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Trip report - Review of ChinaTour.com tour.

San Diego
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Trip report - Review of ChinaTour.com tour.

We just returned from a 7 night China tour using Chinatour.com as the tour operator. We spent 3 nights in Beijiing, one night each in Souzhou and Hangzhou and 2 nights in Shanghai. Wanted to provide our experience and some feedback for others who might be thinking of booking through this company. Overall, we had a great time and were pretty pleased with everything, though there were a few "hiccups", which I will cover as well.

As a bit of background, this is our 2nd tour of China, as we did one last year with another company (Affordable Asia) - I have posted on a thread about my experience with them. The itinerary this time was slightly different (No Xian) and the stops in Souzhou and Hangzhou. We enjoyed China so much that when we saw a TravelZoo deal come over for ChinaTour.com, we jumped on it since the price was so good. Very similiar in pricing to what we got the year before (under $1000 pp) but it seemed that more was included in terms of meals and sight seeing.

First, I have to say that Chinatour.com might want to upgrade their website a bit and make booking on line a bit easier, such as actually allowing you to enter your credit card information when you book the reservation. It was not as an easy experience then we had with the other tour company. Minor thing, but just a suggestion. However, we had great communication with May Lin during our booking and up through our departure for China. It was easy to send our passports and get the Visas, etc. I did note that when we booked and when we were mailed our final itinerary there was a change in one of the hotels. I was a bit disappointed since I had done thorough research on the hotels before booking and thought the replacement wasn't as good. I did understand ChinaTour.com reserved the right to change hotels.

Ok, we flew out of LAX on Air China (as we did the year before - same flight in fact) on the "red eye" leaving at 12:40 AM and arriving in Beijiing about 5:30 AM. Flight was full, but comfortable. Air China plane was nice, has the individual TV/movie screens, which makes the time pass so much quicker. Service was great (this is my third time flying them internationally). Also they are affiliated with United and you can actually receive credit for the flight. We were served 2 meals during the flight, with some small snacks (crackers) available near the galley areas, with drinks there as well.

I am going to break this review up a bit so it isn't so big in the thread......next arrival in Beijiing and the beginning of our tour!

San Diego
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1. Re: Trip report - Review of ChinaTour.com tour.

Once arriving in Beijiing and going through Immigration and Customs - we were greated by our tour guide Lily. She was fabulous! We were so happy that she was our guide. She called herself "mother" and we were her "children" - she did take good care of us and gave us a lot of useful information. Even though we had been here before, felt I learned at lot more. We felt that Lily was always looking out for us and helping us out. Really made us feel comfortable and helped really enjoy our tour.

Since we arrived so early, our hotel was not ready for check-in. Lily took us to the zoo to see the panda bears. I do have to say it was colder than last year and windy. Plus the air quality on the 1st day was the worst we had seen in China. It was truly bad, felt I stepped off the plane and into a smoky bar. Luckily, as Lily predicted, the wind blew the smog away and the next day we were greated with blue skies and sunshine.

We spent probably an hour at the zoo and then went to the hotel were we checked in. We were staying at the Trader's Upper East Hotel. This is really East of the City Center and not that convenient. The hotel itself (I have done a separate hotel review which has been posted), was very nice overall.

There were 14 people in our tour total. This was much smaller than our tour last year. Luckily it was a greally great mix of people, we all got along and felt we had a lot of individual attention from our guides.

There is walking and shopping (grocery store, etc) within walking distance to the hotel. We walked around the area after check-in and explored. Several people in our group visited the Temple of Heaven. This was a "free day" on the itinerary. I had wanted to see that, but had other obligations due to the Michigan State v. Ohio State Big10 championship game, which we were able to watch at Frank's - billed as the oldest sports bar in Beijiing, walking distance from our hotel. Now I really didn't feel that this is a true sports bar, but since we were there early in the day, perhaps it does turn into it later in the day. they were nice and accommodated us by putting the game on - so DH was a happy camper!

Jet lag got the better of me later in the day and so a nap was called for.

The next day our tour began. We visited Tiannamen Square and the Forbiden Palace in the morning and the Summer Palace in the afternoon. Since we hadn't seen the Summer Palace before, we enjoyed doing this. Per our guide Lily, we walked more than 5 miles this day. I certainly felt it! Was glad to get back to the hotel and relax!

Lunch was served and was very good - much better than the food we had through our tour last year. also included was a Peking Duck dinner - which was fun and delicious.

The following day was the trip to the Great Wall. This was a different section than last year - so that really worked out well. I did think it was a bit steeper and more of a challenge to climb. but still pretty darn cool.

We also did some shopping in a famous area and visited the night market - where you can see (and try) all sorts of different foods - including scorpians on a stick, etc. Interesting!

We also elected to do the optional lunch with a family in a traditional Hutong and a rickshaw ride through the Hutong. Everyone in our group did this and I believe the cost was $39pp. It was really worth it IMO. Very intersting, great food and a lot of fun. We got a tour of the traditional house, met the woman who lived there and who cooked our lunch. It really was a neat experience.

Now I do have to mention the "shopping stops" - I try to keep an open mind about these since I know this is one reason the tour prices are so low. I do think of them as "nice" bathroom stops. Usually they are not high pressure from what we experienced before and sometimes can be educational. However, everyone should be made aware the prices at these alleged "government" stops are HIGH. You can get same quality IMO at better prices elsewhere.

We went to the Pearl Factory (not impressed with this one). The Jade Factory - nicer than the Pearl Factory. Then there was an unscheduled stop. This is the one area where I feel Lily mislead us a bit. She took us to a Traditional Chinese Medicine facility, which was basically a high pressure tacit to get you to buy expensive herbal supplements. We were told we needed these supplements which cost in excess of $100 per month. I have actually emailed ChinaTour.com and complained about this, but no response yet, which I find very disappointing.

San Diego
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2. Re: Trip report - Review of ChinaTour.com tour.

The next morning we flew to Shanghai via Air China - quick flight. I will post that part of our tour/trip review on the Shanghai forum, as this is the Beijing forum.

In sum, while there were a few hiccups during our trip, I felt that we had a great time and got overall a great value. We loved the opportunity to return to Beijing and see some things that we didn't get to see/experience the first time around. In comparing this tour versus the other one, they were pretty similiar, both had great guides in Beijing. Both were similiar priced. Main differences were that one included more tours and meals (ChinaTour) and we found the meals that were include, for the most part, were better with ChinaTour.com. I do feel that we had more "shopping" stops with ChinaTour.com - so that is something to be aware of - read your itinerary carefully. I also found that Affordable Asia had a better website.

Sherbrooke, Canada
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3. Re: Trip report - Review of ChinaTour.com tour.

Thanks for reporting back. Too bad you wasted time at these "shopping stops". I am wondering why, since it was your second time in China, you would take a tour again and see some of the same places that you had seen last year?

San Diego
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4. Re: Trip report - Review of ChinaTour.com tour.

Jean-Pierre - my answer is "why not"? ;-)

We loved visiting China the first time around and when another excellent deal came up we thought "why not"? We wanted to return and this seemed like a great opportuntiy. As I explained the itinerary was different, as we visited 2 cities that we didn't see before as well as there were different sites that we didn't visit (Summer Palace and another section of the Great Wall). Plus we had the opportunity to do the Hutong meal and the Peking Duck dinner. So really it was a different trip for us. The only things that we did that were the same was the Forbidden Palace and Tiannamen Square. And even in those places, we learned different/new information from our guide.

Really when you are on a tour such as this, they generally pack a lot of stuff into a day. When you go back and see something again, you can really appreciate it. Kind of like going to the same museum more than once. You see and/or experience something different each time.

Re the shopping stops - they can get a bit annoying. It seemed we did have 2 more than previous year. But they aren't usually high pressure (other than the herbal medicine place I mentioned) and as I stated, we tend to think of them as a nice clean bathroom stop with "Western" style facilities. And to be fair, many people in our group bought things and enjoyed the shopping.

5. Re: Trip report - Review of ChinaTour.com tour.

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