For most of us, travel to China is either a distant dream or a once in a lifetime trip. Unfortunately due to language and cultural barriers/difficulties, planning and executing such a trip is extremely difficult at best. And for those of us who do not care for group travel, but rather the freedom and flexibility of fully independent travel, travel to China represents a difficult goal.
After a lot of research I thought I had a basic idea at least of where I might want to go, but since I don’t speak Mandarin or read Chinese script/hanzi, traveling independently seemed impossible – and I was traveling solo. And at 71, I’m through with hassles and dealing with problems while traveling. Not only is life too short for that, but the time you have in a country is limited and how much time do you really want to waste dealing with issues vs seeing what you came to see or experience? I had previous experience dealing with independent travel agencies in Argentina and Chile, but didn’t expect that service to be available in China for some reason. But after a bit of additional research I discovered Top China Travel (TCT) and soon after my first contact with my travel consultant Rebecca Wei, things quickly fell into place. Turns out selecting TCT, was one of the best decisions I’ve made in quite a while.
I began with a base three week Highlights of China itinerary, and modified it to suit my interests and requirements, including class of hotel, sights, and additional locations. Because with TCT, there is no limit to how much you customize, nor are there additional service fees for doing so. I ended up with a 25 day package to 11 different locations, and this has to be the highlights from what I discovered and guides repeatedly told me. I will tell you this is a LOT for one trip, but based on my age, it is unlikely I will go back again, so wanted to see as much as possible this trip. My itinerary included Shanghai, Huangshan, Yellow Mountains, Hangzhou, Guilin, Changdu, Xi’an, Yangtze River Cruise, Zhangjiajie and Beijing. I specified 5 Star hotels and believe me they were that – some of the nicest hotels I’ve ever experienced anywhere in the world including in the USA. But you can tailor that to your budget and requirements from three-star up.
I’ve never experienced a trip so organized and well executed. It was totally flawless and hassle free. There was never a single issue or mistake. From the time I landed in Shanghai, I was met by an English speaking guide and driver (drivers Chinese speaking only), and taken to my hotel and hand held thru checking into the hotel, since everything of course was pre-paid thru TCT. Then the next morning a fully guided tour of Shanghai with evening free to myself. Additional evening activities are recommended at each location that TCT will arrange and book for you at an additional cost. I attended three while in China. Then when ready to leave Shanghai for Huangshan and the Yellow Mountains (which were stunningly beautiful and unique), I was taken to the train station and accompanied by the guide thru the check-in process and then I was off to Huangshan, where upon arrival I was met again and taken to the hotel with guided tours the following days. And this repeated FLAWLESSLY throughout the trip at each location. And the hand offs were quite impressive. At each location I had a new driver and guide, and they had my full itinerary of what I had done to that point and of course what I was scheduled to do and more impressively, had received a call from the previous guide advising them I was on my way. If this isn’t 5-star service, I don’t know what is. Now while this might all seem a bit too organized, I can assure it was not. There was flexibility and as a day progressed, as the guide got to know me better and felt I might enjoy more scenery vs a tea ceremony, for example, we could change that on the fly and at times did just that – within reason of course. And evenings were free. And another bonus was the experiences with the guides. Not only were they extremely knowledgeable and the drivers safe and reliable, but I learned more about life in China than I could ever have imagined doing since I developed personal relationships with the guides and the conversations were interactive and spontaneous and I had so much time with them each day. There is no way I could have accomplished or experienced this within a tour group.
Words can’t express my thanks to Top China Travel and the entire ground operations including guides and drivers for making my China trip one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever taken. And perhaps in the next couple years I can return and see a few things I missed on this trip, or return to a special place and relax a bit more. I won’t say it would have been impossible to have planned and executed this trip without help, but I can’t imagine having done so without having the knowledge and relationships with the ground operations and so many other things. And I’ve planned and executed dozens of international trips with no assistance, but to places far easier than China or Japan.
China is a fascinating and incredibly beautiful country, with scenery and culture unlike anyplace I’ve visited. Chinese people are welcoming and I felt safe everywhere I went. I highly recommend China as a travel destination and if you are looking for something similar to what I’ve experienced, I highly recommend Top China Travel. You won’t be sorry you selected them.