- Reviewed on August 11, 2019
Here is my review. I will likely post it on TripAdvisor to help other tourists out so they know what to expect. Let me know if you would like anything edited (such as the Wire Transfer vs PayPal part) if you find it harmful for your business. My intent is to describe my experience to other Western travellers that may have similar fears about booking a trip like this.
Thanks for all you did. The trip was both flawless and amazing.
I took a 2 week personalized vacation with Chendu Bamboo tours through China. I wanted to put some thoughts down to the TripAdvisor community as I had a lot of reservations going into it, and I hope my review will help clarify some of the items that I was uncertain of.
First, while I researching, I determined that I wanted to do a custom tour as none of the packages that I saw had everything I wanted. The towns I chose were Beijing, Xian, Dunhuang, Chengdu, Guilin and Shanghai. I submitted inquiries to multiple companies and ChinaDiscovery came back to me promptly with a very comprehensive tour that was detailed and in line with my expectations. The scary part of communicating my requirements was that it had to be done mostly through email, although the company was also quick to Skype call me to handle some of my more advanced questions.
If you decide to book a tour like this (and you are firmly in the middle class) this is and expensive endeavor. For you to pull the trigger, you can expect 4 big expenditures. First, you will need to put 1/3 balance down on the trip to reserve the reservation. That 1/3 was placed through PayPay, and the Paypal account that I placed it to did not look anything like the business I was dealing with. It was scary sending the money to such a strange account, but in the end, the transaction was fine. One point of confusion...you may research and book through ChinaDiscovery, however the invoice then turned into (in my case) Chengdu Bamboo International Tours Co, Ltd. I don't fully understand the relationship, but it was legitimate, although a little confusing of why the website said one thing, but the actual contractor that was doing the work said another. Another scary thing came later when I was asked to pay the remaining 2/3 balance, I was requested to do so via wire transfer. Again, a scary endeavor which I felt I would have no protection if the company was not legitimate. So fearing loss of funds, I reached a win/win compromise to use the Paypal account again (with Visa) to submit the funds. Once I received confirmation, the company executed the hotel, train and plane tickets flawlessly, communicating the reservations about 1 week later.
In short, my fears were unfounded.
You will also have to handle 3 other expenses. First, and not surprising are your international plane tickets, which I handled shortly after the deposit. But the 3rd and 4th were not known. As a US citizen, I needed to get Visas for myself and the family. A Chinese Visa costs about $160 per person, and to get it, you must carefully submit a form to the Chinese consulate in a designated region of the country. Because I delayed doing this, I needed to do expedited service. And because the form is brutal and requires you to send your passports to the Chinese consulate, I enlisted a visa expert (CIBT.com) in order to get in processed. Long story short, about $1K later, I received the last of the passports back from the consulate with about 2 days to spare.
The other warning, since all the trips have drivers and tour guides that take you around, you are advised (not mandated) to give them tips. Unfortunately, there are no guidelines given or direction of how much to give. I spent time researching on the internet what were fair tips for always outstanding service. Now, 1 week after the trip, I still have no idea if I tipped fairly, generously or cheaply. But, calculate 2 weeks and 2 persons a day, you can calculate that it will cost you hundreds of dollars or thousands of Yuan.
Last warning to give about going to China...you'll need cash. Only some (not most) banks and stores are hooked up to the Visa and Mastercard system. This means, (1) you may need to search for the right bank to get cash in China in order to withdraw funds and (2) the vendors that you'll see only will take your cash. This caused some stress the first couple of days as I had trouble finding a bank that worked.
Now...for the good stuff. Once prepping for all that, the trip that was designed by Chinadiscovery (or Chengdu Bamboo Tour Company) was pretty spectacular. The guides were beyond great, and did a truly amazing, amazing job of being everything you would want as a tour guide. Prompt, flexible, funny, sometimes motherly, sometimes brotherly, open, honest, kind, insightful, human, knowledgeable and ...simply great. Each one in each town was different...but each of them took such pride in their cities/country that you are given a great gift.
The hotels were as good as it gets as well. Breakfast was included in all hotels...some food good, and other food great. The hotels were within walking distance to all the good things. For Beijing, 15 min walk to the Forbidden City. Shanghai? 5 minute walk to the River and 20 minutes to The Bund. I could go on, but the accommodations were really good. Combine that with flawless execution of all travel arrangements, it made for a stress free trip. The lunches were all Chinese and again, and food ranged from good to great. They always gave our family of 3 too much food for one sitting, and I felt embarrassed about leaving so much food behind.
In Beijing, our guide took us through Tienanmen Square, Forbidden City, Summer Palace, The Great Wall, and Temple of Heaven (among other places). When she took us to the train station, she insisted in walking us down to our seat on the High Speed railway car. When I asked if that is the company policy, she said 'that MY policy' (to ensure her clients get to where they are going). Amazing. We reached Xian for a day and Zoe gave us great insights of the growing city, the crowds, and life in China. Then onto Dunjuang, where Lily and her driver rearranged the schedule to ensure that we saw all the Silk Road sites. The schedule changes included her and the driver starting at 6AM (after we were picked up at the airport 10PM the night before) in order to ensure we saw everything. Then in Chengdu, Cherry helped so patiently with my wife's shopping at the Panda sanctuary. And in Guilin, Kennedy was awesome describing the land and China's ethnic minority. The insight for the rice fields and rivers were wonderful. We ate probably the best Chinese food of the trip in the fresh country air. Then finally, to Shanghai, where Zack was truly a joy, and one of the friendliest and enjoyable people I have ever met in my life. The city of Shanghai was amazing, and my son enjoyed it tremendously.
Two things I would do over if I could. First, I would plan to take it in June, not late July. We had to compete with the rest of China, which has summer break at this time. As a result, the places were packed with China tourist going to the same sites, which made the crowds a bit much. Second, I would have also altered the trip to spend 1 less day in Guilin and 1 more day in Shanghai. Other than that, I would not have changed anything.
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