China Tour Reviews 2009

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2009-07-27 Susan S. from USA

We recently returned from a wonderful twelve day trip to China (Beijing, Xian, Hangzhou and Shanghai) with our two children, ages 9 and 13. The trip was arranged by China Connections, and was very professionally organized, terrific guides, wonderful sites, extemely courteous attention, very well organized. I would receive a reply to every email within 24 hours.

June 26
We arrived in Beijing’s sparkling new international airport, and made it thru security and the H1N1 flu check. Security came on board the plane to do a temperature scan; technicians were wearing all white, surgical masks and visor-helmets. Sort of techno-scary, but very interesting way to start our trip. Very few crowds, so easy to get thru security and immigration was a snap.

June 27
Tianammen Square and Forbidden City were amazing so historical. Lots of people, mainly tourists from Korea, Japan and around Chinese. Very few Americans or Europeans.

In the afternoon we went to the Summer Palace and rode the Dragon Boat (a ferry across the lake to the exit, definitely worth doing. Then a visit to a pearl factory.

Dinner was at this very upscale restaurant, Baizha Da Zhai Men - costumed actors in Qing dynasty wear, it was like a courtyard home, meticulously maintained; very expensive / exclusive. Most tourists, I've heard, do not know about this restaurant - definitely worth a visit!

Our hotel is good, not as upscale as 4 star would be in the States, but very good for us, because almost no one speaks English, so Em, Becky and I have to really make an effort to speak Chinese (and sometimes we draw pictures!).

Emily’s Ipod with Chinese app is coming in handy to look up all kinds of words (it gives Chinese, pinyin, English, with tones).

Food is great, we found the chef will make fresh Beijing noodles right in Front of you, for breakfast.

Our guide, Robert Huang, is warm, funny, delightful, his English is great. If you travel to China and use China Connection Tours, I would recommend you ask for Robert. (, ask for Michael Xu.)

June 28
Yesterday we went to the Jade Factory then on to the Great Wall, Juyonguong Pass (this is a section of the Wall I did about 3 years ago, but I did it in April, 70 degrees, not end of June, 100 degrees…)

We had lunch at the friendship store / cloisonne factory (I've been to this
Factory before, but they’ve renovated it, so they no longer have glass separating most of the workers which meant we were able to get up close to them while they worked, it was great.

We went to the Olympic Village, went inside the water cube, and then went to a tea house and then to the Hard Rock for dinner (had to do it).

June 29
Today we visited the hutong area of Beijing, amazing, wonderful, in rickshaws, it covers a much larger area than I thought it would. You cannot skip this if you are in Beijing.

Then we visited Wangfujing Street, like Rodeo Drive, gorgeous, new, then on to the Temple of Heaven, a beautiful, big park, was where the royal families worshipped.

Then to dinner and to a gongfu show. It was great, very crowded, this is where all the tourists go. When we left someone managed to get into my bag and steal my wallet. (There were a lot of crowds, buses, chaotic.) You have to remember to watch your children, bags, when traveling, a good reminder.

June 30
The next day we went to the bank to get $$ from American Express and turned out we were the first of anyone ever to try to do that, so took 1.5 >> hours, (we cancelled our field trip for the day, which was supposed to be a 3 hour bus drive to an even more ancient hutong area, Cuandixia Village but that was okay...our guide Robert Huang said we still had time, and could go, but we wanted to be sure we had cancelled credit cards, called insurance, etc.

Miraculously, though, after getting $$ from bank, Robert got a call, a car park attendant at the Crowne Plaza found my wallet - everything intact except cash, credit cards and ring, so we went over to pick it up. The car parking lot attendant said the wallet had been thrown under a car, so most likely what happened was that a gang of professional thieves scoped out the most tourist-y area they could find, found someone distracted (me) to accost, then within 30 minutes went to Wangfujing Street (Rodeo Drive) to charge about $12K worth of items, (including about $4K woth of clothes from Zara!) tossing my wallet with things they didn’t need out, along the way.

Surprisingly, everything left in my wallet was scrupulously in order, so the thief was very neat.

We made a trip to the Beijing Zoo, which wasn’t on our itinerary, but which China Connections graciously substituted since we had to cancel Cuandixia Village. This is another “don’t miss” in Beijing, especially if you have children. The pandas, of course, were the biggest hit, and I was surprised at the extent of the panda exhibit; I expected 2 or 3 pandas, but there were at least 6 or 8, many outside, climbing trees.

July 1
Today got up at 6, and took a walk to this great park we found, where Olympic baseball was played. People were doing tai chi, Chinese yoyo, walking dogs, sitting outside with their birds in cages, wonderful. No matter how much you may want to sleep in, it’s worth it to set the alarm and get up to see some tai chi in the early, cool AM.

We went to Hong Qiao Flea Market, a large indoor market where you can pretty much buy anything you’d want. My children thought it was hysterical that shop girls would accost me in the aisles, sometimes grabbing me, four or six at a time, trying to get us to buy things.

Had a Beijing Roast Duck dinner, then on to the very clean, new-ish train station for the overnight soft sleeper train to Xian. We had 4 berths in a very small cabin, but very new, clean, air conditioned, so we actually all slept well.

July 2
Arrived in Xian at 8:30AM, this was tricky, at first we couldn’t find the way out / correct exit, and had to meet our guide outside the exit…but we managed, after paying someone much too much to help with bags (er shi liang kwai for one or two large bags on wheels, 22 kwai RMB, about $3.50).

Our guide was Elsie, very knowledgeable, very nice.

Very hot, hotter than Beijing (if anyone has a chance to travel to China, but can make the trip in October or April, I’d recommend doing that, even if it means pulling your children out of school).

On to hotel to check in (lovely hotel, Arum International, beautiful, connected rooms, sophisticated staff, many people spoke English, easy to get an internet connection, great breakfast).

After breakfast went to Shaanxi History Museum (first capital of China in 220 BC, emperor Qin unified China, standardized currency, connected various walls to form the Great Wall). Xi'an was the center for international trade in the Tang Dynasty period - this was before the Silk Road / Marco Polo / Kubla Khan.

Then went to the Huaxian Peasant Painters Village (very famous, they came to
Greenwich a couple years ago), one woman, Mrs. Pan, who was a local crafts person when much younger, got local artists together to help promote their way of painting, and it's gotten international awards. Saw paper cutting, then back to hotel, had dumpling banquet and show (Tang Dynasty music and dance).

July 3
Today got up early, went to Terra Cotta Warriors museum, where we saw the
pottery area, kiln, a demonstration of how the warriors were made, how lacquer and pottery is made, and how the smaller (souvenirs) ones are made now, very similar, except now they use molds, back then they did not (220 BC). The Terra Cotta Warriors were part of the Emperor (Emperor Qin, above) tomb, to act as guards.

On to the actual excavation site, unbelievable and amazing, they 're still excavating more. Met the farmer who discovered the stone warriors; he is in his 80s now, Mr. Yang.

Then on to the Big Goose Pagoda (buddhist monastery) and to the ancient Xi'an City Wall, where we rode bikes on the wall, a great thing to do. Dinner was Szechuan hot pot, we walked through the city of Xian to get to the restaurant, much like parts of NYC. Older children would love this, you get to cook your own food.

July 4
We took an early flight to Hangzhou. Hangzhou is a very upscale, famous, water resort town, lots of BMWs,Mercedes (and with import taxes, they pay about 4X what we'd pay for the same car...).

Saw the West Lake, went boating on the lake, went to Ling Yin Temple and a silk factory (supposedly the biggest in China), as well as a tea plantation. Really beautiful.

Had dinner at Lou Wai Lou restaurant on the West Lake. Would definitely recommend this for the experience and views of the lake, except we seem to keep getting chicken and fish with bones, hard to eat…think about requesting “nothing with bones” when you are planning your trip, especially if you have children. (I’ll eat anything, but the bones get to me…)

Next AM took the van to Shanghai, checked in, and went to see the Yuyuan Gardens (with ancient bazaar; this market with buildings and zig zag bridge has been around for centuries), the Cheng Huang Temple (passed by, didn't go in), did Nanjing Road, then shopping, dinner, then acrobats at the gorgeous performing arts center. Puts anyhing in NYC to shame.

The next day we did the Shanghai Museum (I've been there before, we loved it), the Children's Palace (which was really a community center, strange naming), a wonderful Jade Museum, and then to the Pudong district, the Bund, TV Pearl Tower, and dinner at the top of the Pearl Tower's spinning restaurant. Again, this is something that might not make it to your itinerary unless you ask, and it's definitely worth it!

We finished up with a boat tour on the Huangpu River, which is amazing, All lights at night. This is another "must do" in Shanghai.

The next day took the maglev bullet train to the Pudong Airport and headed home!

A fantastic trip.


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