatives: Google Map, Chrome, etc.) boycotted the country and that all the social networks we know are banned by the government. Even the big international brands are not so present unlike elsewhere in Asia. We note that China is therefore a self-sufficient world. After all, they alone constitute 1/6 of the world's population! They don't need anyone, even internal tourism is enough to keep the industry going because few or no facilities are adapted for Western tourists.

– Which means that it is not an easy country to travel! The language barrier is really an obstacle and the main cause of some headaches. Considering their independence from the rest of the world, they do not need to master English. Even the gestures are different. Traveling with children/babies is not easy either. Nothing is very baby-friendly. Little or no descent for strollers, no changing table anywhere to change babies. On the floor is an option, but considering that traditional toilets in China are on the floor, this is not very sanitary. Diapers, milk, nothing is easy to find and above all, everything is identified only in Chinese signs. In short, not a first choice family destination but for those who want to brave it, the experience is worth it!

– On the other hand, the Chinese love babies! It must be said that our babies are quite extraordinary 😍. They are patient and follow us everywhere without flinching. Without routine, they adapt to any situation. Rafael eats everything like a glutton, true to his habits. Simone always giggles again and again (my best audience!!) despite neglected naps. They are super sociable and constantly smiling at strangers… which is essential in China actually, because the babies are truly the stars of our trip. The Chinese don't hesitate to grab them, take them, pull them to take a selfie with our beautiful plump white babies. We find it very cute and flattering, although a bit intrusive at times.

– China is a change of scenery and a unique cultural discovery. Truly, China is a fascinating world. The country is so big, there is so much to discover and to pretend that we know the country after only 18 days would be pretentious. 1.3 billion inhabitants is a lot of different traditions and cultures over a vast territory. In terms of landscape, we were first completely charmed by the lost countryside in the center of the country: The traditional authenticity of Fenghuang is striking. The endless mystical forests of Zhangjiajie are fascinating. As for the big city, it has conquered our urban heart and above all, our stomach! Concerning the people, contrary to the false ideas we have of a cold people, the people are rather kind, smiling, helping to the best of their ability despite the difficulty in communicating.


See you soon Chinese people, we'll try the chicken feet next time, I promise!

And thank you little ones for ANOTHER wonderful trip with you ❤️

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