Our tour was based on 'classic' China. My trip was not always a standard tourist experience, and of course I am one ageing Aussie female.
We visited Beijing, Xi'an, Yangtze River Cruise (Chongqing/ Yichang), Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou.
Our tour was excellent. I had received excellent hospitality from time to time from some of the local Agencies, which certainly made my tour a wonderful experience, and was very special. Our trip was relatively Comprehensive, including? 'key' attractions and some of the most famous places in China, enough to make me want to come back for more.? We covered a wide range of cities, landscapes and climates in a short time, experiencing local flights, trains and cars.? This was enough to provide a 'taste' of China.? However, there is SO MUCH more. I am ashamed that I even faintly thought I could "see China"or even the most important parts in such a short time.? I had not really appreciated the sheer scale, variety and depth of the country (both ancient and modern), and for me this tour simply scratched the surface. The key lesson was that it takes much longer than anticipated, not for reasons of efficiency but because there is so much to see, to do, and to learn.
We started our journey from Guilin, a beautiful city about which great was given in medias, books, propagandas. The city is actually terrific, very little touched by the concrete and steel. Narrow streets end abruptly at numerous parks where visitors speak softly and move slowly in the stillness.? We enjoyed the Li River Cruise. The River winds its way between crags and peaks, creating an eternal beauty that seems to only belong to a hanging painting. The cruise ends at Yangshuo, an idyllic small town set among tranquil, impressive country scenery, is a paradise where carefree backpackers and others relax and enjoy the magnificent surroundings. A tiny street, called"Western Street" (so called for many foreigners reside in the street ) run through the little town. Shops selling souvenirs and traditional Chinese artworks line the streets. It is amazing that most of the vendors there can speak English, some are really fluent. My guide had that the town was one of the best places in china to buy souvenirs, you just needed to bargain. The guide did a terrific job helping me bargaining a kind of ethnical trinket for a really cheap price. We toured the famous sights in the city the next day. We visited several parks, which all take breath-stopping scenery.
Our flight to Beijing was well chosen. Here in china, domestic flights were of similar standard to domestic Australian planes/service. There used to be a lot of stories and jokes about domestic airlines in China, but that simply no longer applies, they were good.? Finding your flight (and therefore check-in counter) on the Departures Board at the Airport is easy, and check in is also straightforward.? We did see a German couple who had not reconfirmed their flight in a bit of trouble. Departure Gates can be confusing sometimes the number listed on the screens were different from the one used, and listening out for announcements can be nerve-racking.? A lot of travelers would be used to seeing a special board (electronic or not) beside the actual gate listing the flights which would be leaving from there.? That was not always so, and the information was not always complete (especially if the flight had been delayed).? However, local staff were always helpful if asked. I experienced a lot more mid-air turbulence than I've experienced before I guess Australia is a pretty flat country and China has an amazing geography, so flights were generally a little more exciting than those at home.
Our Beijing guide Gillian and Sophie were already waiting for us out there as we exited from the hall. Our welcome at the Guangzhou Hotel in Beijing was fantastic, as was the welcome lunch. The 4* hotels were all excellent, and more than equivalent to Australian 4* in terms of facilities and service (better service in China in some cases).Actually, I was not prepared for just how upmarket most of the hotels would be. It is good to have internet service available ¨C increasingly important for checking email on the move, and internet cafes are not always obvious to a western tourist, and can be intimidating. A swimming pool in the hotel is good but the level of chemicals in the pool is offputting, as is having the pool attendant and his girlfriend eating dinner beside the pool, with their friends.? Guests should be warned that a cap is needed.
Chinese cuisine with its diversity and complex is what a visitor should not miss in china. We tried some dumpling for the lunch. It was tasty.
Beijing is a giant city with both ancient and modern feature. As one of the great ancient capitals it is home to some of the finest remnants of China' imperial past, steeped in the past, Beijing is by no means trapped by its glory time gone by. There will be a Microsoft high rise right down the block from 100+ year old row houses with narrow alley ways of the Haotong District, that only a pedicab will fit through, and that will be around the corner from a temple and palaces from the 15th and 16th centuries, and huge beautiful parks you could spend hours in. we had a Hutong tour in that afternoon. Hutong is a very unique stale alley linking the architectures called quadrangle-a compound with houses around a square courtyard. Lots of Hutong crisscross the Hutong area. Foreigners would easily lose their way here if without a local guide. Exclusions such as a rickshaw tour of the Hutongs were at my request.
?I have a strong dislike of being carried by another human being, either in a chair or by cycle power, and it makes me uncomfortable.? Some tourists may love it, but there would be many like me for whom it is embarrassing, and shaming. I had gone to the Peking Opera that night. Characters with traditional costumes singing, dancing, acting at the stage, applause echoed the theater, but as a completely westerns, I had no idea what was going on and was completely lost.?
We started our next morning strolling around the Tian'anmen square, a large open air space. I saw gray-jacketed policemen patrolling around guarding the security of visitors and green-jacketed army marching. A red flag flows high up there.? A few minutes father led us to the Forbidden City, a complex of imperial palace. Gillian and Sophie (our Beijing guide as I mentioned previously) did a terrific job, explaining the fine things to us. We wound through gorgeous buildings, elegantly decorated temples, exquisite archways, pretty gardens?-there are just too much to see. There are in all hundreds of buildings and thousands of chambers in the proper.? Only the emperors who once lived there and their most intimate attendants could ever have known every part of the giant complex. We then were transferred to the Temple of Heaven, a place where the ancient Chinese emperors used to pray for the God's blessing of the whole nation. This is a quite different interesting architecture. I shot several pics here which I?ˉd like to share with you all if possible. All of us agreed the Great Wall was the most amazing thing we so far saw in China. It winds like a snake along the ridge tops of the mountains for miles with shear cliffs on either side.
After a nice breakfast in our hotel, we were taken to the airport. We said goodbye to our guides and boarded the plane heading for Xi'an. The weather was comfortable and our flight to Xi'an was pretty smooth and. everything went perfectly. Xi'an is an ancient yet modern city. An aged brick made wall circled some of the skyscrapers. the historical sites, temples, and pagodas are wonderful but at a certain point they risk all looking the same to an inexperienced newcomer ¨C when there is time it is good to include some contrasting activities and/or buildings, including some modern aspects of China change of activity, change of pace, change of building/attraction, and that way one does not get to "saturation point" with temples and pagodas. Everyone comes to Xian to see the Terracotta Warriors, we dutifully did so. What's surprising about the warriors are the fact that every one of them is different and there are thousands of them, as if they were created after every unique individual in the army. The exhibit was astounding and huge. Three really large buildings are needed for the stuff that they have excavated so far, and they think there is more. You can't believe the detail in these life size warriors. Each one has a different face and they even mixed and matched different hair styles. We spent our rest days there strolling the Ancient City Wall, visiting a muslin area and enjoying the Tang dynasty Show. I enjoyed what I saw of the Wild Goose Pagoda, which was one of the highlights of the whole trip.
Totally mind-blowing. (There was a television show in the sixties called Monkey Magic, based on the story of Tripitaka's trip to India to bring back the Buddhist scrolls, so Wild Good Pagoda was especially interesting).
So what made a difference for me here was our guide. Empathy. Knowledge and language skills are good, but not enough without the ability to "read" the customer. However, language skills and knowledge are only half the story, and "textbook" language is not so good as comfortable and colloquial skills. They seemed to enjoy what they do, and enjoy their customers without judging them, they adapted as we went along, and listened to us the customers rather than imposing a set routine on us whether we were enjoying it or not. Joy in Xi'an was professional, and knew her stuff.
The Yangtze cruise in the middle of the tour was terrific, a much needed opportunity to relax and recover from the intensity of the first few days. I found the pace until then exhausting. I appreciate that visitors want to cram as much as possible into the least possible time, but that can detract from the overall experience, and it would be good to encourage people to go for quality rather than quantity (easy for me to say, difficult to do; it depends on providing very good and comprehensive information to supplement any advice provided, and deliberately focusing the marketing on NOT trying to do it all at once, but choosing parts of China). Later into the trip I learned to limit my activities, with a more realistic assessment of what I could and couldn't do. An extract from an email I sent to a friend (with apologies for the colloquial style and language) conveys how I felt after a couple of days:
We then took a train to Shanghai. It is over 30 years since I traveled on a train, but soft seat seemed just fine to me.It's a comfortable way to see the countryside, and made a change from flying.The standard, cleanliness and toilets were all adequate, and the trolleys with food and drink also seemed fine. Getting on and off the train could be a problem in terms of the height of the carriage, the time available (the trains don't seem to stop very long), and getting on and off the platform.? In Shanghai and Suzhou it was great that Zhou Yong Hua and Ellen Wei Xing came onto the platform to help with the luggage and boarding/arriving. We had a few crazy days in Shanghai. The sites were well chosen and everyone of them deserved the time.
Shanghai Museum is great.? Pearl Tower is something one has to do, but I wouldn't go up it again, however I would go back to the Museum.
Shopping ¨C for me the cashmere factory (Shanghai) was great because it's one of the only places I could get clothes big enough for me. The silk factory in Suzhou was also good for the things I could get for my family, so I enjoyed them. The cloisonn's factory was interesting but the goods seemed expensive, and the Xiushui market was intimidating, some of the most aggressive vendors I've come across.I notice the guides stay uninvolved as much as possible in the markets, although at both the silk and the cashmere factories. Zhou and Ellen were very helpful.? I loved just wandering in Nanjing Lu, into the big shopping buildings and checking out what kinds of things were for sale at what price is just everyday things.
I especially enjoyed an impromptu visit to a tea shop near the Yuyuan garden; I was thirsty and wanted some tea, so we went in. The fact that it was unplanned was good.
A Chinese saying goes"above there is the Heaven, on earth, there is Suzhou" . Suzhou has everything to justify the claim. The webbed rivers, elegant gardens, ancient silk production create a paradise on earth. The gardens are all set with rockeries, ponds, pavilions, bridges, trees and flowers.
We stayed few days in Hangzhou visiting the world known West Lake. The scenery was fascinating.
China is completely fascinating and that includes modern China.? We want to understand today's China as well as all the history, to see what's happening now in terms of art and music and so on.? We are also interested in recent history as well as very ancient.