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Trip Report China Odyssey Tours: Just returned from two AMAZING weeks!

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The Cast: Myself (46 YR F business person) very well traveled
Partner (52 YR M professional photographer) moderately well traveled
Supplier: China Odyssey Tours- Custom private tour 13 days/Asiana Air
Destination- LAX to Beijing-Xi'an-Chengdu-Guilin-Yangshou-Shanghai

Disclaimer:
Ok now I know there are some people who just get wiggy at the idea of using a tour company for travel in China but I had a near death experience in Thailand several years ago (in short it included 6 weeks in two hospitals, talk of amputation, 3 surgeries and 11 months of antibiotics via an IV) so now, I feel safer using a tour company for certain destinations.

Summery:
COT did a most excellent job both in the pre-planning stage and in the execution of our adventure. I had MANY MANY itinerary changes and our contact Andy Xie handled it all with aplomb. Always responding within 24 hours with flexibility, clarity and really NICE manners. The guides were overall excellent, some better then others but all spoke English clearly and were able to provide a great deal of background information which is important as there is NOTHING more frustrating then asking a question and having a guide blow you off, or clearly have no clue The guides were all very good a B+ to A Also they were careful to make us feel the shopping stops were optional I ended up choosing not to go to several and they were fine about that. Some were actually interesting I liked the jade cutting and the silk factory but as I am not much of a shopper those were the only two we did.

Hotels:
We decided on a mix of Western/Chinese for our stay:
Beijing: Double Happiness: a fantastic Chinese hotel located in one of the more traditional neighborhoods in old Beijing if you want to feel like you are REALLY not in Kansas this is a great place to start. The hotel is 200 YR built on a traditional quadrangle design. This sucker positively oozes atmosphere. Good b-fest of mostly Chinese food, rice dumplings etc if you are seeking a robust western b-fest this won't get you there, but the food was tasty and the coffee was hot
Xi'an: Sofitel Renmen Square: apparently the nicest hotel in Xi'an: huge b-fest good gym well located. A tad (small tad) bit tired in decore if you are used to 5stars in the US but passable.
Chengdu: Hotel Buddha Zen: LOVED this place, we had an exterior room that overlooked a bustling street of food and the smell of dumplings and cooking was positively intoxicating! Decor was LOVELY. They even have a traditional Chinese harp player in the courtyard of the hotel. B-fest was "eh" but I did have a 28 dollar/hour Chinese massage in their spa which was a great value.
Guilin: Sheraton: we really just breezed in and out getting in LATE and leaving early, huge b-fest and passable gym with pool. Nice riverfront location.
Yangshou: Tried to get into the Mountain retreat but found out at last minute they were overbooked. Ended up and Dongling River Retreat which had an AMAZING view from our room but nothing else.
Shanghai: Le Meridien: What can you say, a wonderful hotel. LOVED our Bund view room on the 39th floor, helpful staff. A shower so dang cool I had my partner take a picture of it.
Fabulous location.
General note: China has some mighty fine water pressure that is my pet peeve when I travel, limp, chilly showers YUK! Not a problem at any of the hotels we stayed in.
General note #2: China has some NASTY air quality, possibly the worst I have seen AND I live in Los Angeles and have been to Cairo in the summer.

Transpo in China: Combo of Air China and China Eastern both very good, on time. They do less of a security check in China, no shoes off, no liquids in see through bags. We pack extremely lightly 25 pounds per person so we didn't check anything.

Communications in China: We ordered cell/blackberry from Pandaphone since we run an Internet business that freakishly does not shut down when we go out of town (dang) this turned out to be a good thing as the wireless Internet from Chengdu to Yangshou was spotty at best. We also wasted money on Freedur (for skirting the Great Firewall of China) which didn't work at all and still blocked social networking and Youtube.

Food: We are not "foodies" particularly, though I do admire travelers who hit the world with their Michelin guides and their hunt for the perfect repast.. that ain't us :( the food was all very good, we only went to 1 "tourist bus" type place and that was outside of Shanghai that was downright horrible. Every other place was pretty darned good and we are picky eaters. One thing you notice really fast, Chinese people are not afraid of bones (like my travel partner) at one place we had what appeared to be fried chicken bones (we dubbed them Chicken McNuckles). In Guilin I fell in love with these sugared potatoes and went a little nuts on them. If you are a vegan, I wish you luck in China. We tried to be meat free but gave up after 1 day, food in China is just meaty and spicy (luckily we liked spice) in India we had a problem with restaurants seeming to "de-spice" their food for our assumed western taste.. NO SUCH issue in China my lips are still on fire from a particularly delicious pepper beef thing.
By Shanghai I am afraid to say we hit a Pizza Hut; two weeks of Chinese food was getting too much for my mouth so yep we sold out. But DANG it was good.

Favorite sites:
By far my favorite thing was to see the Pandas in Chengdu, I sprang for the extra money and had my picture taken holding a baby panda.. un-be-lieveable! I cried with joy for 30 minutes. These critters are entertaining, the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Center is very lush and the pandas all seem like they are in a very nice, robust and enriched environment. They are really active and I could have stayed there for the entire three weeks.
Great Wall: we went to the Mutinyanu (spelling) and hiked up it was not very crowded at this time of year and the weather was very good not too hot it was very thrilling to be on the actual Wall.
River Li Cruise: SO scenic it hurts, in a country that seems a little starved for green space (maybe it was just our itinerary that was starved) this cruise amazed me. Like a freakin' antique painting. We went from Guilin to Yangshou Ultimately I was glad I opted for this rather then the Yangzee cruise because we met a couple from England who told us their cruise ship on the Yangzee was stuck for 25 hours in one place due to fog (yeah they seemed bitter). Generally I loved the Guilin/Yangshou portion of the trip. We shelled out extra for the light show in Yangshou and I loved it.
Partner LOVED the Warriors of Xi'an.. I was kind of "whatever" but maybe I didn't have my China groove turned on yet.
Additional odd notes: not only do they not have a whole lotta toilet paper, but they don't use a lot of napkins in restaurants sometimes they just have like, facial tissue. Get used to it and ladies it helps to nurture your knees as you will be squatting a lot/ western toilets are few and far between. ALSO in Beijing people don't really wait in line for the restroom.. I had to channel my old punk rock ethic to slam into a stall. No one seemed offended and if I had not done that I would still have been waiting to get to the bathroom.
Touching: Curious Chinese people have no problem touching something on you that it interesting. Its weird the first time a lady reached up and grabbed my glass necklace, just to look. I met a New Zealand lady who had her hair and breasts touched by other women, I didn't have that problem but I am one flat chested chick.
Summary: China is amazing, go see it before the country becomes one endless wave of 70 story high apartment buildings (which it kind of looks close to doing). People were great and the infrastructure is mighty fine.

  • Report Abuse

    Well not prevent per se, but whilst I was in Thailand, it would have been extremely helpful if there had been someone to communicate more robustly with the hospital staff (as in, I am extremely sensitive to anesthesia so when you perform the amputation please be extra careful). Or to help fascilitate communication with the US. ALSO, my accident in Thailand coincided with the military coup of 1996.. we were left to fend for ourselves and arrange ground/air transport and hospitals etc. I ended up feeling that if we had had access to a translator or a "point person/ company" that could suggest alternatives and ways to deal with an ever changing situation and governmental red tape we would have had a much easier time. Perhaps not, but believe me if you have lived through something that nearly cost you your life.. or at the very least your right leg below the knee, you become somewhat more cautious.. well at least I did.

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    I, too, am glad that you enjoyed your trip. And I am glad that you survived what sounds like a terrifying and extremely stressful adverse health experience in Thailand well enough to travel again. Kudos!

    I offer a few comments just for perspective:

    > China has some mighty fine water pressure

    I stayed in some hotels that had wonderfully fine water pressure and a few others that left much to be desired.

    > food in China is just meaty and spicy

    In my 4-week trip to northern China, I did not encounter any particularly spicy foods and I had some truly wonderful vegetable dishes in addition to some delicious meat dishes. I suspect that the country is so large, and the cuisines so diverse, that no generalization would adequately describe the foods in China.

    > ALSO in Beijing people don't really wait in line for the restroom..

    That was not my experience. I'm not questioning Watsonsmom's report; I'm just saying it isn't necessarily true throughout Beijing.

    > Touching: Curious Chinese people have no problem touching something on you that it interesting.

    I was occasionally the recipient of stares that appeared to signal fascination, but that I would have considered inappropriately intrusive in the West, but I wasn't touched. Maybe I'm just not that interesting!

    > Summary: China is amazing, go see it before the country becomes one endless wave of 70 story high apartment buildings (which it kind of looks close to doing). People were great and the infrastructure is mighty fine.

    I agree!

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    Very interesting report as I have also just returned from a trip to China,in fact my third trip.

    But want to add some of my own experiences for the benefit of any new tourists going to China.

    In the US we eat all sorts of meats and cuisines. But in China, the meat dishes are very, very strange. Sometimes even though the pictures in the menu look like it may be beef, pork or chicken, it is something totally strange and we were never brave to try some wild creature on our dinner plate.

    All sorts of bones are in the meat even fish is not like we are used to in the US as the fish comes with all the bones, scales, fins, head, eyes etc.

    I love seafood, but hate dissecting anything on my dinner plate and then try to eat with chop sticks.I always requested a fork and knife and happily always received them.

    So, we asked our hotel staff to write on paper for us such phrases such as "meat with no bones." And some words for various vegetables we love.

    And when we ate at a restuarant and liked some dish very much, we asked them to write it for us in chinese and we were able to show the paper at other restaurants and get a similar dish. This was very, very helpful in some places.

    We love vegetables and found them always easily available. We had many different preparations of eggplant and each one was wonderfully delicious.

    We had great cabbage, cauliflower, lotus root, spinach, other greens and zucchini and cucumbers cooked in a variety of sauces. Tons of different mushrooms were delicious in their various sauces.

    Cuisine in China is varied in different regions and thus even in restaurants one finds spices mild or very, very spicy often with dried whole peppers being 1/4 of the vegetable dish. We just left the peppers and ate the other vegetables.

    An additional note--we dont like rice and noodles too much with every meal. So, tried our best to not order any dish that included them.

    But we like bread. So we noticed that often menus show a picture of some sort of pancake. We ordered them at various restaurants and found them to be always different. They are not true pancakes as we know them in US, but similar to an Indian paratha or Mexican tortilla. Often they were filled with green onions and truly delicious. We paid only like 10 yuan for a plate and would get about 8-10 triangular pieces, cut up from a giant size pancake.Everyone should try these when you want a low cost meal as by ordering one order of pancake and one other meat/vegetable dish you have enough for 2 people..

    Sometimes you can see something similar being cooked by vendors along the streets But we did not eat any street food. We ate at only clean restaurants.

    Yes, toilet paper is a problem, so are clean toilets. So be prepared.

    Yes, China is amazing and I would love to encourage people to go and see it before it comes more westernized and as the OP said...."endless wave of 70 story high apartment buildings.

    It is indeed mind boggling to see so many high rises all over and more and more are coming up daily.

    All in all China is a great tourist spot. Prices are still very reasonable. Taxis and food are attractively priced and people for the most part are friendly. The biggest drawback is language as it is hard to find anyone speaking English on the street if you need some quick help. Thus a small dictionary is very helpful.

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    Watsonsmom, I'm so glad you had a good trip to China. And while I don't travel with groups, it sounds like it was the right trip for you.

    After reading about your horrible and frightening medical crisis when you were in Thailand, I wanted to say that the most important thing you or I or anyone can do to avoid such a situation in the future is to carry good medical evacuation insurance. The Med Evac insurance will arrange for your transfer to an appropriate medical facility, taking care of transport (even if they had to helicopter you to a nearby country then fly you on to an appropriate facility). Some policies promise to fly you home, others to the nearest facility that can treat you. For instance, if you couldn't get to an appropriate hospital in Thailand, they would fly you to Singapore or Hong Kong.

    Personally, I don't buy travel insurance, but I carry a year-around med evac policy.

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    Hi There Guys,

    Wow Marija you found the original post :) yep that was it. I always do have medivac insurance. In fact I had it for Thailand, but it always seemed that I could get to a hospital in time and Insurance did pay for my stay at the hospital (after the deductable).

    The injury wasn't immediately life threatening, it was the prolonged infection that was the problem. I was never in a position to be "air lifted" anywhere.

    ALSO to clarify a few things:

    This wasn't a group tour, it was a private guided tour. I am leery of groups :)
    Lastly, my "general rule's" of China should carry the disclaimer that "based upon my limited experience while on this particular tour".

    T

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    You said that you never had to check your bags within China. We will carry-on for our transpacific flight but thought I would have to check our bags for our flights within China. We will each have a carry-on suitcase that never have exceeded 25 lbs. and another small bag with electronics, medicines, readng materials in it. Can we carry on both of these bags within China, economy class? Thanks.

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    We flew on China East and Air China for our domestic flights. My partner had a back pack/camera case I had a rollon and a small daypack. Our larger pieces were about 25 lbs each and we were never asked to check our bags. They were both under the approved size for checking.

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    We returned home on Wednesday this week. I just wanted to write to thank all of the staff at China Odyssey Tours for their excellent tour service. We are already recommending to friends that they should visit their website and arrange for tours if they are going to China. theirr organization really provided what they promised. Not every company can say the same.
    With the exception of the Beijing-Shanghai flight, everything proceeded smoothly. We felt very well cared for by each tour guide, and we were impressed with the quality of the vehicles and hotels that were used.
    We might suggest a nicer 5-star hotel in Beijing, however, as the Crown Plaza was old and not as well appointed as our other hotels. The Harbour Grand in Hong Kong was wonderful. We might also suggest that guides be prepared to give different types of information to groups with children, as it was uncomfortable in Beijing to hear talk of concubines. This is not particularly good information for children. Simply a suggestion.
    We especially loved our time in Guilin, partly because Tony was a most outstanding guide and partly because of our excellent itinerary and experiences. But there are things we loved about each city we visited, and we felt that each guide was well-prepared.
    In any event, I just wanted to thank them for making our tour of China safe, memorable, and efficient.

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    My husband and I just returned from a 16 day tour of China that I took my 80 and 85 year old Mother and Father. First of all, I began dealing with Sophie Liu with China Odyssey over a year ago. I researched and received proposals from all the top tour companies but was most impressed with both Sophie's professionalism, responsiveness, knowledge and competitive pricing. I would consider myself a "difficult" client in that I am very detail oriented and want everything planned precisely. Sophie was there for me all the way. For one solid year, I tweaked and refined the itinerary.

    Our first stop was Hong Kong where we met our guide Helen who we soon called our Angel. On our first day out, my Dad fell and severely lacerated his arm. Helen got us to the top hospital in HK and was there with us through the whole ordeal even bringing us sandwiches from the employee cafeteria. At first, we thought that we were going to have to modify our itinerary so Helen and Sophie got all the flights and hotels arranged and then when we learned we would not have to change our plans, got all of the modifications reversed. Helen was so set on us getting the full tour, she modified our itinerary and made sure we saw the most important sites in HK. She was truly an angel.

    From there we went to Guillen where we were met by our guide Angel. She was a delight. Very upbeat personality with a great sense of humor and a love for her City. She always made sure my parents were comfortable and took us to some of the best restaurants in the City.

    Shanghai was next and our guide was Chris. Chris is bright and extremely intelligent with a great knowledge of her City. Once she learned that my husband was addicted to Starbuck's iced tea, she made sure we always made an afternoon stop at one. She also overheard my Mom say that she liked a particular food and from then on the menu always included fried noodles.

    In Xi'an, our guide was Stella. Because Xi'an has a large Muslim population, it was interesting to have a Chinese Muslim guide. She really gave us insight in to the various religious cultures of the Country. And her knowledge of the City and Terracotta Warriors was immense.

    Finally in Beijing, our guide was Emma. I had some of the most interesting conversations with her from Fung Shue to Chinese medicine, the political history of the Country, religion. My Dad commented when we got back that she and I never stopped talking and he's probably right.

    While I was in Xi'an, I left my toiletry bag which had all of my expensive cosmetics in it. I emailed Sophie to see if she could check with the hotel to see if they had found it and if so, could I get it mailed to me in the States. She did better than that. She had their tour guide in Xi'an pick it up and sent it with someone who was on tour there and was coming to Beijing. She then had the Beijing guide deliver it to my hotel. Unbelievable service!!!

    I have nothing but the best to say about this Company. They do everything top quality. When a meal is included it is always at a top notch restaurant and is served in abundance. Their vans our new, comfortable and clean. Their drivers are amazing considering the traffic in China. I've already mentioned how great their guides are and of course Sophie is the best. I only wish that I would have had an opportunity to meet her.

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