I’m going to begin by saying we highly recommend China Travel, specifically our tour director Janet Chan, for your travel arrangements in China. They offer value, quality, professionalism and even friendship. And if you run into trouble, they are there to help you out. Four of us experienced it all during our 21 day tour of the country. And after using a tour company for nearly month with seven amazing tour guides you really get to know their worth – this one went above and beyond. Now the details on why we loved this company.
Our totally custom tour of China took in the breadth of Central China, from Shanghai, Guilin, Hangzhou and Beijing to Xian, Chongqing and Chengdu. Leon collaborated for several months before the trip with our group leader, Alan Holtzman, on the itinerary. Alan did a lot of research on where we would go and would submit his ideas by e-mail to Janet who would in turn make suggestions about alternatives if there was something we missed or warnings if one particular venue was too far or too physically demanding.
After months of back and forth, they came up with an incredible itinerary that would include the major cities of China, well known destinations like the Forbidden City and the Great Wall in Beijing, the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xian and a three day cruise down the Yangtze to the Three Gorges dam. Our tour also took us to some not so traveled paths to places like Leshan with its giant Buddha, and an incredible journey to Mount Emei and the Monastery of Ten Thousand Years. We saw old and new China in ways packaged tours could not approach. Each place was fascinating – some magical, like our short cruise down the Li River and other’s just fun like exploring the ancient river town of Wuzhen.
The price for the entire tour, not including hotels and some meals, was surprisingly affordable – less per person than our 14-day cruise we took to get to Shanghai from Hong Kong. The fee included the Yangtze cruise, flights, train tickets, tours, guides and drivers, attraction fares and lunches. A word about lunches. Many of our friends who visited China via tour packages complained about the bland food served day after day. We had a totally different experience. Our lunches were wonderful. Each reflected the region or city we were in and included as many dishes as we wanted off extensive restaurant menus, plus tall beers on hot days. Our wonderful guides helped us out with the dishes knowing our tolerance for spicy heat and weird food. None of us had any health issues due to food or drink on the trip.
We were provided with English speaking guides and experienced drivers for every destination. They were heart and soul of our experience – a joy to be around and learn from. I will go into detail about each tour in other TA reviews about specific destinations. But our guides became our friends in a very short time. Their English names were Dream, Melody, Tony, Kenneth, Jim, Li Li, and Helen. All made sure we were greeted at the airport or train station, checked into the hotel and got our plane or train when we departed. They were on-time, funny, entertaining, knowledgeable and above all, caring. If you needed anything, they would go out of their way to find it. They helped you bargain when shopping, select dishes from exotic menus and get you into the priority check-in lines at the train stations and airports. They even helped my wife find Western-style toilets – not an easy task. (The Chinese version was too hard on her knees.)
Our drivers were very experienced driving in the chaos that reigns in Chinese roads… roads full of inexperienced drivers who do things that are jaw dropping and dangerous. Wear seat belts; you’ll feel a lot safer. The cars and vans provided were all in good order and mostly newer models. Before our tour we took a cruise from Hong Kong to Shanghai, so we had a lot of luggage. So much that Leon had to order a second car and driver just for our luggage after the tour began. AND HE DIDN’T CHARGE US ANYTHING MORE!
I titled this review “our guardian angels.” When you travel as much as we do you know that there’s always the possibility of unexpected “adventures.” After our cruise down the Yangtze we stayed overnight in Yichang, and then were scheduled to fly back to Shanghai, where, a day later, we would catch our flight back to San Diego. We boarded the Yichang plane on arainy morning and waited on the tarmac for nearly an hour before the captain announced that the flight was weather-delayed. We deplaned, and waited in the terminal for the flight to be cleared. We called Leon to alert him to the delay, so he could contact our guide in Shangha about the change in plans.
We waited in the airport for four hours before it was announced our flight was cancelled. The staff at the airline spoke little English and we worried it would be hard if not impossible to find another flight or alternative transportation, since the bad weather was affecting much of western China.
But we had a friend in China. Janet had been keeping track of our flight and working on alternative arrangements. She booked us on a flight to Hangzhou where we would take a high-speed train to Shanghai. After another brief delay, our new flight took off for Hangzhou. When we landed there, our former tour-guide Tony and his driver met us and took us to the train station an hour away. He led us to the platform, handed us the tickets and made sure we got on the right train. An hour later, we were met in Shanghai by a new guide and driver who took us to our hotel. A three hour journey turned into a 1- hour odyssey, but thanks to Janet and her team we made it to Shanghai in time to enjoy a half-day there before catching our flight home.
There we many things we loved about China, the history, art, culture and especially their people who were universally friendly and caring. There are also dark sides, like pollution, explosive growth that erases historic districts and information censorship (although the people were very savvy about current affairs and recent history). We agreed that many of those issues are being addressed by a more enlightened leadership.
In the end, it was a magnificent adventure, made possible by China Travel’s Janet Chan and her talented team. We thank them and look forward to seeing our China friends again soon.