Rather than list the highlights of China, we instead thought wanted to share Carolyn's notes from her recent trip. She covered much of what is wondrous about China, and we hope this inspires you to consider a holiiday there. Carolyn travelled with favoured parnter Wendy Wu.
After a pleasant 11 hours on board British Airways with very good service and food, we landed in Shanghai. We were met by Sam who would be our guide for the duration of our trip. It quicky became clear that Sam took huge pride in showing us his country and making sure we got around the safely and on time with the assistance of the local guides.
What a start to our trip! I'm not sure what I expected but Shanghai exceeded expectations. A huge city, very cosmopolitan but still with some 'East meets West' charm. The Bund is a great place for people-watching and waiting for the neon lights to come on at sundown, a river cruise on the HuangPu river is a must.
Top tip – to beat the jet lag have a quick freshen up on arrival and then head out and about for the rest of the day. We called it a day around 10pm and all slept through and were on China time (8 hours ahead of the UK) the following day.
Our second day in Shanghai took us to Yu Gardens, a haven of peace and tranquillity in an otherwise busy city. Wandering through the bazaar to get there brought some bizarre sights: just about anything was deep fried and offered as street food! The gardens were built during the Ming Dynasty and completed in 1577 for a Governments Officer’s parents to enjoy their later years. Wandering through the pavilions, and past the rock pools took you miles away from the hustle of the city.
That afternoon we treated ourselves to a ride on the fastest train in China, the MagLev. This operates by magnetic levitation and reaches a top speed of 430km/h - hugely impressive. This cuts the trip to the airport from an hour to 8 minutes! An unexpected meeting with Wendy Wu herself in the evening before heading out to the old French Quarter which was very stylish with a huge choice of bars and restaurants.
Day 3 took us back to the airport to fly to Guilin. Internal flights in China are very efficient with both China Eastern and China Southern. They operated either Airbus A320 or Boeing 737, all were fairly new and a hot meal service was included even on a flight of 1.5 hours.
On arrival we met our local guide and headed to the Reed Flute Caves. These were beautifully lit and the formations of stalactites and stalagmites quite magical. Just let your imagination run wild and see what shapes you can see within the limestone.
That evening we had a recreation of the HSBC advert – cormorant fishing is an ancient art in China and now only really practised by a few local fisherman. The birds are well trained and obediently dived, fished and regurgitated into the catch basket, they were later rewarded for their efforts with smaller fish.
A rainy day the following morning didn’t dampen our spirits or the scenery on the beautiful Li River. A leisurely 4 hour cruise took us past some fabulous limestone formations, known locally as The Spine of the Dragon and reaching as far south as Halong Bay in Vietnam. We disembarked in the town of Yangshou, a vibrant town with some great retail opportunities before heading back to Guilin by road.
The following day took us on another short flight to Xi’an home of the Terracotta Warriors. Once we had met our local guide we headed to the old city wall and took to bicycle to cycle part of the way round. Our guides timed it perfectly as we arrived at the South Gate just in time for the ceremonial changing of the guard, quite a sight. That evening took us for a traditional dumpling meal followed by a cultural dance show. While we are talking food: all your meals are included in the price of a Wendy Wu tour and are served family-style on a round table with a lazy Susan as the centre piece. There is something for everyone and the food just keeps coming until everyone is fully fed, you will return an expert in the use of chopsticks. Allergies and dietary requests can also be accommodated. Desserts and puddings are rare so if you have a sweet tooth pack some chocolate bars!
Top Tip – If you like a good cuppa pack some English tea bags and coffee as tea tends to be very weak green tea. All the hotels we stayed in had kettles so a cuppa could be brewed prior to breakfast.
The next day we headed out of Xi’an to the site of the Terracotta Warriors, one of the highlights of this trip. What a sight – the first pit is the size of 2 football pitches! They were discovered in 1974 by a local farmer digging a well, he only just caught the edge of them so they could easily still be undiscovered! When you see the scale model of the Emperor’s tomb and how far the warriors are from it you just think about what could still be underground. Excavation has stopped for now until they can work out how to stop the discolouration of the warriors once open to the air. The thought of what might still be uncovered is amazing!
Another short flight took us to Beijing and we headed straight off to the Olympic Park for a view of the Birds Nest and the Water Cube. From there we went out to the Summer Palace, a great spot by a lake that was used as a holiday home. The architecture and atmosphere led to a relaxing stroll around the lake and through the pavilions and rooms of the residence.
Next day took us on a stroll through Tiananmen Square and on to the Forbidden City. The sheer scale of both these venues is impressive. A gentle wander through the various squares and courtyards of the Forbidden City was enhanced by information from our local guide who worked on the little and often principle...a good job as there was so much to take in!
Last day and another major highlight – the Great Wall. The drive is about an hour from central Beijing and as you approach you get your first glimpse of the Wall and what an impressive structure it is. As soon as you set foot on the Wall you are regarded as a hero, some may decide that this is enough and view it from the comfort of the cafe at the bottom. The climb is steep and the steps quite high but taken at a leisurely pace it is perfectly manageable and you can decide how far up you wish to climb. Just remember it is the same way back down – there were a few “jelly legs” in our party!
Top Tip – it can be windy on the Wall so be prepared with layers and hats, gloves etc depending on the time of year you visit.
Back in the city it was time for our farewell dinner and we got to sample the local delicacy of Peking Duck before heading on to an acrobatic show. A few heart stopping moments as the gymnasts flipped and climbed and spun plates and even ended up with 12 riding one bike. Closing the show was the “cage of death”, 5 motorbikes whizzing round in a very small place produced a few “can’t look” moments but it was very entertaining.
China exceeded all my expectations and Wendy Wu did a fantastic job of keeping us to a reasonably tight schedule and looking after us so well. Yes the beds are a little firmer than usual and ladies you may need to plan your toilet stops to avoid the local squat style facilities.
All in all you can’t fault the destination, people or service. Would I go back? Most definitely. And it would certainly be with Wendy Wu Tours. A group tour may not suit everyone but an upgrade to a private tour is not a huge amount more especially if there are four or more of you travelling.
Wendy Wu also offer some super special interest tours as well such as pandas with John Craven, photography tours learning from professionals, a cooking tour with Ching He Huang, gardens & plants in conjunction with the RHS to name just a few. The majority of walking is easy and on the flat, the only slightly challenging terrain we came across was the Great Wall. Everything is taken care of from start to finish, even your visa is included. All you have to do is sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery, history and culture.
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