Discover Wonderful China Landscape from East to West with Family & Friends

-- Steve's 22-Day China Discovery with Family & Friends from Shanghai, Hangzhou, Zhangjiajie to Yunnan, Tibet, and Sichuan

How long will you usually take to prepare for a trip? A week? A month? Or a year? Two years ago in 2017, I received an inquiry from Steve, a group leader of veteran travelers who have been to usual places in China before such as Beijing, Xian, and Hong Kong. This time, Steve and his group wanted to go to more remote areas in China, so they made this early preparation, 2 years ahead of time.

I was so touched when I got Steve's e-mail, not only for the early preparation, but also because I can see their enthusiasm towards this China trip and life through his words. According to his requirements, I arrange a 22-day China trip that covers all the places they want to go such as Shanghai, Hangzhou, Zhangjiajie, Lijiang, Tibet. There has been some adjustments of the itinerary, for example, Jiuzhaigou Alley was closed for a time and we didn't know when it would open. But eventually luck is on our side. Jiuzhaigou Alley announced its reopening just several days before Steve's departure date. Finally they got to see this site which Steve later described as "In the end, all that was worth the taking in of the valley's bounty of lakes, rivers, rapids, shoals, waterfalls, cascading tiers, fall colors of the leaves, and the snow-capped peaks. We had a fantastic time that exceeded my expectations."

When Steve was in Chengdu, I met him in person, kind and enthusiastic as I thought. Now their China trip is completed and Steve shared so much of his feelings and photos. Let's have a look together.

Steve's Overall Review on This China Trip

Superlative team and organization

Our group of 7 toured 3 weeks across China from Shanghai to Tibet. It was to be the trip of a lifetime, and it was. In my due process to search for the best itinerary and TA for us, I found Leo Li of China Discovery. Compared to other top in-China TAs, CD and Leo Li gave me everything I wanted including the best price for the desired itinerary. None of us were strangers to China. I was born there and had been there 5 times since, while the others had toured the capital cities but never the remote regions of Hunan, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Tibet.

We were always prompted met with a guide as soon as we left the airport security area; we were transported in clean mini-vans with plenty of bottled water. It was always door-to-door everytime. We would be dropped off at one end and after the tour, the mini-van would be waiting for us at the other end -- no backtracking. Nothing was ever stolen or missing in the secured vans. The many guides we met were always courteous and spoke varying degrees of fluency but always well-informed. One even held my wife's hand as she walked slowly on icy pathways in Huanglong National Park.

Their pricing was reasonable -- better than if I booked myself. We stayed in not only elegant country inns, but also at Pullman, Sofitel, Shangri-la, and Grand Hyatt.

I have nothing but praise for Leo and his team. He is easily accessible 24/7. That is really necessary in China. His English is flawless, his personality infectious. We met him in Chengdu. Ask for Leo Li.

Steve Met Leo in Chengdu, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Steve Met Leo in Chengdu, Photo Shared by Steve

Steve and His Family & Friends Spent a Happy Time in Lijiang, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Steve and His Family & Friends Spent a Happy Time in Lijiang, Photo Shared by Steve

Steve's Detailed Review of Each City


Review of Les Suites Orient, Bund Shanghai

A brilliant choice in the Bund

There are many fine hotel options in the Bund, but I chose Le Suites Orient because it was a 5-star full service hotel but less expensive and still well-located. It is on the southern edge of the famous Bund but well within 5-10 min walk to the center.

This hotel provides all the amenities you want including a wonderful free breakfast and fine dining.

Room #611, where we were for 2 nights, was nicely equipped with both tub and shower, 2 flat TVs, wood flooring, 4 comp bottles of water, robe, and slippers. The bed was so comfy and roomy. The usual problem of locating and operating the lighting was present as most modern hotels. The translucent wall between the bedroom and bathroom was a problem in that it awakened a sleeping spouse when the light was turned on in the bathroom.

Be sure to see how the robot works.

I would return if I'm back in Shanghai's Bund neighborhood.

Review of The Bund (Wai Tan)

The place to be especially if it is the first visit to Shanghai

I've been to the Bund several times before but the area is ever-changing and always interesting. Whether you want high or low scale shopping or dining, this area feels lively, engaging, and relevant.

Just a few blocks away are less touristy areas where the food is cheap and always available. A few bao-tze at $.75 for three is so satisfying and straight from the steamers. Just point and pay. Ask for "rou" if you wish meat-filled.

Thankfully the old-style buildings of former banks and financial institutions still guard the main street and are reminders of Shanghai's commercial history.

Review of Pudong New Area

China's showcase

The last time I was Shanghai, the Pudong was just beginning to develop. This side of the Whampoa River was still wasteland, waiting to be commercialized. My visit to this new part of Shanghai was memorable because of its thoughtful design and plan, the quality of the shopping and restos, and the cleanliness. It is in contrast to the area on the other side of the river, the Bund, which retains its cold, monolithic quality. Yet both need to be visited to enjoy and appreciate the diversity of the new Shanghai.


Review of Ru Yi Boutique Hotel At West Lake

Wonderful if you like seclusion

Within one hour from the Shanghai railway terminal, we arrived in Hangzhou. From there to our hotel, the transfer took almost as long. This beautiful, Zen-like, small hotel is not in the busy, commercial or touristy, area of the modern city. There it sits in a low-density, low-rise section south of West Lake, but only 10 min to some of the serene beaches where there are ducks and swans and a clubhouse/resto. Stop at the bridge and follow the footpaths to reach this surprising area. The bus stop is also at the bridge.

The food is terrific. The included breakfast offers set options. Go for the noodles with soup dumplings and an array of small sweets -- surprisingly great cup of joe.

We were in room # 207 for two restful nights. The room is generous but the lavatory is outside in the bedroom. The toilet is in a separate room. Items in the mini-bar are included. Again like the Shanghai hotel, there is a translucent glass wall between the bedroom and bathroom, which I consider a courtesy flaw. The blackout curtains and king bed make for a restful night's sleep.

The staff don't speak much more than Chinese, but they are helpful and accessible. I would recommend this hotel to those who cherish privacy and solitude.

Breakfast Room of Ru Yi Boutique Hotel at West Lake in Hangzhou, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Breakfast Room of Ru Yi Boutique Hotel at West Lake in Hangzhou, Photo Shared by Steve

Review of Xixi Wetland Park

Like France's Midi Canal

After we toured West Lake by motorized boat with many other Chinese tourists, we rode another boat, much smaller, to view the Xixi Wetlands. During the 1.75H tour, we never saw any birds, ducks or swans, or mammals. It was so quiet and tranquil.

The narrow waterways and tree limbs and leaves hanging over the edge reminded me of the Midi Canal near Toulouse. Then we were on a barge with our guide making lunch on board and her guest singing, playing the accordion, and drinking the local wine. We had none of that on this short cruise.

Review of Museum of Traditional Chinese Medicine (Hu Qing Yu Tang)

Fascinating public practice of Chinese medicine and apothecary

During our 22-day grand tour of China, our visit to the oldest pharmacy in China was a huge highlight. On Hefang St, the famous pedestrian street of shops and temples, this dispensary offered medical advice, herbal medicines, and a vast museum of artifacts.

After a woman wearing a white clinical long gown "read" my tongue, she diagnosed that I must have a heart condition, which I don't. She took my pulse and said I was "OK."

Herbalists at Hu Qing Yu Tang in Hangzhou, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Herbalists at Hu Qing Yu Tang in Hangzhou, Photo Shared by Steve

Review of Nong Tang Li (Hubin Yintai) - Hangzhou Restaurant

Dong po pork paradise

Our guide, Jill Bi, from China Discovery Tours recommended this place for its famous Dong po pork (pork belly in red sauce). Its location is close to the Hangzhou Impression Show.

We ordered more than we could eat and it still was a bargain at 320 RMB for 7 pax. We realized that eating like a king in China didn't cost much.

Beggar's Chicken at Nong Tang Li, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Beggar's Chicken at Nong Tang Li, Photo Shared by Steve

Review of Zuiyi Hangzhou

Walk on water

After a satisfying dinner at Nong Tang Li Restaurant nearby, we viewed this amazing water show on the edge of West Lake. The lake was transformed with sets and underwater supports that allowed dozens of actors and soloists to literally walk on the surface of the lake.

With authentic costumes typical of the Song Dynasty, the staging was impressive and well-coordinated, given the number of players. The lighting and water acrobatics were very effective with changing colors of light and interplay of effects.

Our China Discovery Tours provided VIP reserved seating in the center. The simultaneous mass exodus was shoulder-to-shoulder until we reached our mini-van.

Watching Zuiyi Hangzhou Performance, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Watching Zuiyi Hangzhou Performance, Photo Shared by Steve

Review of Wuzhen Water Town

Like a Disney World Orlando experience

After a 2H drive from Hangzhou we arrived at this "ancient" town park. It is like a park since there is an admission fee and the town is reconstructed to appear ancient. The place smacks of exploitation and commercialism but the park is well-planned and designed, clean, and has much to see and do. The area is dotted with old houses with carved wood motifs, stone bridges, and huge sculptures and displays. The plethora of flowers, newly-planted trees, flags, and banner honor "National Day," Oct 1 and the 70th anniversary of PRC.

The foot bounding museum and the textile dying exhibit were outstanding.

We encountered high school students visiting from Xinjiang Province. Mostly Muslim, we requested, and they complied, to see and hear them sing and dance.

I ate a corn-on-the-cob. Later we had lunch at a nice resto on the premises.

It was a very pleasant day at Wuzhen.

Visiting Wuzhen and Encounting High School Students from Xinjiang, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Visiting Wuzhen and Encounting High School Students from Xinjiang, Photo Shared by Steve


Review of Wulingyuan Scenic Area of Zhangjiajie

One of the Wonders of the World that few Westerners know

I've seen spectacular karst formations in Slovenia and Guilin, but those in the Tianzi Mountain area are superlative. Once this land was underwater and the action of the water produced these breathtaking formations -- truly unique.

It was raining all day and suddenly the vendors have cheap rain parkas for sale at 15 RMB. That and the crowds of Chinese tourists made the process of getting to the ropeway station more difficult than usual. The entry price includes the longest ropeway in Asia at 7200 meters in length and taking over 30 min to transverse.

We experienced the cliff hanging walkway as well as our second "Glass Sky Walk." Both are less intimidating than what one sees on YouTube. Wearing booties during the rain actually makes the walk more treacherous.

We learned that the villagers who lived here were relocated. I was thinking that living in these mountains at 1500 meters above sea level would be uncomfortable.

Review of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

Wondrous -- too much to take in

It's a hassle but worth it. First, the pushing and shoving as we queue to go on the shuttle buses. It takes 1H of waiting time, but it's Sunday. There seems to be an endless line of shuttle buses taking us deeper. The drivers are like dare-devils and negotiate the curves (without shoulders) over mountain passes without pause.

We stop for lunch at a KFC. Terrible -- I'm not sure it was chicken -- and expensive. The public restrooms are the pits! -- smelly and wet floors.

Take your trekking poles. We walked almost 3 miles in one period. Plus, there are plenty of steps, but the platforms for viewing are carefully chosen and brilliant.

We reach our first of two glass bridges, which is supposed to be the highest and longest glass bridge in the world. It was an underwhelming experience. It is not totally glass but glass panels in a steel grid. So many visitors posing on the glass floors although the view below is obscured with fog.

You'll have to see this 1992 UNESCO World Heritage site, which includes the Hallelujah Mountain, the inspiration for the movie "Avatar."

Tianmen Mountain Cableway in Zhangjiajie, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Tianmen Mountain Cableway in Zhangjiajie, Photo Shared by Steve


Review of The Bivou Hotel

Extraordinary service in perfect setting

Our magical week in Yunnan began with meeting our guide Nongbu at the Lijiang airport and staying 2 ideal nights at The Bivou. I chose this property because of TA and was not disappointed. Our group was warmly greeted by genuinely friendly staff. We owe a lot to them, for they, above all the other boutique hotels and B&Bs we stayed, spoke English well enough to make our Lijiang time memorable. Kudos to May, Cat, and Mon Mon. The owner Hwee, originally from Singapore, was a constant presence in the breakfast room and seemed to command respect.

The Shuhe Old Town is a wonder to explore. The hotel is just off the main street and across the alleyway from another deluxe inn. The inn's owner invited me to inspect her property and even opened two rooms for me to see. Obviously, she didn't have the volume of guests like her neighbor, The Bivou, even though her prices were less.

This property has been discovered by Caucasians. We saw more here than any other property we stayed.

Fruits and Snacks Provided by The Bivou, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Fruits and Snacks Provided by The Bivou, Photo Shared by Steve

Review of Shuhe Ancient Town

Ancient town atmosphere

The ancient town is one of several we visited, but in retrospect it is the best one. Maybe it is because we stayed both nights at The Bivou which is just off the main street. I had many opportunities to explore on foot this street as well as the more ancient, but less known, village across the river. My guide Nongbu told me about it.

About 5 min from The Bivou is the village crossroads where the buses stop and drop off employees who work in Shuhe and the new section still under construction. I had to watch my step to avoid the piles of bricks and pavement supplies. The amount of dust and debris on the ground was also a small problem. Also at this crossroads the early commuters buy steamed buns from the vendors on the sidewalk. I wanted only 3 bao-tze but got 6 -- 10 RMB, the minimum order.

I went to a spa for foot massages each night -- 240 RMB for two. It was a bit expensive but thorough. The young operator had a sad personal life -- living and working here but her children and husband living far away and seldom able to see them.

We had dinners nearby at the same resto. Nongbu selects the restos as the cost of meals in included in his overall price. English was not spoken in this rustic, storefront eatery.

Shuhe Ancient Town, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Shuhe Ancient Town, Photo Shared by Steve

Review of Baisha Naxi Embroidery Institute

Finally, something worth buying

After a quick visit to Jade Dragon Snow Mt, Blue Moon Valley and Lake, we saw the afternoon Lijiang Impression Show performance. Although we arrived about 10 min late, we were able to squeeze seats at different spots.

Then we went to Baisha Ancient Town and stopped at the Baisha Naxi Embroidery Institute along the main street. In the front room we viewed novices and experienced artisans producing hand-made objects d'art. Then a salesperson took us into the gallery and showed finished works. I looked at several and bought a beautiful grouping of colorful koi fish in a circle embroidery that took 1 month to finish. I paid 500 RMB. I plan to show it in the house.

Baisha Naxi Embroidery Institute, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Baisha Naxi Embroidery Institute, Photo Shared by Steve

Review of Baisha Ancient Town

All decked out right after National Day

Our guide Nongbu took us here. It is very attractive and ultra-clean with small, man-made canals running parallel to the road. The water appeared fairly clean, but Nongbu wanted to prove that it was potable and drank from it.

It was just after the National Day festivities and the 70th Anniversary celebration. All the flags and banners, pots of mums, and new trees were evident and abundant -- so beautiful and colorful.

Locals in Baisha Ancient Town, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Locals in Baisha Ancient Town, Photo Shared by Steve

Review of Lijiang Impressions Show

Not a cogent presentation

I realize that this is a "must do" for visitors to Lijiang, but I fail to see much relevance to Lijiang or its history or culture. There are costumes, horses, a cast of hundreds, and even a loose plot dealing with clouds and lovers. Even the cousin and wife of our guide Nongbu are among the cast members. He says it is a coveted job in Lijiang.

We arrived late and had to find whatever seats available. The subtitles help a little but the meaning of the text is rather abstract.

The weather was good as the venue is outside. Afterwards we helped ourselves to free red baseball caps.

Watching Lijiang Impressions Show, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Watching Lijiang Impressions Show, Photo Shared by Steve

Review of Shibaoshan Town

Lots of steps and lots of monkeys

From our hotel in Shuhe in Lijiang we drove over 2H to Shibaoshan (Elephant Mt). Hiking to the top, we reached an old Buddhist temple, but not before encountering dozens of monkeys of all sizes and ages. They are not afraid of us. Some are friendly, and some are aggressive trying to steal whatever they can. One had a bell on a neck collar for some unknown reason. This monkey followed us to the top. Our guide Nongbu brought walnut pieces to feed them. They know how to open the walnut to get at the meat.

Shibaoshan, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Shibaoshan, Photo Shared by Steve

Review of Shaxi Chongyu Boutique Hotel

Country inn authenticity

Shanxi is a small village but within is the quintessential inn that must duplicate what it was like during the Ching dynasty. Surrounding an inviting courtyard are the rooms on three levels. We had the large room at the top of the stairs. There are two lavatories within the spacious interior. There is a two-step jog from bedroom to bathroom which must be remembered esp in the dark. The Chinese-style door lock is most difficult to operate.

This place is so quiet and serene. From the courtyard seating we enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere to have convivial conversation while stuffing ourselves with boiled peanuts and sunflower seeds. Pu'er tea, the favorite of Yunnanese, is free-flowing in ceramic cups with lids.

We sat in the courtyard before breakfast at 7:30. We overheard the female kitchen workers talking and chopping veggies. Breakfast was wonderful with fried eggs, ham, toast, and fruit. We didn't try the big bowl of salad. The coffee was made in an expresso machine -- so delicious.

It was sad to leave this precious Garden of Eden.

Review of Yunnan Shaxi Ancient Town

Too good to pass up

What a marvelous small town seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Our guide Nongbu brought us here from Shuhe in Lijiang. Two highlights, besides the Shaxi Chongyu Boutique Inn, are the bridge that leads to the town and the Friday morning open market. Both are worth visiting.

The bridge was memorable by the fact we were present at the crest of the bridge when an American man proposed marriage to his Chinese gf , both who live in the San Francisco area. Thus she was able to excitedly express her joy to us who could understand English. She showed us her large engagement ring too.

The Friday open market sells all sorts of items, mostly household and farm implements.

There were no souvenirs items such as T-shirts and caps. I bought some tangerines, boiled peanuts, and a bunch of band-aids. Some unusual items for sale were animal pelts, human hair, and knives.

Beautiful Scenery of Shaxi Ancient Town, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Beautiful Scenery of Shaxi Ancient Town, Photo Shared by Steve

Shaxi Ancient Town Morning Market, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Shaxi Ancient Town Morning Market, Photo Shared by Steve

Review of Laojun Mountain National Geological Park

Under discovered paradise

From Shaxi we moved on to a most spectacular national park not on many people's radar, not even to Chinese. I'm glad that our guide Nongbu took us to see LJ National Park. It is quite remote and a good distance from Shaxi, but worth the drive. Some areas remind me of America's Grand Canyon. A cable ropeway enabled us to reach to a mountain top with views not seen by very many.

Be prepared for lots of steps and hiking. Apparently among those who know about this place are hardcore mountain climbers. We encountered a young couple leaving our next stay, Liming Tent Hotel.

Lijiang Laojun Mountain Cable Car, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Lijiang Laojun Mountain Cable Car, Photo Shared by Steve


Review of Arro Khampa Shangrila

Enjoyable stay with memorable moments

After a cold night in a "tent," the arrival to Arro Khampa Shangrila was a welcome sight of relief. We were greeted warmly by a friendly staff with white silken scarves and warm ginger tea, which we had frequently during our 2-day stay.

Our upgrade to a suite was a nice gesture although walking another flight of steps was at times exhausting because of the altitude. Room A301 was very large with 2 lavs, 2 sofas, tub & shower, 6 bottles of water, and free cans of soda drinks. The rooms are adorned with rich accessories of Tibetan crafts.

The inviting lobby is conducive to resting around the heater and drinking the ginger tea, or the Australian red wine offered by Wendell, one of our group.

Breakfasts are in a separate building and replete with fruit, juices, strong coffee, bowls of noodles or congee, yogurt, and eggs. The service by Yang Jyr Peng was impeccable.

This hotel is top-notch in every way.

A few blocks away, 5 min walk, we were in a Communal Tibetan dance hall. The participants, which included some of us, danced in a circle to traditional music. Nongbu, our guide, takes his guests here, and we love it too. Later he treated us in the hotel lobby for another bottle of Australian red. He is so honest that he rebated a large portion of the price because, as seniors, he was not charged for entry fees to the national parks. This amazing guy even took a taxi both ways to retrieve the Tibet permits which were at a FedEx-type facility.

Arro Khampa Boutique Hotel, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Arro Khampa Boutique Hotel, Photo Shared by Steve

Dancing at Arro Khampa, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Dancing at Arro Khampa, Photo Shared by Steve

Review of Sumtseling Monastery

Made an offering for listening to my prayer

We visited two of the temples, perhaps, according to Nongbu, our guide, the most sacred place for Buddhism. There are many steps, over 175 in one alone, before reaching the entrances.

At one prayer station, usually manned by a monk, I wrote in the book that I hope that all will be well with my daughter's situation, and gave a small donation.

Where a monk is stationed, usually in a niche against the wall alongside the pathway, the monk will accept donations and say a prayer.

This monastery is dimly-lit and jammed with statues of Buddha and religious figures. The smell of incense will follow you to your hotel room on your clothes.

Review of Napa Hai Nature Reserve

No birds yet -- coming later in the year

Nongbu, our guide, drove past this enormous lake near our Hotel Arro Khampa. He said that the lake is usually dry during the summer but fills up from snow run-off in the waning months of the year. That is when to expect the migration of birds.

I never seen or heard of a Tibetan mastiff before. They are seen around the lake as enticements by their owners to have pictures taken with them. This breed is absolutely the largest dog I've ever seen. They are known to be fearless, even attacking bears.

Our visit to the lake is the highest elevation during our 22-day trip at 4999 meters, or 16,400 feet. I had to go to the pharmacy to buy pills to combat the altitude sickness which saps my strength and generates a minor headache.

Tibetan Mastiff, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Tibetan Mastiff, Photo Shared by Steve

Stone to Mark 4998m at Yamdrok Lake, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Stone to Mark 4998m at Yamdrok Lake, Photo Shared by Steve

Review of Shangri-La Hotel, Lhasa

Luxury hotel in a vacuum

This hotel's situation reminds me of the Pullman Zhangjiajie Hotel situation: Isolation from any interesting shops or restos adjacent. We stayed two nights. There's not much going on here after a day trip to see the major sites.

You won't find many restos within walking distance. One resto was across the street. With the help of a bellman David, we J-walked since the crosswalk was a distance away. The food was not good and we were the only customers for dinner.

Our room was large with 2 sofas and sufficient counterspace. In my opinion, the location is poor, and our standard room was far from the elevators. The breakfast was generous and varied. I liked the fresh OJ, but the coffee is meh.

An unique feature is the Oxygen Room where one with altitude sickness can breathe extra oxygen.

I think I would try somewhere else closer to the commercial center.

Review of Yamdrok Yumtso Lake

At 14,570 ft above sea level, one of three Tibetan holy lakes

We checked-out of the Shangri-La Lhasa with a small niggle. The hotel insists we booked for 3N, not 2N. We let our TA, China Discovery Tours, work it out.

Before arriving at the Lhasa airport, we swing around to this one of three holy lakes in Tibet.

At nearly 5000 meters above sea level, this is our highest point of the trip. I am still taking the pills I bought at the pharmacy but it doesn't help much.

This area is very beautiful as are most of the landmarks we have seen on this trip. We are surrounded by snow-capped mountains flowing melted snow into the green-jade colored rivers and lakes.

Off the main road are vendors selling jewelry. Annette bought 60 pieces of jewelry from a lucky vendor. She will give them away to friends. I fell down hard when I tried to come down a pedestal holding a huge stone. Fortunately, I am OK.

The only toilet requires a 2 RMB fee, which I quickly paid, but I waited too long regretfully.

Nearby we ate a "Tibetan hamburger." It was far different than what I expected, but it was generous with shredded pork meat and inexpensive at only 11 RMB each.

Tibetan Hamburger We Ate Near Yamdrok Lake, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Tibetan Hamburger We Ate Near Yamdrok Lake, Photo Shared by Steve


Review of Potala Palace

"Mecca" for Buddhists

Today we visited the prime attraction of not only Tibet, but also for our trip to China. The storied Potala Palace, home of the exiled 14th Dalai Lama, is a destination for pilgrims who come from afar and at relatively great expense to lay prostrate before statues and throw their arms high and raise their torso up and down. This is in contrast to other Buddhist shrines where is little body movement except for the bowing of the head and folding and clapping of the hands. Monks were chanting among gold-leaf covered statues and decorations. Donation boxes were everywhere.

Be warned if you have trouble walking since there are hundreds of steps as well as the problem of the high altitude.

This place is a "must see".

Like other temples, flash photography, head coverings, and shorts are not allowed.

Review of Jokhang Temple

The spiritual heart of Tibetan Buddhism

The Jokhang Temple is the other important Buddhist temple in Lhasa. There is not the hundreds of steps; it is relatively flat and lies in the middle of the city. Like Potala Palace, it is a pilgrim's destination. Those that come walk in circles around the temple, praying with their beads and chants.

Inside are many tributes to the history and life of the 5th Dali Lama -- and the heavy odor of incense. Outside is Barkhor Street where all the pilgrims are walking in circles and where you find a plethora of souvenir shops selling prayer wheels, silver jewelry, and wooden beads.


Review of Grand Hyatt Chengdu - Hotel

No complaints

We were met at the security gate at Chengdu airport by an attractive guide, Jen Ye, but the driver did not arrive until 40 min later. He was not the best driver -- mini-van was dirty, watched TV while driving, weaves in/out traffic, and, most disturbingly, hit the curb twice while driving. We requested and got a different driver for the rest of the time in Chengdu.

We waited in our large double, #2205, for at least 30 min for our luggage to arrive by the porter. It was already midnight Oct 24.

This is a great location -- near the shops, restos, lots of things going on, unlike the last stay at Shangri-La Lhasa, Tibet.

Besides having a wonderful room, the breakfast was the best yet. There are at least 3 noodle options. I like the dry, dan-dan noodles.

We stayed a total of 3N here: Two nights before and one night (room #2731) after visiting Jiuzhaogou Valley. This is the best hotel during our trip.

Grand Hyatt Chengdu, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Grand Hyatt Chengdu, Photo Shared by Steve

Review of Kuanzhai Alley

Great resto

After visiting the Dujiangyan Panda Base, we looked for lunch here which is near our next destination, the ancient Dujiangyan Irrigation System. Our pretty guide, Jen Ye, knew of this upscale resto along the main road in Kuanzhai. I didn't get the name.

We had an amazing time in a spacious private dining room with a private restroom. The single round table with a turntable was so conducive to conversation. We are so compatible it seems.

Jen ordered for us. At a total cost of 415 RMB, it was a bargain and delicious.

We didn't get to visit the other shops in the alley, but we would have if given extra time.

Review of Chengdu Renmin Park

Where local seniors hangout

We have a free day to choose whatever activity or destination we want in Chengdu. After breakfast we met with our travel advisor, Leo Li, of China Discovery Tours. He has been instrumental and the contact person in developing and executing this tour which has had last minute twists and turns, but Leo has been on top of them. He has been our savior and friend.

Before going to Renmin Park, our driver took us to the wet market located in a multi-level building -- lots of produce and products -- all interesting.

The People's Park is reminiscent of other People's Park in every major Chinese city. We got there too early to witness the seniors dancing or playing cards or mah jong. At the park's teahouse we had a nice table near the pond. The chrysanthemum tea was relatively expensive but a refreshing change. We saw a ear cleaner soliciting his service to the many senior citizens (I saw no tourists). He has a small flashlight and long, sticks tipped with cotton buds to practice his specialty.

Review of Luodai Ancient Town

Go here for relief of Chengdu's hectic and busy pace

We continued our free day with a driver provided by China Discovery Tours. At the People's Park teahouse, our drive, Mr Zheng, was suddenly replaced by Mr Wei. He said he had a family member die.

It took 90 min in congested traffic to reach the ancient town of Luodai. I'm happy to report that this town is worth seeing and buying. It's such a pretty, well-laid out pedestrian road with inviting storefronts. It is clean and the storekeepers are friendly and give out lots of samples. Apparently, there isn't the amount of foot traffic as in the city. After my 30 min foot massage (called "foot bath" in Chinese), my wife showed me the souvenirs she bought at prices much less than in the city.

This place is a pleasant distraction. Go!


Review of Dujiangyan Panda Base of the Giant Panda Research Center

At 8:30 we met our attractive, 24 year-old guide, Jen Ye, from China Discovery Tours. She is very prompt and not too pushy or obtrusive -- yet. Guides learn eventually through experience how to run interference and get clients to their destinations on time despite the crowds and traffic.

The holding pens for the 5 pandas we saw are large and seem to duplicate their natural habitats. We learned that while there are 30 species of bamboo, the pandas can only eat one species, which is harvested hundreds of miles away from here.

The pandas we saw were unafraid of visitors and seem to want to engage. They are breed here through IVF and are sought after universally by major zoos who can afford to "rent" them.

We never saw the red panda. They seem to retreat to their resting place, out of sight.

Giant Panda at Dujiangyan Panda Base, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Giant Panda at Dujiangyan Panda Base, Photo Shared by Steve

Review of Dujiangyan Irrigation System

Vast network and too much to take in one day

I was not prepared to understand this attraction, a showcase of ancient Chinese engineering and landscaping. The attraction goes for miles up and down two rivers that converge into one. Trying to grasp the enormity and significance is daunting.

With the constant rain, we grew tired and weary of the walking, even though on level surfaces, and headed back to the luxurious Grand Hyatt Chengdu.

Rainy Day at Dujiangyan Irrigation System, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Rainy Day at Dujiangyan Irrigation System, Photo Shared by Steve


Review of Hilton Jiuzhaigou Resort

Named the best hotel in the Jiuzhaogou valley

Staying 2 days here, we felt fortunate that 1) the hotel opened barely in time for our scheduled arrival, 2) our guide Mary told us that "it is the best hotel in the area," and 3) is in the center of the most beautiful parks in China.

The nearest airport is not in Jiuzhaogou valley but 1H40" away. During the transfer, we saw falling snow for the first time during our trip. The scenic drive gave a hint to the gorgeous countryside we were set to visit.

We got disabled room # 1309, which actually had grips that were beneficial -- our first encounter with such a type of room.

After the devastating earthquake of 2017 this hotel was one of the first to open. Older hotels, eg Intercontinental, Hilton, and scores of Chinese hotels, were either shuttered or under re-construction. Outside the hotel property, walking can be difficult with so much construction work, materials, and debris. There is not much to see or visit within walking distance from the hotel entrance.

The addition of Epsom salts to the soaking bath was a new experience for me. The room is large and has all the amenities you want. The housekeeping staff was slow to clean our room. I had to request clean towels and skip the cleaning.

We had both breakfast and dinner buffets at the hotel. The food is delicious, plentiful, and varied. The pricing is much higher than if you went to a resto outside by taxi.

Right now for the Western tourist, the hotel is the only "game in town."

The FD manager Owen and the DR manager Kerry were assets to the hotel.

Review of Huanglong Scenic Valley

More difficult trek than Jiuzhaigou valley trek

We were so naive to think that trekking this valley would not be as difficult as the trek we did yesterday in Jiuzhaigou valley. We were wrong.

I'm glad we didn't check-out of the Hilton Jiuzhaigou Resort Hotel until 10:00 because by the time we hit the pathways, the icy surfaces were still treacherous to walk but not as much if we started earlier. I saw many guests slipping or falling. I am grateful to our guide Mary for holding my wife during most of the trek.

At 3300 meters above sea level, it was not only exhausting but also so cold. I should have brought gloves and foot warmers. The scarf was invaluable as well as my cap with the ear flaps.

After we reached the top via ropeway, we opted to not go higher to see the valley's highlight, Five-color Ponds. Instead we headed down which took another 4H.

It was a huge challenge, but worth it.

Roadpost at 3196m Above Sea Level Pointing to Five-color Ponds, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Roadpost at 3196m Above Sea Level Pointing to Five-color Ponds, Photo Shared by Steve

Review of Jiuzhaigou Natural Reserve

Now open after 2017 earthquake closed it

Even for our TA, China Discovery Tours, getting a permit for a day pass is not easy. Right now there are only 5000 people allowed per day. This caused lots of rescheduling of our hotel, some at the last minute.

Despite the limit of 5000 guests per day, the tourist center was the scene of chaos as the masses were waiting for the shuttle buses. People were bumping, shoving, pushing, and squeezing to pass through the narrow width of the turnstiles.

In the end, all that was worth the taking in of the valley's bounty of lakes, rivers, rapids, shoals, waterfalls, cascading tiers, fall colors of the leaves, and the snow-capped peaks.

We had a fantastic time that exceeded my expectations.

Melting Snow at Jiuzhaigou Natural Reserve, Photo Shared by Steve, Tour Customized by Leo

Melting Snow at Jiuzhaigou Natural Reserve, Photo Shared by Steve

It is a memorable experience for both Steve and me. The 22 wonderful days in China made all the efforts and preparations meaningful and worthwhile. I am happy to meet Steve in Chengdu and know that they are satisfied with the trip arrangement, which is really a high acknowledgement to my job. Hope Steve all the best and I will keep helping friends across the world to see more of my beautiful motherland.

Hi, I'm Leo, Steve's travel consultant. Are you interested in their 22-day trip around China? Please feel free to contact me for more details of the travel such as the trip itinerary, accommodation or other arrangements. If you want to take a similar trip or customize your own China tour, just e-mail me and I will spare no efforts to meet your demands. It's my great pleasure to invite you to our country and join us in appreciating this charming land.

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