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China with children: 8 family friendly activities
Pandas, kung fu, scorpions -- here are the easiest ways to make sure your China vacation is whine-free
For some travelers, visiting China with children is a non-issue.
Their kids are curious about the world. Eager to try new things. They don't complain, not even during four-hour guided tours of Beijing's Forbidden City or visits to the Shanghai Museum to gaze at historic Ming vases.
We're just kidding. Children like that don't exist.
Here's a list of kid-friendly destinations and activities to try in China that will delight even the hardest to please teenager.
1. Great Wall joy ride
Standing atop the Great Wall is one of those amazing travel experiences that needs no gimmicks attached. In theory.
But for kids who are especially hard to impress, the Mutianyu section of the Wall has a 723-meter-long ski lift to the top (640 meters above sea level) and a toboggan ride down to the valley via a 1,580-meter track.
Mutianyu is about 75 kilometers northeast of central Beijing.
Great Wall admission: RMB45 ($7.20) for adults, RMB25 for children 12 and under. Round-trip ski lift/toboggan ticket: RMB80; open April-October 7 a.m.-6 p.m.; November-March 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
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2. Panda cuddle
For animal lovers, Chengdu is the place to hit with children.
The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding has been raising the country's biggest stars since 1987.
Visitors can see the animals in a park-like setting or pay RMB700 ($113) to be an intern for a day, feeding the pandas and scooping up their poop.
For anyone who has dreamed of hugging a panda, this is the chance. For RMB1,300 ($210), you can don gloves and a gown and briefly hold one in your arms.
Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, 1375 Bei Xiongmao Da Dao, Chengdu, Sichuan; +86 28 8350 7814; open daily 8 a.m.-6 p.m.; admission RMB58 ($9). www.panda.org.cn
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3. Princess makeover
At Disney World, parents can spend $189 to have their daughters dress up as princesses, get their makeup done and take part in a photo shoot.
Tourists in Tongli, a canal town outside Suzhou, can pay just RMB10 (about $1.60) for a slightly less VIP experience.
Girls are lent silk embroidered gowns, have flowers pinned in their hair and pose for a photographer in an ancient courtyard. Boys can dress up as mini-emperors.
Similar rent-a-costume stands exist throughout China for children -- and adults -- in popular tourist spots.
Tongli is about 18 kilometers southeast of Suzhou and 80 kilometers west of Shanghai. Shanghai Tourism Distribution Center (2409 Zhongshan Nan Er Lu) organizes day trips to Tongli for RMB130; +86 21 5351 4830
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4. Scorpions on a skewer
If you're in China with children and looking for a quick source of entertainment, new food could be the answer.
In Beijing, you can hit Wangfujing Snack Street and take photos of all the funny food you can't get at home, such as scorpions, centipedes and even weirder fare like sea horses.
Australian Lynette MacDonald, managing editor of Shanghai Family magazine and mother of two boys aged eight and 12, says she remembers taking her kids here and hearing a vendor call out, in English, "Have you ever eaten sheep's penis?"
The market also serves dumplings, steamed buns and fried noodles, which MacDonald says are tasty and prepared fresh in front of diners.
Beijing's Wangfujing Snack Street, Dong'anmen Dajie, at the north end of Wangfujing; open daily 5:30-10:30 p.m.
5. Chinese superheroes in action
Chinese acrobats are akin to living superheroes -- they usually do their stunts without ropes or nets.
Both Shanghai and Beijing have affordable shows that will amaze even hard-to-impress teens.
Shanghai's main show, "Era, Intersection of Time," has live music, artistry and polish, while its Beijing counterpart has cheesier costumes and crazier stunts.
Both shows run no longer than 90 minutes. Both culminate with motorcyclists zigzagging upside-down and all-around inside an on-stage globe. Even the cheap seats are good.
Era, Intersection of Time, 2266 Gonghe Xin Lu, near Guangzhong Xi Lu, Shanghai; +86 1 6652 5468; daily 7:30 p.m.; tickets from RMB 190-590; www.era-shanghai.com/era/en/
Beijing’s Chaoyang Theater Acrobatics Show, 36 Dongsanhuan Bei Lu, Chaoyang District, Beijing; +86 10 6507 2421; shows daily at 5:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.; tickets from RMB 280-880. www.bjcyjc.com
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6. Yangshuo float
Yangshuo County in southeastern China has long inspired artists with its tranquil river scenes and otherworldly rock formations.
If you're in China with children, you can make the excursion more lively by renting water guns and cruising down a bamboo raft on the river, squirting people in other boats.
Yangshuo offers plenty of opportunities to burn off kids' energy. They can bike through rice paddies, explore caves, go rock climbing or take a mud bath.
Most travelers reach Yangshuo from Guilin. Buses bound for Yangshuo leave every 15 minutes from Guilin Bus Station on Zhongshan Lu and Guilin South Railway Station. The journey takes around 90 minutes and the fare is about RMB 15 per person.
Yangshuo County; yangshuotour.com
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7. Kung fu class
Many China hotels can arrange affordable, kid-friendly private lessons in a wide range of subjects, ranging from Mandarin to kung fu.
Travelers heading to Beijing with kids can check out The Hutong, a cultural exchange center that offers classes and outings geared toward older children and teenagers.
Families can make hand-pulled noodles together, tour a food market or join a theatrical walking tour in which historical characters pop out of the landscape and interact with visitors.
For RMB625 ($100), The Hutong can also set kids up with a private 90-minute lesson with a kung fu master who trained at Shaolin Temple.
The Hutong, 1 Jiu Dao Wan Zhong Xiang Hutong, Beijing; +86 159 0104 6127; www.thehutong.com
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8. Kite flying
Families visiting China’s big cities will likely need a break from the noise, concrete and traffic.
Parks are a great place to let children run around without worrying about cars. Small kids will easily make friends, giving parents an opportunity to meet local families.
In Shanghai’s Fuxing Park, families can picnic, fly kites or ride on retro carnival equipment.
Adults won’t be bored either. The people-watching opportunities are endless but our favorites are the retirees, who can be found ballroom dancing or slapping themselves (it’s good for circulation) as they stroll.
Fuxing Park, 516 Fuxing Zhong Lu, near Huaihai Zhong Lu, Shanghai; +86 21 6372 0662; April 1-June 30, 5 a.m.-6 p.m.; July 1-September 30, 5 a.m.-7 p.m.; October 1-March 31, 6 a.m.-6 p.m.; open daily, free admission
Have you visited China with children? Share your travel tips in the comments box below.