Please accept my apologies for the delay in writing to you to both thank and praise you for organizing such a superb trip for us in China.
We are still travelling and have not arrived home yet. But we have been busy with work in Europe – hence the delay in writing.
Our China trip was so good that it's hard to know where to start. But, then the obvious start is with you. Sandy, you did an incredible job working out all the details of the tour and spending so much time going back and forth with me about the itinerary, the hotels, the travel arrangements, etc. I was extremely impressed by your organization's ability to respond and cater to our very specific interests while in China. Hence, we ended up with a spectacular customized tour. (Actually, our tour was so good, you might think about incorporating parts of it for other visitors.) In any event, you get top marks Sandy for doing such an excellent organizing job.
Secondly, I want to say how fantastic the guides were. We developed a very soft spot for all of them (except one). They all (except one) spoke excellent English. I know that Zhou who spent the longest time with us, spoke the absolute best English, and was always happy to share his knowledge about China with us. He really is a “top-notch” guide. (I know that Zhou was concerned that we did not have time to fill out the forms and we did promise to write a review of him and send it to you directly). Anyway, we really were extremely impressed with Zhou. He made the trip so special for us.
Most of our other guides (Li, Aiyma, Emily and Gina) were also excellent and we very much appreciated their minority status and their willingness to discuss their minority customs with us. This was an excellent insight into the Chinese minority cultures. The only weak link was Amy in Lijiang (weaker English, a bit tired and lethargic) although she explained that she wasn't feeling well and this could have been the problem. In any event, we only had her for one day.
We found all the travel arrangements very well organized and the guides were extremely helpful in getting us to our travel on time. We got a lot of assistance – something we are not used to as we are usually independent travellers! It was a welcome change.
We also appreciated having a few days “off” from a guided program so that we could explore different places on our own. This made our trip feel much less programmed than if we'd been “on program” every day.
We particularly enjoyed hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge and would recommend this to future travellers. We are both in our sixties and although slower than some of the youth hiking the route, we are not extremely fit (just average fitness), I have vertigo in most height situations, but we both managed the hike very comfortably, thoroughly enjoyed it and I didn't have a problem with vertigo at all. We also had excellent weather. Consequently, the path was intact and not washed away as it is in some instances, I understand. In fact, we took less time hiking the gorge than we anticipated so we ended up having a very relaxing day at Sean's Guesthouse which I can really recommend (treat yourselves to the best room with a fabulous bed (softer but supportive than normal Chinese beds) with slate bathtub , marble tiles and spectacular views – well worth the extra cost). The food was good there also.
All the hotels on the tour were good, but some were better than others. The very best hotel was, surprisingly, the Holiday Inn in Beijing. It turns out that this is the #1 popular hotel on Trip Advisor and I can certainly understand why. The hotels in Dali, Lijiang and Shangri-La were particularly good – more 4* than 3* I thought. However, the hotel in Yuangyang (Yunti) was pretty grim: dirty floor coverings, cracked bathroom appliances and uncomfortable beds. I understand that there is not much choice in Yuangyang so perhaps your company can put some pressure on somewhere to build better hotel facilities in the area – it will, I understand, soon become a World Heritage Site. The hotel in Xi'an (Xi'an City Hotel) was very unexceptional although well located; the hotel in Kunming was well located and had comfortable facilities. Breakfasts everywhere were very good, especially if you enjoy Chinese breakfasts. If not, you might find the breakfasts lacking. But we now prefer to eat the good Chinese breakfasts rather than the attempts at imitating western dishes. Of course, in Beijing (Holiday Inn), Dali (the Landscape Hotel) and Shangri-La (Songstram Hotel), the buffet breakfasts were excellent for both Chinese and western tastes. In Lijiang the hotel's restaurant was under renovation, so we ate at the Lamu Cafe across the street which was very nice.
I should also mention that the food organized on your tour was superb throughout the tour – and we were able to sample such a wide variety of typical Yunnan dishes. Excellent!
The negative feature of the tour was the numbers of Chinese tour groups everywhere we went. This was particularly true in Lijiang which was just packed with tourists. Of course, I'm not suggesting that Chinese tourists have less right than me to be there – quite the opposite – but just making you aware that some places were just too crowded for western tastes. Perhaps it's time to explore more “off-the-beaten” track routes in this vast country.
Overall though Sandy, this was an excellent tour and I will send a letter of recommendation to both Trip Advisor and The Lonely Planet.
Once again, my apoligies for being so late in writing, thanks for all your efforts, and I hope you are well.
Tour Details: /tour/easy-going-tours/voc-090411-s-a.html