Client: Ms.Barbara Jones
Nationality: United States
Group Code: TCT-LL-FIT-170802
Itinerary: Beijing-Xi'an-Zhangjiajie-Guilin-Hong Kong
Lily, the tour organizer for Top China Travel, was wonderful. She planned everything and adjusted the trip to match our specific destination requests (My daughter and I were traveling alone). At every destination on the trip (from Beijing to Guilin), a driver and guide met us so we never had to worry about transportation or the challenges of making ourselves understood.
Our guides varied from being very poor (when it was a contracted city guide to see the Great Wall or the Forbidden City) to the very good (when it was their guides for stops in Guilin or the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park). The Beijing guides couldn't speak English or spoke it poorly, they made us go to destinations no one wanted to see, and they were rude. Those places would be worth visiting on your own because Beijing's subway system is pretty straightforward and arranging transport to the Great Wall seemed uncomplicated.We are not great with guides in that we prefer to travel on our own and "discover" the joys of a new place without the rigidity of a tour, but having a driver and in some places a guide can be essential in China. If we didn't have a guide in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, we probably would still be there! In very few places do people speak English, so figuring out the queue system or even the need to hold onto your ticket for endless checking made the presence of a guide rather handy. The downside of having a guide, though, is how their presence limits your spontaneity and impedes your ability to choose where or what you want to eat. Eating Chinese food three times a day can be pretty depressing to your taste buds.
From this trip I learned ( I have never used a tour company before and I have traveled all over the world) that you need to play an active role in requesting the kind of accommodations you want. We prefer to be in walking distance of city centers and having an English speaking person on staff would have been nice. In Xi'an we were outside the city walls and, throughout our trip, rarely did any of the hospitality staff in the many hotels we stayed in speak any English. That oversight was my fault because I failed to request those things. I expected some English proficiency from people working in the hospitality industry, but in reality English speakers didn't appear to be very common.
Beijing and Xi'an were one time places for us (the crowds at the Terra-cotta soldiers were literally overwhelming), but the mountain region in the Hunan Province and the Li River in Guilin (bike riding in Guilin was a real highlight!) were delightful. No matter where you go, though, be prepared for endless crowds, a lot of shoving, and an ongoing din as you navigate this part of China. Top China Travel made an extremely challenging trip (China is not an easy country to visit- the inconsistency of sanitary toilet facilities, a form of public behavior that can be very disconcerting to visitors, and the total absence of any multi-culturalism), one that was a bit less challenging. We had a fascinating time in China. Many of the destinations we chose were not for the faint of heart or for someone who is new to international travel. In most places, we were the object of intense curiosity and the subject of many, many photos. The Great Wall alone made the trip worth doing, so don't be put off by the extreme hustle and noise that will surround you night and day.
Top China Travel certainly helped make our trip one we will never forget!
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