May 29, Tom & Kay W. from British
Please find attached our experiences gained from our holiday in China, feel free to use any of the information we have provided.
Tom and Kay
Tibet Travel Service
We wanted to cruise the Yangtse River before the water level was finally raised. If we were going that far we also wanted to see places we’d heard so much about like Beijing and Shanghai. We didn’t feel confident about travelling independently in a country where could not read, much less speak the language. Previous experience of group travel had been unsatisfactory – no choice of flights from the UK, set hotels, no flexibility in places visited and the need to stick with the group at all times.
A search on the internet found sample trips offered by Tibet Travel Service. An initial query to Michael and his team confirmed that the trip could be tailored to our dates and flights and offered a choice of hotel standard. We booked. A family crisis meant a change to our schedule at very short notice. Had we booked with a group tour, we would have missed our holiday. Michael pulled out the stops and reorganised the trip.
Visas were surprisingly easy to obtain. The hardest part was getting to the Chinese Embassy in the UK who needed our passports for three days; luckily the Embassy in The Netherlands (where my husband worked) offered a ‘while you wait’ service.
Our tour took us to Xian, the Yangtse River, Guilin, Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. At every place we were met by an English-speaking guide, who ensured that hotel check-ins etc went smoothly and conducted our local tours. All our guides were knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Each demonstrated a pride in China, her people and its culture. Although local sightseeing was well planned it was also flexible – we could take more or less time at the various locations, miss out or add in attractions as we desired – no having to wait for stragglers, hang around venues we had little interest in or rush through those we found fascinating.
The tour included lunches based on regional dishes. We were constantly amazed at the range of dishes presented. We enjoy Chinese cooking – the lunches encouraged us to try dishes that we would not have ordered at home. Our expertise with chopsticks improved considerably, although each venue also offered Western cutlery. Evening meals were left to our own choice – again we mostly ate Chinese food – well priced and delicious.
Hotels throughout were of a good standard; well placed especially in Beijing and Shanghai where we were within walking distance of the main attractions.
Beijing: this was our favourite of all the places we visited. The Hotel International was in walking distance of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. We had a very enjoyable day exploring these with Grace, our guide. In the evening we enjoyed window shopping in the malls and side streets nearby – astonished at the range and variety of goods on offer. There was an excellent choice of reasonably-priced restaurants where we astonished the locals with our skill with chopsticks. We also enjoyed the Chinese wine –Great Wall, red, 1997 is especially good! Grace arranged a visit to the Hutong area where we had the opportunity to take a rickshaw ride and visit a family home. The local guide helped me to buy a pair of Chinese shoes for Tai Chi in one of the small craft shops. The Peking Duck dinner included in the tour was superb. Following the visit to the Great Wall we enjoyed yet another wonderful meal at the Cloisonné factory and stocked up on presents for the folks at home.
Xian: the main reason for visiting Xian is the Terracotta Army. However Xian itself was a most interesting walled city with several ancient buildings and excellent shopping. It was very easy to get around in. The Xian dumpling dinner was a gastronomic experience which we will remember for the rest of our lives! The accompanying show was also most enjoyable.
Wuhan: After a short visit to a Buddhist temple we boarded Princess Elaine for our Yangtse River Cruise.
Yangtse River Cruise: we upgraded to a suite on the Princess Elaine, which provided more room. Initially the food on the boat was good, buffet style offering a wide choice of Chinese dishes. However the food became more Western towards the end of the cruise; we were disappointed to be offered burgers, pizza and fried chicken with the ubiquitous french fries. The scenery through the Gorges was everything that we had expected. The tours were interesting and we now have a greater insight into the reasons behind the Three Gorger Project. Fred, the narrator, provided excellent commentary on the gorges, providing lots of interesting detail. The tours provided great contrasts between the people living on the streams running into the Yangtse and those relocated into large cities such as Wanzhou. At times during the tour we felt a bit overwhelmed at the concept of a ‘small’ city having a greater population than the whole of Scotland.
Chonqing: our tour was scheduled to visit the General Stillwell Museum, however the local guide felt that this would be of little interest to non-Americans. He suggested that instead we visited a local pack. This proved to be a good exchange. The park had wonderful views of the city and river and housed a wonderful exhibition explaining the impact of the Dam Project on the local communities. We visited the zoo to see the panda bears. Lunch was exceptionally good!
Guilin: the Waterfall Hotel was probably the best on the tour. We were amazed at the local landscape of a thousand hills as we cruised the river. Lunch today was cooked on the back of the boat using some produce supplied by the local fisherman on bamboo rafts as we travelled.
Shanghai: we stayed at the famous Peace Hotel. Although excellently positioned the hotel was lacking in atmosphere and service, obviously still trading on former glories. In contrast to other Chinese cities visited, Shanghai was more Western in outlook and therefore less enjoyable. We disliked the constant harassment by those selling goods and services. We had the opportunity to attend a display by Chinese acrobats, which we thoroughly enjoyed.
Hong Kong: another city with a Western flavour. We stayed in Kowloon. The hotel was excellently placed and of a high standard overlooking Hong Kong island, however we were hassled by Indian peddlers every time we stepped out of the hotel. Kowloon is definitely over- hyped. Hong Kong island itself was a pleasurable experience. We spent our free day on the local trams, exploring the shopping areas and the Peak. The local markets offered a range of goods for last-minute gifts.
Overall we thoroughly enjoyed our Chinese trip and hope to visit again in the future. We were impressed by the cleanliness of the country, the wealth of culture and the courtesy of its people.
Itinerary: 19 days Beijing / Xian / Wuhan / Yangtze River Cruise / Chongqing / Guilin / Shanghai / Beijing / Hong Kong