Emma Regis, Manager of our Norwich travel agents in store at Jarrolds, recently took a tour around some of the main cities of China. With visits to Beijing, Chengdu and Xian; here is how her trip panned out.
Operator/Host: Wendy Wu
(Hotel names/Ship name): Jiangxi Grand Hotel, Beijing; Grand New World Hotel, Xian; Chengdu Tianfu Sunshine Hotel, Chengdu
Airline: British Airways / China Eastern / Chengdu Airways
Duration: 9 Days
Overall the flights with British Airways were very good. There was a large variety of onboard entertainment, the food was very good and the staff were friendly too. We didn’t have much room on our outbound flight; we were stuck in the middle of a four at the back of the aircraft and there seemed to be very little seat or leg room. However, on the return, we were on a new plane and the seats were more spacious, with more legroom too.
Once onboard, the crew came around with drinks and a snack. This was shortly followed by our main meal, for which we had two hot choices. As we were on an overnight flight, we were given breakfast shortly before landing. Between meals there were plenty of snacks and drinks available too, you just had to ask the cabin crew. Overall I couldn’t really fault British Airways as we had two good flights.
We had a short flight with China Eastern from Beijing to Xian. I must admit I didn’t have high expectations, but I was impressed. The seats were quite spacious and the staff were polite too. They had short movies on the TV screens, but you needed your own headphones to listen to these and they were in Chinese. We were served drinks and a snack, which consisted of a piece of cake, plain bread roll and apple crisps. Had it not been for all of the turbulence (which can’t be helped), it would have been quite a good flight.
Overall not our best flight, the plane seemed to be quite old and was in need of some refurbishment. Our seats were not very spacious, but it was only an hour-long flight so that didn’t matter too much. Even on such a short flight, the stewards still came round with a drink and a snack, which consisted of the Chinese version of popcorn. I would probably say this that Chengdu Airways are the Chinese equivalent of Ryanair, but without the bright yellow seats. The staff were very pleasant too.
Our first stop was three nights in Beijing, where we stayed at the Jiangxi Grand Hotel. The hotel itself was a good 4-star hotel and had a very large spacious marble lobby with a small bar in the corner. The rooms were a good size, the bathroom had a large bath and separate shower and the beds were a good size but they were very hard. I would definitely recommend asking for an extra duvet, as it can be quite uncomfortable. We also had issues with the air conditioning in the room too. This meant having to sleep in 30 degrees and it would have been much cooler to sleep outside. We did ask several times for this to be fixed and it wasn’t until we were about to check out that they got around to doing it.
Breakfast was very good; there was a big variety of foods available from around the world to suit everyone’s tastes. The hotel was used for several large tour groups and, at one point, there were five different groups from Wendy Wu and it was a struggle to find a seat at breakfast. I also found that the location was on the wrong side of the city and we seemed to spend a lot of time in traffic, trying to get across the city to where all of the main sights and attractions are located.
Our next stop was for one night in Xian, where we stayed at the Grand New World Hotel. This hotel had a smaller reception area and behind it were some large stone carved Terracotta Warriors that overlooked the small swimming pool. Unfortunately, we barely got to see any of this hotel, as we didn’t arrive until late and left very early the next day. Our room was very comfortable and again was a good size, but I did find Xian a little noisier than the location of the hotel in Beijing. Again, there was a good choice of food available for breakfast the next day and a much larger breakfast room meant you were able to have a table to yourself.
Our last stop was three nights in Chengdu, at the Chengdu Tianfu Sunshine Hotel. This was my favourite hotel of the three as it was nice and modern, with a large lobby and a good sized bar. The hotel was very centrally located, so it was easy to go out and wasn’t too far from the main shopping area. The room was probably the smallest of the three, but the beds were extremely comfortable. The breakfast room was a bit smaller than our hotel in Xian, but they had a great variety of options available.
The majority of our excursions and trips were included in our tour. There were a couple of optional evening excursions included, which it would have been helpful to be informed of before travelling. We had a national guide who travelled with us throughout our tour; in each city, we had a coach driver and a local guide who would meet us at the airport and leave us at the airport too, so we were really looked after while we were there. All meals were included, although these were set meals with the exception of breakfast. We had to pay for our own drinks and there was a limited choice of beer, water, coke or 7up, but these were quite reasonably priced and we never paid more than £2 for a large bottle of the local brew.
On our first full day in Beijing, we had the morning walking around Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City with a little free time to walk around on our own. The afternoon was then spent at the Summer Palace, which was quiet as it was a beautiful sunny day where we sat in the gardens overlooking the lake. That evening we had an optional excursion where we went to see a Kung Fu dance show.
The next morning, we had a few hours to stroll along the Great Wall of China. Also, on the way back to Beijing, we visited the Jade Museum, where you could buy local jade products. That evening, we had a Chinese Acrobatic Show included, which literally had us on the edge of our seats. Our last morning in Beijing included a trip to the Temple of Heaven. We spent a few hours here watching the locals doing tai chi, dancing, playing cards, knitting and there were even bands playing too. It was a great atmosphere. We were then transferred to the airport for our flight to Xian.
On arrival in Xian, we were transferred to the City Walls. This is the only city in China with its walls still intact. We then had some free time to walk around and there was also the option to hire bikes to cycle along the walls. As we arrived late in the day, we got to see the walls lit up as we drove around Xian. That evening we had dinner and watched a performance of Tang Dynasty dancing. The following day we had a trip to the workshop where craftsmen recreate the Terracotta Warriors; the perfect place to buy your own warrior as a souvenir to bring home. This was then followed by a trip to see the real Terracotta Warriors, which were accidentally discovered in the 1970s by three farmers. At all three of the sites, we had time to walk around and learn about the Terracotta Warriors. That afternoon we transferred to Xian airport for our flight to Chengdu.
On our first full day in Chengdu, we had a trip to the Panda Conservation Centre, where we spent a few hours walking around, watching the pandas and cooing over the new baby cubs. We had lunch at the conservation centre and then had some free time to see Swan Lake – a massive lake home to swans and some rather enormous koi carp. We then had a trip to the Silk Museum to see how they make the silk, followed by a visit to Jingli Street in the Old City of Chengdu. This traditional street in China is full of little shops selling local crafts, foods and some bars too. It’s a great place to try the local delicacy of ‘rabbits’ brains’.
During our last day, we had a three-hour coach trip to Leshan to see the Grand Buddha, which involved a short boat trip. It’s hard to explain just how giant it is; you really have to be there to see it! On our way back to Chengdu, we had a stop at the beautiful riverside village of Huanglongxi. There was a river that runs down the middle of the city and along it there are lots of souvenir shops, dress shops and plenty of places to buy food. That evening we went on the optional excursion to see the Face Changing Show.
It’s hard to pick just one favourite, but one of my highlights was the Great Wall of China. I was amazed by how big it is in reality and, had it not been for my fear of heights, I would have loved to walk further than I managed, as each little part is different and there are some truly stunning views. I also loved the Terracotta Warriors. It was really interesting to walk around the museum and see how they were found and how they would have stood originally. Each one is different and they are evidence of truly spectacular craftsmanship.
I think my overall highlight, if I did have to pick one, would be the Panda Conservation Centre. I could have spent all day watching the pandas in their natural habitat and we were lucky enough to see the new baby pandas too.
There wasn’t much that I thought could be improved upon, but one thing that they could change would be to have more variety with the meals available to us. Although the food was very nice, it was very much the same, and we were having very similar lunches and dinners for the duration of our trip. Another thing would be the optional excursions; it would have been nice to be advised of these as it helps you to budget for the trip and gives you an idea of all options available.
I would certainly recommend this trip to holidaymakers. It is a perfect trip for anyone that wants to see the main sights of China but only has a short amount of time in which to do it. It is a very fast paced tour, so I would recommend adding at least one extra night at the beginning and end of the tour or even look at adding another destination that’s more relaxing. All our guides, both national and local, were very friendly, informative and knowledgeable, which is exactly what you want from a tour like this one. The tour was very well organised and ran smoothly. There were a few amendments to the order of the itinerary, but the guides only do this if they believe you are going to benefit from the changes.
As I mentioned above, I would certainly recommend extra nights before and after the tour. There are a lot of early mornings and it really helps if you have adjusted to the time difference before you start the tour. That way you can really appreciate everything you see, rather than feeling tired and just wanting to rest.
I would also suggest taking some snacks in your case too. It’s hard to get through the language barrier and, even if you just want a bar of chocolate, it’s best to already have this with you. You will always be advised on your itinerary of the amount that you need to tip. On our tour, this was $45. However, they do mention that you can tip any extra to the guides if you wish. I would recommend bearing this in mind when budgeting for your trip, as it’s best to take some extra for this too.
Must see? The Pandas at the Panda Sanctuary in Chengdu
Must do? Climb the Great Wall of China
Must try? Peking Duck in Beijing
If you would like to plan a similar cultural trip to the Far East, we can help you find the perfect itinerary. Pop into one of our travel shops on the south coast or within East Anglia and speak to a member of the team today.