- Reviewed on August 25, 2019
- Tour Customized by: Leo
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, Dunjuang, Chendu, 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 Leo of Chengdu Bamboo 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 a number of big expenditures. First, you will need to put an initial balance down on the trip to reserve the reservation. That amount 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 a bit unnerving sending the money to such a strange account, but in the end, the transaction was fine and 100% legitimate. One point of confusion...you may research and book through ChinaDiscovery, however the invoice then turned into Chengdu Bamboo International Tours Co, Ltd. From a payment standpoint, this was fine. I found myself having fears about placing so much money to the this travel company which I only researched on the internet...but in the end, all my fears were unfounded and the execution of my trip was as perfect as it gets.
Expect to pay a few big expenses. In addition to the trip costs, you will also have some other big expenses. You will need to coordinate the buying of your international plane tickets, which I handled shortly after the deposit. If you are a US citizen, you will need to get a visa. In my case, the Chinese Visas costs about $160 per person for a 10 year visa, 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. So plan ahead.
The final expense is that you will be advised (not mandated) to give them tips to the drivers and tour guides. You will find yourself wanting to give them tips for the great service they provide, but you should calculate 2 weeks and 2 persons a day, and understand that it will cost you hundreds of dollars or thousands of Yuan as part of your trip costs.
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 coordination of the planes, trains and automobiles was flawless and as we traversed our way around each city, we never missed a single connection, nor did our guides ever fail to meet us at our designated meeting points.
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 for our trip to Xian, 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.
Bottom line...if you are planning a trip to China, I highly recommend planning it with Chengdu Bamboo and if you are lucky enough to work with Leo, you will not be dissapointed.
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