Travel Bug: China

When we went: August 6th 2010 (Summer in China)

Travel agency: Tour Ease China

Length of stay: 11 days

Cost of private tour: 888 dollars
Including 13 meals, all entrance fees, a professional English-speaking guide & driver with air-conditioned vehicle. All accommodation. Round trip transfers between airports or railway stations and hotels. All service charge & government taxes, and train rides in private four sleeper cabins. 
Excluding: tickets to and from China. Personal spending money, visa fees and tips.

Visa cost: 50 000 won each (for non-Americans)

Airfare: 331,800 won on China Southern Airlines (return)

Where we went: Beijing, X’ian, Shanghi
Source: Imperial China Tours
Highlight of the trip: For me its impossible to chose between the Great Wall of China in Beijing, and the Terracotta Warriors in X’ian. They both totally blew me away. Really a once in a lifetime experience.

If I could only choose one of the 3 destinations: Beijing, It’s so culturally rich and there is so much to see and do there. Definitely my favorite of the three.

China's unique quirks

  • How cheap it was! Food, shopping and public transport is really affordable.
  • Fat men with their bellies hanging out. Ok, not everyone was fat, nor had their tummies on show, but in the summer heat a lot of the men have a habit of rolling their t-shirts up and exposing their stomachs to cool down.
  • Babies with holes in their pants. Little toddlers stroll the streets with giant holes in their pants where their nappies would be, exposing their little bums! When I asked my tour guide about this she said that their families may be too poor to afford diapers so the babies just go about their business in this way instead. Haha, I guess that’s a little gross - but those little chubby baby bottoms are just too cute!

Places to see and things to do Beijing

  • Tiananmen Square which is the largest square in the world
  • The Forbidden City which is the largest imperial palace in the world (A MUST)
  • The Temple of Heaven
  • The Great Wall of China, which is the symbol of ancient Chinese civilization and is approximately a 2-hour drive from the city. (an absolute HAVE TO)
  • Ming tomb
  • Acrobatic show
  • Summer Palace, known as the largest and best imperial gardens in the world (A MUST)
  • Wngfujing Pedestrian Street (New York’s equivalent of 5th avenue I was told. There are tons of top of the range shops and boutiques but also some really cool street food markets where you can enjoy delicacies like scorpions!)
  • Any reputable fresh water pearl market or jade factory
  • Tea shop

Places to see and things to do in X'ian

  • Terracotta Warrior army and horse museum, considered the eighth wonder of the world (an absolute HAVE TO)
  • Ancient Cultural Street and Bell & Drum Tower Square
  • Great Mosque, which was established in AD742 and is still an active place of worship. (Really beautiful and unlike any mosque I have ever seen) 
  • Big Goose Pagoda, which was built in AD 648. The pagoda is regarded as a symbol of Xian. 

Places to see and things to do in Shanghai

  • Jade Buddha Temple, which was built in 1882, is a well-preserved Buddhist temple. 
  • Ming era Yu Garden that is the most famous classical garden of Shanghai
  • The Bund, known as the symbol of Shanghai, features 52 high-rises of all styles showing the art of world architecture. 
  • Old French Concession Area, the White House and Pudong New Shanghai - The People's Square. 

Things to eat:

  • Peking roast duck 
  • Scorpions
Pros of the tour:

  • Stella the travel agent I worked with was as helpful as I could have possibly asked for, speedy with her responses, polite and offered useful suggestions.
  • The price of the trip when compared with other agencies was very competitive.
  • The itinerary was well put together and we got to see everything we wanted at a price we could afford.

Cons of the tour: 

  • In each city we were accompanied by a different tour guide, which was fine but I guess I should have read the fine print about tips for the tour guide and taxi drivers not being included, because they were definitely expected. That would have been fine, but after paying what was for us at the time a big deal of money, and then being pressured into tipping money we hadn’t allocated for, came as a bit of a shock. Saying this though I must say of the 3 tour guides we only felt pressured by one, and I’m not sure you could blame the agency for that. 
  • When staying in 3-star hotels one has to realize you're getting what you’re paying for, and I don’t think I had unrealistic expectations. The first hotel we stayed in, the Minzuyuan Holiday Inn express, was perfect. The rooms were a nice size and clean and the staffs were friendly. The other two hotels, the Bell and Drum tower in X’ian and the Jinming Hotel in Shanghai were really bellow standard though - with peeling paint/wall paper, the smell of damp, filthy carpeting and mould on the walls. I complained about them to the agency and they apologized saying that they hadn’t used those two hotels before, and that they were only using them while the hotels they usually used were under renovation. But a word to the wise, when booking through a tour it may be a good idea to find out which hotels they’re going to put you in first and read reviews on them rather than just taking the agency’s advice. If you tell the agency you’re not happy with a particular hotel they can always change it.

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