We have travelled independently to other destinations but felt the language issues made this potentially difficult in China, especially as I am 63 and my partner is 71. China Discovery enabled us to put together an itinerary for a 16 day tour that included Beijing, Xian, Guilin, Hangzhou, Huangshan, Shanghai and Suzhou. Wonder Wang was unfailingly helpful in the planning stage of the trip, answering all our queries promptly and efficiently. He understood our needs and interests. We indicated we wanted to stay in hotels with character and all of the boutique hotels more than met our expectations. The travel arrangements worked without a hitch. The guides all spoke extremely good English and were friendly, knowledgeable and provided good company throughout the trip. They were also flexible and responsive to our expressed interests.
We had so many amazing experiences. All of the cities we visited were much greener than we expected with trees and shrubs planted everywhere, which made the whole environment very pleasant. The people were always friendly and even though some of the sights were crowded, the crowds were always good-natured without that aggressive pushiness you encounter now in so many parts of the world.
Apart from the obvious highlights of the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors, which were far more impressive than photos can suggest, we also loved the Li River cruise and the rice terraces in Guilin. The Yellow Mountain in Huangshan was another unforgettable experience. The scenery was stunning and made you think you were in another world where dragons might indeed exist. The West Lake in Hangzhou was shown off to perfection on a bright spring morning. We explored Shanghai without a guide and found it more accessible than we had imagined. For any gardening enthusiasts our last stop is a must. The Gardens of Suzhou were amongst the most exquisitely beautiful we have visited anywhere. It really did feel like the best had been saved until last.
In Beijing, the Jingshan Hotel was a delightful place to stay. It was close to Forbidden City with staff who spoke good English. The courtyard was a lovely place to sit in the evening. The rooms were tastefully decorated and furnished and the freshly cooked breakfasts were delicious. It was a wonderful welcome to China.
All of the guides had very good English, but Steven's English was at a very high standard which gave him a relaxed confidence and humor which made him extremely interesting and good company. We liked him very much. The driver was also very helpful on the second day when we went to the Great Wall and the Capital Museum without a guide. Despite having no English he purchased our tickets and made sure we went in the right direction.
We were lucky on our first day in Beijing with sunny blue skies, which made our visit to the Forbidden City all the more memorable. We really enjoyed our lunch in the Hutong , and the Temple of Heaven had great atmosphere despite the crowds. In fact we never found Chinese crowds oppressive in the way we have found in some other countries. Chinese people are good humored and although they are assertive they are never aggressive, which enabled us to enjoy even the most busy sights. The Great Wall more than lived up to expectations. As with so much in China, it was the sheer scale of the structure, which you can only appreciate when you actually visit it. The Summer Palace was our first experience of a Chinese garden and certainly prepared us for the visual feast that still awaited us elsewhere.
Michael and I enjoyed the rickshaw in Beijing Hutong
The train journey to Xian was fine and we found negotiating Chinese railway stations very easy. It made a change from the inefficient service we so often have to put up with in the UK
The Tang Dynasty Hotel in Xian was an amazing place with its elaborate gardens and gorgeously dressed staff, even if there English was rather limited. The rooms were charming and the food was amongst the most imaginative and tasty we had while in China.
Lisa was very concerned to ensure we enjoyed our time in Xian and took great care over arrangements. We especially valued her organization of our visit to the Shanxi Museum, ensuring we went to the best rooms at the quietest point in the afternoon, which was very thoughtful of her. She was great fun when we went around the Muslim Quarter.
The Terracotta Warriors could not fail to impress and there was a real poignancy to all those individual and very human faces from so long ago. The Shaanxi History Museum contained so many exquisite treasures. I will never forget the simple elegance of the Celadon pieces. The Ming Walls of the city were impressive, the Great Mosque was interesting and I loved the garden. Michael particularly enjoyed his walk around the shops and stalls in the Muslim Quarter .
Michael likes walking around in Muslim Quarter
The flight to Guilin was fine and again we had no problems in finding our way round the airport
The Guilin Royal Palace in Guilin had the most magical gardens of all the hotels and was itself set in the middle of a beautiful park. The rooms were very comfortable and the food was average. The staff were extremely helpful.
The Yangshuo Secret Garden Hotel was a real gem of a place with the most delicious food of all the places we stayed in. The village of Yangshuo was such an easy and pleasant place to wander round in.
Helen was a friendly and knowledgeable guide with whom we got on very well. We liked her enormously as she shared our interest in nature and plants. We have many fond memories of our time spent with her.
The visit to the Rice Terraces and the Li River trip provided some of the most stunning and unforgettable images of the trip. I had been looking forward to the Li River trip and it did not disappoint. The Elephant Trunk Hill Park and the Reed Flute Caves were pleasant and not too tiring, given our late flight.
Guilin deserves the honor of No.1 Landscape
The flight to Hangzhou was fine
It was in Hangzhou that we encountered a few problems, although because everything had been so perfect up to that point, maybe we were less patient with the problems when they arose.
Leedan was not there to meet us as she was in the wrong terminal and Michael had to ring her on the mobile to tell her where we were. We accept that such things happen and we really enjoyed the drive into Hangzhou, seeing the cityscape by night.
The UU Hotel was a disappointment as it was not up to the standard of the previous hotels, but I take responsibility for choosing it. Although the room seemed clean enough and the bed lined was certainly clean there was black mould in the shower in the bathroom. On the second night we saw a cockroach on the wall. The arrangements with the breakfast were unacceptable. We could not believe that breakfast was only available after 8.30am. I would not recommend the UU.
We spent a wonderful morning exploring the West Lake and surrounding park with Leedan. The weather was perfect and I was almost sorry to leave the lakeside when Leedan said we would be having lunch in a restaurant further toward the hills and the tea terraces. The lunch was rather basic, but the real problem was that the traffic had built up during the time we were eating and there were jams in either direction that we might take to get to the Lingyin Temple. What we couldn't understand is that Leedan said that such traffic jams happen regularly when the weather is good and so why had she not anticipated the problem and tried to avoid it? We spent most of that afternoon stuck in a traffic jam and only much later got to the temple. The driver had become so angry at one point that he had got out of the car and started shouting at another driver. Leedan seemed very helpless in dealing with any of this.
After the temple she said she needed to get our train tickets to Huangshan. When she looked at them she thought there was a problem because they said Shanghai to Huangshan. I tried to explain that you had said that would be the case but it wasn't a problem. Leedan insisted on going back to the train station after she had dropped us off at the hotel. She told us to wait until she returned so we waited for over an hour when we really wanted to go out for dinner. On her return she said there wasn't a problem after all and then we said we were going to find a restaurant to have dinner. Leedan said we were going in the wrong direction and insisted we head toward the residential area. I pointed out that we needed to head to the lake where the visitors were. After a few minutes of not finding anything suitable I decided we should head towards the lake with Leedan still insisting we were going the wrong way. We could not understand why she didn't want us to head toward the lake as we did find reasonable restaurants there as I had assumed. I am afraid our relationship with Leedan had become very fraught by this point and I was glad that a colleague would be seeing us off the following morning. The colleague, whose name we didn't get, was calm and efficient and organized for us to have breakfast at the train station. I think my conclusions about Leedan was that she wasn't as able as some of the other guides. She was anxious and then she tried to over compensate by worrying about things she did not need to.
Hangzhou's Green Scenery
The train to Huangshan was fine
After Hangzhou we were a bit concerned when Bruce met us and immediately asked to see our itinerary as he wasn't sure what it included. However once he had checked the itinerary he was very organized and very efficient, although perhaps he spent rather more time on his mobile that we might have ideally liked.
The Old St Courtyard Hotel was delightful and very comfortable with very good food. and very friendly staff. The Beihai Hotel was very average. The food was poor with an almost bullying attitude from the staff, who made a real issue of our choice to share one meal between the two of us as we were not that hungry.
We thoroughly enjoyed our wander around Tunxi and Bruce helped with some negotiation over certain purchases, although his recommendation of where to have dinner was less successful. The restaurant insisted on shutting a window by our table which made the place so hot I was unable to stay and finish my meal.
The first day going up Yellow Mountain was amazing. The views were breath-taking despite the cloud. I almost felt we were in another world where dragons might indeed exist. The second day we were unlucky with the rain which obscured any views so the descent was a disappointing conclusion to the visit.
The train journey from Huangshan to Shanghai was spoiled by having seats with no window. One of the real pleasures of travelling by train is being able to see the countryside as you go along.
Yellow Mountain - one of the highlights of our tour
The Astor House was a lovely old world hotel that still looked magnificent in a faded sort of way.
Emily met us at the station but forgot she had to pick up the train tickets to Suzhou, which she then did at another station which delayed our arrival at the Astor. There also seemed some confusion about the arrangements for the driver the following day and when we returned from Suzhou, but she did sort this out, to her credit.
We had a wonderful day in Shanghai. The museum was fascinating and it was just a joy to walk around in the sunshine admiring the city-scape.
Amazing Skyscrapers in Shanghai
Suzhou was the real treat at the end of the trip. Everything about Suzhou was perfect.
The Pingjiang Lodge was just as I imagined. Jason was so knowledgeable and interesting as well as being very friendly. The garden were exquisitely beautiful, probably the most beautiful gardens I have seen. Jason advised us to see The Lingering Garden on our second day which we did on our own, along with the Couple's Garden. We used taxis and there were no problems. Even the holiday crowds did not detract from the sheer pleasure of being in such a lovely place.
We visited some Suzhou Classical Gardens
We would recommend China Discovery to anyone planning to visit China who feels they might need some help in putting together a trip. What was so impressive was their flexibility. They were able to provide a full guided service, or simply a driver or even just to arrange the travel. Wonder Wang was more than willing to spend as much time as we needed in planning the trip, making suggestions and helping us to develop an itinerary which was feasible and affordable. We didn't think we would be able to afford the sort of holiday we wanted, but China Discovery delivers real value for money. We cannot rate them too highly. China Discovery enabled us to have the holiday of a lifetime.
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