Sadia Sultana, her husband Tajul Islam and their sons Rafatul (8) and Naqibul (6).
The family chose last year’s Mid-Autumn Festival as the perfect time to catch a train out of Beijing for a two-day getaway.
Bullet trains leave every 20-30 minutes from Beijing South Railway Station, making Tianjin a convenient weekend trip. No advance booking is needed for a train ticket, but you can purchase tickets online at www.chinatraintickets.net. Train numbers and times are easily recognizable on a large overhead screen and some of the attendants speak English. The bullet train will get you to Tianjin in just 30 minutes. By car, it is about two hours from Beijing.
Travel agent Jessie from Etravel (6568 6520, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.etravelbj.com) booked a deluxe room for the family at the Holiday Inn Tianjin Riverside hotel (Haihe Donglu, Hebei District, Tianjin, +22 2627 8888 front desk, +22 8457 7827 service center). After much online research, Sadia considers it to be one of the most affordable international hotels along the Haihe river. The newly opened hotel has riverside views and is located close to the Tianjin Railway Station as well as most of the major sights, including the city center (a ten-minute drive away).
The concierge at the Holiday Inn Tianjin Riverside helped plan a two-day sightseeing tour of Tianjin. Sights included a pleasant boat ride on the beautiful Haihe and the famous Jiefang Bridge (Liberation Bridge). Rafatul and Naqibul were amazed by the domed roof and large statues within the ancient French-style Catholic Xikai Church on Dushan Lu. Although they didn’t have time to visit, the Tianjin Binhai Aircraft Carrier Theme Park (www.binhaipark.cn, Chinese only) is a great kid-friendly destination. Located in Hangu District, it takes two hours to reach the theme park by car or bus, and just 30 minutes by train from Tianjin.
The Best Part
The best part of the trip was the boat ride on Haihe. Onboard, they enjoyed panoramic views of both the colonial and the modern architecture of the city. Another highlight was an evening walk through the Jinwan Plaza along the river. The tour amongst the unique garden-style buildings of the Five Roads was memorable. The kids also loved the Eye of Tianjin ferris wheel when it was lit-up at night – they had a great view from their hotel room.
The Worst Part
There was a lot of construction between the Tianjin Railway Station and Tianjin proper. The boat has no awning, so if it rains people have to sit inside, where it’s difficult to see the spectrum of beautiful sights along the river.
Everyone, especially the kids, loved eating at the restaurants in ItalianStyle Town. It is worth a trip during both day and night. Free jazz performances on an open-air stage add an extra charm. Buffet lunch at the hotel had reasonably priced Chinese and international cuisine. The family tried sampling some local delicacies on Food Street, but had to leave because it was overcrowded.
Shopping in Tianjin is slightly cheaper than Beijing. Sadia liked the Ancient Cultural Street on Shuigao Dajie in Nankai District because she could purchase her favorite: Chinese hand-embroidered framed pictures. The Golden Street shopping area is also fun. The boys loved shopping at Isetan, a Japanese department store that they were missing back in Beijing.
The boys were extremely excited to ride the speedy train to Tianjin. They couldn’t take off their eyes off the screen that clocks the speed of the train. They were also fascinated by the horse-drawn carts carrying tourists around the Five Roads area.
A Pleasant Surprise
When Rafat was checking out the Porcelain House at Five Roads, an elderly Chinese man ran up to him with his grandson. He shook hands with Rafat, while repeating pengyou (friend) and putting Rafat’s arms on his grandson’s shoulder. Then, they took a few happy snaps of the pair. While Rafat was shy about the encounter, the friendly gesture left an impression on him after they departed.
Roundtrip bullet train tickets for soft seats came to approximately RMB 500 for two adults and two children. Hotel accommodation for two nights in a deluxe room (including breakfast and separate buffet lunch and buffet dinner) was around RMB 2,500. Taxi fares and food outside the hotel was RMB 1,200. And a boat ride costs RMB 80 per adult and RMB 40 per child.