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    by mkataoka Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 28, 16 at 01:31 PM
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Trip Report 16-Days with China Spree. They Deliver !!

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We just returned from a 16 day tour with China Spree that was absolutely incredible and we wanted to tell anyone who is not comfortable with independent travel in China that this company truly delivers everything it promises and more.

We visited Beijing and the Forbidden City. Climbed the Great Wall - exhilarating !! Xi'an, and the famous Terra Cotta Warriors & the Wild Goose Pagoda. We visited the Panda reserve in Chengdu. In Hong Kong we went to the top of Victoria Peak and had ice cream at the Stanley Market. An early morning walk through the Bird Market was wonderful. In Guilin we had a 4-hour cruise on the beautiful Li River, about 2 hours too long, but you can't get off in the middle. We walked through the Reed Flute Cave, really something to see. In Suzhou we visited the stunning Garden of the Master of the Nets. Tongli is charming with canals and stone bridges and Shanghai is fabulous and has the wonderful Shanghai museum. Just the perfect size with a teriffic gift shop. We walked through food markets and flower markets and honestly, every conceivable thing is for sale in China !!
There was much, much more, but I'm still drowsey from the trip home and it's all I can recall without seeing the pictures we took.

Everytime I called or emailed China Spree before leaving I was promptly helped by a fully informed and polite person. The guide who traveled with us, Lynn Dong, greeted us each morning with a big smile on a pretty face and that set the mood for the day. This is only the 3rd time I've been on an escorted tour and others who traveled with us and had taken tours before thought she was the absolute best and we totally agree. She is knowledgeable, organized, friendly, intelligent and funny. Additionally, the city guides we had in Beijing, Xi'an, Guilin, Suzhou and Tongli were excellent as well. All of these men and woman obviously enjoyed their jobs and of course, all spoke English very well. We learned something from each of them every day.

About tipping -- believe it or not, it was a pleasure to tip for the excellent service we received from all of the guides. Someone on this forum said the Chinese call it the stupid American tax but there are worse impressions that Americans can leave. We were told that it was not necessary to tip in restaurants and in cabs but my husband and I always leave something for the person who cleans our hotel room and bathroom regardless of what country we're in.

There were 4 shopping stops. Except for the lesson on silk production, all were boring but did not last too long and there was always the trade-off of a clean western-style bathroom to use. There was no obligation to buy, but some people did, including myself (a blouse and some scarves) at the silk "factory."

Re the bathrooms-- they were not as bad as I'd been led to believe. Maybe with the Olympics in Hong Kong in 2008 and the World Expo in Shanghai this year, China is westernizing a lot of bathrooms in the major tourist areas. That said, it's still a good idea to learn how to squat and to always have TP, purell and disinfectant wipes handy, especially if you're strolling the Bund in Shanghai and find a need for a public toilet. (Do these things ever happen when we're at home???)

The food was very good. Our hotels provided breakfast buffets that included everything from steamed buns and stir fried veggis to scrambled eggs and bacon. There was always fruit and coffee, bread and pastries. The restaurants we ate in for lunch and dinner were very good with a variety of food served family style on a lazy susan. There were many dishes to choose from and everyone in our group was satisfied. Bottled water, beer or soda was included with each meal. Also, bottled water was provided by China Spree each day and also complemantary bottles were in our hotel rooms. On our on-our-own days we did not eat chinese food, however. We had Indian food in Hong Kong and Beijing and Italian in Shanghai. We didn't eat any street food, although there was much that looked inviting, we just didn't want to take a chance.

Our group was only 18 people and was very cordial. We were on and off our bus quickly and no one kept anyone waiting. It was easy to get around without having to make our own plans for transportation and hotels. And someone else schlepping my suitcase to and from the hotels is a plus. There was no worry and no anxiety about getting to the airport or finding our way from one place to the next. The Chinese people were very open and as interested in me as I was in them. Younger people wanted to practice their English and an older couple from Mongolia asked if we would take a picture with them. Some of the people in our group used public transportation in free time and reported back that it was very simple to get around.

My husband and I take walks wherever we are and enjoyed seeing all the misconceptions we had of China. It is infinitly more modern than we expected, and yet still rural in many places. There were fewer bicycles and more cars and a small city has "only" 6 million inhabitants. We had seen the movie Mao's Last Dancer a few weeks before we left and expected hilly farming villages and people in quilted jackets -- well maybe a few decads ago, but there is so much to see and learn. I would love to go back and I would still go with a tour and China Spree.

I wasn't able to prepare as well as I would have like to for this trip, but I did get a lot of great help and information from reading Fodor's. Thanks to everyone who writes and If anyone has a specific question, I''ll do my best to answer.

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