Fine Travel's Founder Paul Collins joined one of our specialist travel partners (a designer of bespoke itineraries in China) for a first hand experience of what can be prepared for clients looking to explore China, and follows his first article on Planning a Bespoke Itinerary to China.
The well-used phrase… travel broadens the mind is so true when I apply it to my recent trip to China. I was curious about the travel appeal of this vast high-profile country. Also, how to overcome the communication and logistical challenges of travelling in an environment where your fellow tourists are predominately domestic Chinese speaking.
I travelled to China in Business Class with Hainan Airline and experienced why they have recently gained their 5 Star Skytrax rating. Lie-Flat seating and their service was superb. Attentive when required but not intrusive. The meal options were very palatable for both Western and Asian preferences and the wine selection was a mix of French and Australian. There were two types of cabin crew who wore different uniforms. One dedicated to passenger servicing the other, galley management and cleaning. It is a nice touch to have the toilet cleaned after each use.
Beijing, as the capital, is the home of many corporate head offices plus government so there is a multitude of modern high-rise office blocks with futuristic designs. A prime example being the Bird’s Nest, which was the official stadium for the 2008 summer Olympics. While it is a busy bustling city it is clean, well-served with public transport and taxis. There are no street markets so to shop for bargains you visit dedicated multi storied shopping markets and be prepared to haggle.
We stayed at The Great Wall Sheraton Hotel located in the 3rd Ring Road which is important when it comes to being within easy access to attractions, dining and shopping options. I would rate the hotel as 4.5 star and it was fit for purpose. Clean, attentive service with an extensive buffet breakfast that was included.
Our Beijing highlight was visiting The Great Wall of China. It was an hour 30 minutes by coach. We took a ski lift up to the wall, walked, climbed, photographed and then came down via a luge which was a load of fun. It is a pinch yourself experience. What an engineering feat and the Mutianyu Great Wall section is well preserved, plus all the ancillary tourist facilities are modern and well-staffed.
Following our Wall visit, we had lunch hosted by a family in a nearby village. We had hearty appetites after our busy morning. Our hosts presented a multitude of flavoursome dishes on their covered porch with a view of the village and surrounding hills. Our hosts were genuinely welcoming and made us feel like honoured guests.
During our 3 nights in Beijing we also had a guided tour of the vast 440,000 square meters that is Tiananmen Square. We viewed The Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, The Great Hall of People plus numerous other monuments. Across the square is The Forbidden City, a UNESCO world heritage site, that is also well worth a visit. A lot of walking but well worth seeing this historical Imperial Palace that was constructed in 1406 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Today President Xi Jinping greets heads of state in an honoured section of the Palace.
We also enjoyed a Peking Roast Duck Dinner, learnt the medicinal benefits that can be derived from drinking a wide variety of Chinese herbal teas plus wandered around the old Beijing area of Hutong.
The ultra-modern 300kph High Speed Train to Xian gave us the opportunity to a see a county side that has intensive horticulture, modern cities with multiple clusters of towering apartment blocks joined by a modern motorway system that traverses this vast country.
X’Ian is the city that has in recent times gained world attention due to discovery of the Terracotta Warriors in 1974. It has a rich history as the imperial capital during 13 dynastic periods. With a City Wall spanning 14kms, Bell Tower roundabout, Muslim Quarter with its narrow alleys full of dining and shopping options, it has a charm and was well worth exploring, especially during the balmy late spring evenings. With the buildings, monuments, towers and wall all being lit up at night, it had a real buzz of a fun city.
To view the Terracotta Warriors in battle formation is a visit to a working archaeological site whose origin dates back to 200BC. A real education of both ancient history plus the patience and skill of archaeologists. During our 2 night stay we also enjoyed The Tang Dynasty Music and Show plus a cycle ride on the City Wall.
Although our China visit was short, we were able to see and experience a lot due to the pre-planning of our itinerary. Having an English-speaking guide throughout was integral to being able to overcome the communication challenges and thus appreciate the rich history, culture and diverse landscape of China.
There are a number of benefits to organising a bespoke itinerary which you can read about in our article on the 6 Ways a Bespoke Itinerary Makes Travel More Enjoyable. One of the benefits of using our China specialists is that they are New Zealand based with well established relationships in China. This gives us, as the travel agent, direct access to the supplier in New Zealand rather than having to deal with an unknown supplier overseas.
If you are looking to broaden your travel horizons, then Fine Travel I can recommend a tailor-made China itinerary to you.