- Reviewed on September 23 2019
- Tour Customized by: Jack
I'm a meticulous vacation planner and while the pre-planned packages available from various tour companies were good, none specifically met what my wife and wanted to do on vacation. I did some research on where to go and what to see and we originally were going to do 12-13 days to include some trips into the rural areas to see some scenery, etc. We ended up limiting the trip to the three big cities and received bids from multiple tour companies based in China. China Discovery stood out in the quality and completeness of their responses and had the most competitive pricing. The reviews on Trip Advisor were also very positive and helpful.
We ended up booking 8 days in China with visits to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. We had a list of everything we wanted to see and China Discovery made it happen -- an advantage of booking a private tour is that you can go and see what you alone want to do. (We booked our own air travel to and from China using miles earned on an airline)
In Hong Kong I was not able to find a private guide -- they are all group tours. The buses are designed for around 30 people and we had 10 in our group one day on a Lantau Island tour (fantastic) and just the two of us the next day (Victoria's Peak, Aberdeen Fishing Village/Stanley Market -- avoid it, just find a way to go to Victoria's Peak).
In mainland China private tours are the only way to go. Why? You are only as fast as the slowest people in your group. And when it was just the three of us (us plus guide/driver) we were much more nimble at getting through crowds and we were in a car or minivan, not a bus, for driving around. The tour company gets the tickets for everywhere you are going so you don't have to wait in line. And we were able to customize portions -- like no Shanghai Museum, but add Tongli water town and a night cruise in Shanghai. Add high-speed train instead of plane between Shanghai and Beijing ... with first class tickets.
I read reviews of the hotels they had chosen to put us up at and all got good to great reviews -- and they lived up to expectations. Note: you can ask for different hotels if you want higher quality or different location -- a China four-star is Western three-star, etc. The Regal Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong was 2 1/2-3 star compared to the other two hotels. Food was average -- I had to teach the cook how to do Over Easy Eggs. The Yangtze Boutique Shanghai was fantastic -- huge room and great service -- 4-4.5 stars! Beijing hotel was the Ramada Park Plaza Wangfujing that was also great ... 4 stars. Food was great at both Shanghai and Beijing hotels. Breakfast at the hotels was included every day and lunch on most days which was in local Chinese restaurants. Extra expenses were tips for our guides and drivers, dinner, snacks, souvenirs, taxis -- we ended up spending much less than anticipated in this regard.
We had different guides each day in Hong Kong because they were group tours, then a guide + driver for the Shanghai area and guide + driver for the Beijing area. All of them spoke English well and were able to answer questions that we had. They were all very knowledgable about the subjects of each tour and even got into nitty gritty details. We were VERY impressed. At meals we would talk about all sorts of things -- especially about how we all lived and family, things like that. The guides had no problem taking photos of us with our phones and were never hurried us along if we wanted to take additional photos or video.
We happened to encounter an annual holiday when we were in Shanghai -- with millions of people pouring into the city to celebrate -- and then rehearsals for a 70th anniversary of the PRC parade and celebration in Beijing shut some roads and attractions. Both could have really thrown a monkey wrench into our plans, but the guides were adept at rearranging the schedule to our advantage and to avoid crowds and juggle going to sights that were open.
What did we see? Each line is what we did in a day
Hong Kong -- Lantau Island tour (4 sights to see) .... rating A
Hong Kong -- HK Island tour ... rating C (avoid as Aberdeen Fishing Village doesn't exist, Stanley Market is OK if you want to shop for clothes, artwork and souvenirs, and you are forced to do a Jewelry Factory Tour that is really a way to try and get you to buy some jewelry, only Victoria's Peak was good on that tour)
Shanghai -- Yu Garden, the Bund, Nanjing Road (shopping), World Financial Center (100th floor observatory), nighttime cruise ... rating A
Shanghai -- Tongli Water Town (has canals like Venice) ... rating B (very touristy, but still interesting)
Beijing -- The Mutianyu Great Wall, the Ming Tombs ... rating A
Beijing -- Hutong Tour/Rickshaw Ride, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven ... rating A
Beijing -- Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City ... rating A (the Square is kind of meh, but the Forbidden City more than made up for it)
One piece of advice save the Forbidden City for last ... it is so impressive it may make other sights seem much less interesting.Everything China Discovery promised, they delivered at a reasonable price.
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