March 21 2014For anyone with an adventurous soul who loves to ditch the map and experience a country on your terms, it’s safe to guess that a group journey would never make it onto your travel radar. Yet when it comes to China—and you’re looking to travel the fine line between luxury and off-the-beaten-path—a group trip might be the best way to experience this enormous country. It can leave you free to focus on the moments, without the confusion and frustration that comes with not speaking the local language, or understanding local customs—both huge hurdles in China! Making the decision to join a small group journey may not be easy for all travelers so first things first. Be sure that “small” means small because no one wants to be bussed around with 30 other tourists in baseball caps, or embarrassingly follow a tour guide with a megaphone! For discerning travelers, small should mean from around 5 to 16 people in the group, not including the expert or guide dedicated to ensuring you get the most out of your trip. So here’s why small groups work really well in China and why it’s such a benefit, especially for first time visitors: 1) Travel like you’re eating off a set menu. When you sign on to join a group journey, it’s EASY. There’s no debate about whether you have enough time to get from Shigatse to Lhasa (Tibet) before your flight—logistics no longer have to fall on your shoulders, which is great because China is huge, and making those decisions and confirming reservations, drivers, and transportation for every leg of your trip can be overwhelming. If you’re looking for a simple holiday option that you can easily book, traveling in a small group is right up that alley. Most travel companies offer fantastic add-on options to customize parts of your trip, but for the most part, it’s like ordering a set menu—no fuss, and you get to try a bit of everything. Here at WildChina, we constantly hear great feedback from travelers who say there was something on the trip that they wouldn’t have chosen for themselves, but that they ended up loving. It’s all part of traveling to a new place. 2) More takeaways. China is different. It’s different from the US, from Canada, from Europe, from Australia…you get the picture. But this is why people come—because it’s a fascinating place to visit. A week on the beach in Mexico, China is not…which means there’s a lot to process, a lot to be curious about, and a lot of surprising (hopefully exciting!) experiences and interactions to discuss at the end of the day. Traveling with others, who might have completely different or similar impressions as you, makes for great conversation and insight to take with you at the end of the trip. 3) Food. Definitely the food. Eating in China is always a group affair, with large round tables and lazy-susans heavy with the weight of dishes. Some call it “family-style”, others call it “Chinese-style” but dishes are ordered for the whole table and then shared. A basic rule of thumb when eating in China is to order one dish per person at the table—and then throw in a couple extra to make sure no one goes hungry. This is great news for groups because the more people at the table, the more food you get to try and taste. The key to China travel euphoria is simply to remember the golden rule and join a very small group…that really is our best advice! Our upcoming trip to Tibet in June accepts a maximum of 16 travelers to ensure that everyone enjoys the best experience possible. If you have any questions, or want to learn more about your options for visiting China or traveling to Tibet, do let us know, we’d be happy to hear from you!
March 18 2014Hand-pulled noodles, freshly-made broth, and an open kitchen? Welcome to Noodle Bar, part of 1949 The Hidden City. Enter the tiny room and pick one of only 12 stools around the bar; with so few seats, everyone gets front-row tickets to the noodle-pulling spectacle. [caption id="attachment_12740" align="aligncenter" width="560"] Let the show begin! From your seat you'll be able to watch the expert whip your noodles into true noodle LOVE![/caption] Noodle Bar only offers one thing: (you guessed it!) noodles. But within that, there are plenty of choices: thick noodles, thin noodles, beef brisket, beef tendon, beef tripe, mushrooms…etc. You get the idea. And it’s all laid out on single-page menus attached to cute miniature clipboards, for your extreme convenience. Just tick the options you want and no need to fret if you’re coming here on your own—the menu is bilingual. Their signature bowls cost 38 RMB and include: A monthly special featuring chicken, beef, lamb or pork Mushrooms and/or other vegetarian options Beef brisket, beef tripe, or beef tendons (the one pictured below has all three and this is our favorite! Who knew that tendons could be so tender and yummy!?!) [caption id="attachment_12741" align="aligncenter" width="560"] Why choose between beef brisket, beef tripe, or beef tendons when you can have it all? Go for it, it's delicious this way![/caption] If you want to throw in a couple of sides, we’d also recommend the tea eggs (a Chinese staple, eaten at breakfast, lunch, AND dinner) and hot fried tofu. Once you’ve ordered, you get to see your meal being made from start to finish. Each bowl of noodles is prepared to order with the raw wheat dough pulled, twisted, and stretched into the long, signature noodles before disappearing into the boiling broth. Open from 11am to 10pm daily, Noodle Bar is located in 1949 The Hidden City, a series of single-story buildings built in the traditional Beijing hutong architecture—tiled roofs and all--, that surround a picturesque outdoor courtyard. The entrance is guarded over by immense stone warriors and a narrow brick walkway whisks you through the art gallery and then out into the courtyard past avant-garde statues and other installations. If you tell the wait staff you’re looking for Noodle Bar, they’ll indicate an unmarked door at the end of the courtyard. [caption id="attachment_12739" align="aligncenter" width="560"] No getting lost with these big boys here to guide you into the entrance to the 1949 compound.[/caption] Noodle Bar does not accept reservations but the turnover is quite snappy so even if there is a bit of a wait it shouldn’t take long to be seated at the horseshoe shaped bar, perfect for watching the noodle slappin’ show! Oddly there is no music and no dessert but you won’t miss them and they offer up 2 kinds of local beer directly at the bar. If you go in spring or summer time plan to arrive early or stay later and enjoy the garden bar in the courtyard to avail yourself of the full cocktail selection. Plan to be there around dusk, it is the best time to watch the blue night fall onto the sculptures and installations. Find them here: gong ti bei lu, chao yang district, Beijing (behind pacific century place) 100027 北京朝阳区工体北路, 太平洋百货南门对面, 邮编 100027 Telephone: 86 10 6501 1949