Just returned from Highlights of China

Ancient temples swallowed by the jungle, rice paddies, local markets, stunning beaches, fiery cuisine, smoking incense at the feet of a golden Buddha, and the friendliest locals around.

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Just returned from Highlights of China

Postby kris_nyc » Mon Oct 25, 2010 3:14 pm

Just got back yesterday from the Highlights of China trip. I had a great time. I thought that the itinerary is good, and with a few tweaks, it can be close to perfect. The highlights for me were the bike ride in Yangshuo (amazing scenery) and Xi’an (terra cotta warriors were incredible and I loved that city on the whole).

Good:
-The hotels were great, all business class hotels within walking distance of the main attractions in each city. Very clean and comfortable and generally much better than the hotels I’ve had on other “Standard” GAP trips. There was hot water in the shower in every hotel (and on the Yangtze boat).
-Food was excellent and inexpensive. The average meal cost 35 Yuan (about USD$5), plus drinks. Our guide took us to local places he knew and ordered a bunch of different dishes that we shared family style.
-Our guide was great – very helpful, patient, knowledgeable and a good sense of humor. He was also great at ordering food for us at the restaurant, and made sure that we always got to try the local specialties.
-There was a perfect balance between included activities and free time.We did and saw a lot, but I never felt rushed.

Needs improvement:
-The boat used for the Yangtze cruise is a little shabby (wet carpets, peeling wallpaper, moldy bathroom), but it was comfortable enough. The food on the boat, though, was awful. (The other passengers were Chinese tourists, and they hardly touched the food.) Hot water is available on the boat, so you can buy instant noodles to cook and other snacks if you don’t like the food.
-On the second full day of the trip, we left Shanghai and stopped at the Wuzhen canal town in the morning and Lingyin temple in the afternoon and spent the night in Hangzhou. I think that we should have skipped Wuzhen, gone to Lingyin in the morning and arrive in Hangzhou by afternoon. Wuzhen was ridiculously packed with large Chinese tour groups being herded around like cattle by tour leaders with loudspeakers. You couldn’t walk around freely; you end up being swallowed by the crowds and being pushed along with them. The “town” felt like it was just a big tourist trap. By the time we got to Hangzhou, it was dark, so we couldn’t enjoy the scenic lake that it’s known for.
-There should be more time allocated for Xi’an. We only spent one day there, which wasn’t enough to see and enjoy everything. 2 days would have been perfect.

Tips:
-The fastest, easiest way to get from the Pudong airport to the hotel in Shanghai is by Maglev train, then transfer to the metro. The hotel is just around the corner from the metro stop on Nanjing Road.
-ATMs are everywhere. I wouldn’t bother bringing much cash.
-Coffee is expensive (about 35 Yuan for an average cup) and is not widely available (usually only at touristy places, like the Great Wall or at Starbucks and other cafes), but hot water is. If you really need your daily coffee, you can bring or buy packets of instant coffee and prepare your own.
-Bring a pair for flip flops to wear on the boat (in the room and for the shower).
-There is no toilet paper in public restrooms. Bring your own roll or take one for the hotel.
-Restaurants are very stingy with napkins (they usually just give you one small piece of tissue paper). Bring some wet wipes.
-If you want to go caving in Yangshuo, bring a pair of shorts and a t-shirt that you can trash afterwards, to use in the mud bath in the cave.
-Do laundry inYangshuo. It’s much cheaper there than elsewhere, and you can pick up your clothes within 3-4 hours.
-There is free internet in every hotel except in Yangshuo and on the boat (wifi in the lobby in Beijing, ethernet connection in every room in Shanghai, Hangzhou and Xi’an).
-If you have an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad and want to access the sites banned in China (facebook, twitter, blogging platforms, etc.), I found the VPNVIP app to be the most reliable, and the first 100 MB is free, which is plenty.
-I thought the allocated time for Shanghai and Beijing was enough. I spent an extra day in Beijing, but at the end, didn’t really feel that I had to. Unless you want to see the Summer Palace (not included in the itinerary), extra days in Beijing isn’t really necessary.
-Bargain hard when shopping. I found the best prices in the hutongs in Beijing and the street vendors in Yangshuo, and the worst prices in the Pearl Market and the night market in Beijing. For example, a vendor in the Pearl Market intially offered me a t-shirt for 120 Yuan (which he quickly brought down to 65 Yuan when I started walking away). I found the same shirt in a store in one of the hutongs for 20 Yuan.
-In Beijing, we had the option of seeing a kung fu show. It turned out to be a pretty theatrical production, with no “fighting,” so it wasn’t what I expected.
-If you want to see a panda, you can see them at the Beijing Zoo, which is cheap (20 Yuan) and easily accessible by metro. They also have albino tigers.

That’s all I can think for now. Feel free to ask me any questions. I’ll post about this trip and upload some photos on my blog in the coming days.
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Re: Just returned from Highlights of China

Postby TravelFun » Mon Oct 25, 2010 5:30 pm

Great tips and thanks Kris for reporting back so quickly from your return...sounds like you had a good time with the right balance.

Happy Travels!
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Re: Just returned from Highlights of China

Postby andrealouise » Fri Oct 29, 2010 5:07 pm

I did this trip over the summer, and I agree with everything you said!

Yangshou bike ride + Xi'an were my favourite, particularly the city wall and Muslim Quarter. Definitely wish we had at least two days there.

I guess you didn't get to see the rat on the cruise boat...(mid-dinner, the manager stomped on it, picked it up by the tail and tossed it out the back door into the river. Despite being gross, probably one of the funniest moments of the trip!)
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Re: Just returned from Highlights of China

Postby kris_nyc » Sun Jan 02, 2011 3:04 pm

Took a while to sort out, but here are my photos from this trip: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2184753&id=16400541&l=220f92aecf
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Re: Just returned from Highlights of China

Postby JaliscoJudy » Mon Jan 03, 2011 4:53 pm

These are beautiful photos. I'm impressed with how strong they are even in the thumbnail versions. Well done!
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Re: Just returned from Highlights of China

Postby Zuleika » Mon Jan 03, 2011 7:05 pm

Your photos are fantastic - you have a really good eye.
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Re: Just returned from Highlights of China

Postby TravelFun » Mon Jan 03, 2011 7:51 pm

Loved the photos and brought back great memories...China was my very first adventure travel, back in 1998 and the start of my travels :P

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Re: Just returned from Highlights of China

Postby eolmedo » Sat Jan 15, 2011 5:53 am

Thanks for the tips, we're also doing this trip in April and we thought they were very interesting!

I didn't want to see the pictures to not spoil myself though, might take a look when we come back :)
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Re: Just returned from Highlights of China

Postby baalzam » Sun Jul 03, 2011 3:24 pm

Hey, I'm going this year, but I'm gonna stay in China 4 weeks before and 2 weeks after the trip, and I'm considering bringing a big trunk instead of a backpack...what do you think?
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Re: Just returned from Highlights of China

Postby new traveller » Sun Jul 03, 2011 4:44 pm

Hi,

I'm going on the Highlights of China tour in September and getting a little scared by some of these posts.
I read about cockroaches and rats on the boat cruise. I can deal with the poor food and the soggy floors but with bugs and rats. Is it really that bad?
Has someone been on the trip recently and can please provide some input?
Thx
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Re: Just returned from Highlights of China

Postby eolmedo » Tue Jul 05, 2011 2:34 pm

baalzam wrote:Hey, I'm going this year, but I'm gonna stay in China 4 weeks before and 2 weeks after the trip, and I'm considering bringing a big trunk instead of a backpack...what do you think?


I don't think it would be a problem, when I went some people had been on a trip around Asia for months and they had a lot of luggage, they could fit it just fine in the overnight trains and when we had to go through stairs they always hired a porter for 10 yuan or so.
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Re: Just returned from Highlights of China

Postby kris_nyc » Wed Jul 13, 2011 1:23 pm

The vermins on Yangtze boat are really not a big deal. I think I saw a couple of roaches and got a glimpse of a rat scrurrying around the bottom deck, but it's not like they're running wild all over the place.

About the trunk, it doesn't sound too comfortable to lug around, but if you're ok dragging it from place to place and think that it can fit in the overhead storage areas of trains or underneath the seats/beds, then go for it. Whatever you're most comfortable with. I travel everywhere with a carry-on size duffel with wheels that also has backpack straps if I ever need to carry it up several flights of stairs. Most of the time, I just roll it. It's also expandable, which gives me some room to stash anything that I buy while traveling. Unless you're packing for all 4 seasons or have lots of trekking or camping gear though, the amount of time you spend away from home shouldn't determine how much you pack, since you can do laundry just about anywhere.
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Re: Just returned from Highlights of China

Postby psychlou » Thu Jul 21, 2011 10:58 am

Kris, I am just in the process of booking this trip for Nov and I wanted to say thanks for your post & pics. They made me wish I was going tomorrow :D

Thanks for the tips especially!
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Re: Just returned from Highlights of China

Postby redtraveller » Wed Aug 10, 2011 1:02 pm

Hi,
Great information! I am going on the Essential China tour in 3 weeks.
The pics made me really excited to go.
rats and roaches are the least of my concerns.
Does anyone know which point of the great wall we visit? Is it Badaling or Mutianyu? Is there an option to see the Ming tombs?
Thanks
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Re: Just returned from Highlights of China

Postby redtraveller » Thu Oct 06, 2011 9:44 am

I just returned from the Essential China tour.
If anyone has any questions, I'd be happy to answer.
Had a great time, and ready this thread before I left was very helpful.
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