China Customer Reviews
We are very proud of the feedback that we get from our holidays and are pleased to share reviews from past travellers. These are kept as up to date as possible. Many are very detailed and give a genuine sense of what a family trip to China might be like… both the highlights and the challenges. We have also included reviews of trips to Central Asia, where countries aren’t yet written up for our website.
Travelled May 2018
Hi Liddy – Quick run down with some feedback…First of all I want to say that the trip was fantastic — brilliantly organised with the guides looking after us really well. They were all waiting for us at the train stations or airports and made sure we were checked into our hotel and that we knew where to go and what to do when we waved goodbye to them for the next leg of our trip. It all went very smoothly, with the drivers waiting for ready for us each day we get like film stars, so thank you for doing such a good job. The itinerary was great too. Really varied with loads of interesting things to see and do. China is so vast there is so much to see! And it is a fascinating country.
Artyzen Hotel in Beijing was lovely and the staff were wonderful. They couldn’t have been more helpful. I would thoroughly recommend it. Really clean and modern and in a lovely setting. The Forbidden City was good. Shame our guide didn’t take us to the top of the hill opposite so we could see the scale of the palace. Only found out about it afterwards from people in the BBC bureau there. Great Wall was good.
We went to Jinshangling, which we asked to go to, rather than the one closer to Beijing, as you had said it was quieter and our guide checked to see if it had re-opened. It had! They’ve built a hotel and lots of shops there which aren’t open yet but it will be amazing when it is all up and running – except of course it will also be a lot more busy too. We went along the wall for about an hour. It is quite steep and quite tricky for little legs but really enjoyable and breathtaking! Our Guide in Beijing, Co co, was ok.
We went for a look round a hutong near the lakes on our own one evening and couldn’t get back to the hotel. Taxis didn’t want to take us, too far, none would stop for us and we didn’t have the Uber like ap that the Chinese all use to book cabs. Took us an hour to find a driver that would take us and we walked about 3 miles in the process. The next night we went to a restaurant closer to the hotel and asked the front desk if they could call a cab for us. They couldn’t! Might be worth putting something in the notes about taxis in Beijing. It was tricky.
Luoyang – New Friendship Hotel was the least good one we stayed in but I am applying Western Standards and the staff were very friendly and helpful. Breakfast was a bit of a challenge – lots of choice but all Chinese. Slightly tricky to order something Western. Used Google translate which worked.
Our guide Jack was lovely – although understanding him was a bit tricky. His English was patchy but he was so lovely he made up for it. We hadn’t quite realised that we were getting straight off the train when we arrived and going to the Buddhas! We expected to go back to the hotel first to freshen up and maybe grab some food. It was fine, but had we known, we would have had something to eat on the train.
The Buddhas were interesting and so was the temple. I don’t know how much you can feed back to the people in China who supply the guides, but they may need to re-think a bit about what they talk about. There’s a bit too much about all of the various Buddhas – and the buildings are all a bit the same. Nice and very different but they are all essentially the same. Interesting though to see people there lighting the incense sticks and praying and to see the monks. The kung fu show was good but the commentary was all in Chinese and Jack didn’t come in with us so no idea what it was all about!
Xian – we really liked Xi’an. Very nice city with a lovely feel. The Citadines Hotel was ok although it is looking a bit run down and could do with a refurb. The breakfast was pretty grim with lots of people fighting for the same food. Also the breakfast room was quite smelly. Our guide Summer was lovely and spoke very good English. Terracotta Army was one of the highlights of the trip. The Hangyang tomb was also really interesting, and thankfully, a lot quieter. Really worth a visit so thanks for including. The Muslim market was also amazing as was a look at the Drum and Bell towers at night that are beautifully illuminated.
Chengdu – we loved the Buddha Zen Hotel, food and breakfasts were good and our guide Della was brilliant. She also spoke very good English and was lovely. She went out of her way to help us. Took us for lunch and for a hotpot in the evening which was really good fun. It was also lovely to be able to sit and chat and watch the world go by in the tea houses rather than charging around. Sitting and having a coffee/tea seems to be considered lazy by the Chinese but we certainly needed it after a busy few days.
We did the wide and narrow streets but skipped the other street, felt we had seen quite a lot of streets and markets etc. We went to the City museum, which was fab! Some people we met in the hotel had been the day before and said it was good. It was great – lots of holograms and really interesting things that had all been found around Chengdu. Well worth a visit and kids would love a lot of it. Quite different from British museums. Much more futuristic.
The pandas were fantastic. We arrived at around 10 and left at about 2 and could have stayed longer. They are endlessly fascinating to watch and really funny
Also worth noting that on the flight Chengdu to Lijiang you only get a dry roll with some red bean paste in it. Buying something at the airport would have been a good idea had we known.
Loved Lijiang. We weren’t expecting to have a guide the day after we arrived, but Rachel, who was excellent and spoke the best English of all our guides and was good fun, was expecting to show us round so we went along with it — and we were really glad she did. She took us to a beautiful park, up through little side streets to where there was a lovely view in a different part of the town from where we were staying. We would never have gone to those places without her. We would have just had a wander round the streets near our hotel. She also quickly got the message that we liked to stop and have a little sit down and watch the world go by, preferably with a cup of coffee, every now and then. She was excellent.
Loved the Bivou Hotel and loved the staff. Mae, the chef, was really special and a very very nice person. All brilliant. Lijiang is touristy but very pretty and the market was a highlight.
Yanghsuo – loved the setting of the Mountain Retreat. Food was quite good. Our guide, Bin wasn’t great and nor was the car/driver. Everywhere else on our trip, there was always a bottle of water in the car door waiting for us which was great – nothing in Yangshuo where we really needed it because it was so hot and humid! Bin didn’t know much about the local area and didn’t really tell us anything about it. The room the hotel gave us was pretty grim, it felt dark and dingy and very small, and we asked to change. Got a much better one – about twice the size and with a great view of the river. The trip along the river was ok but our seats on the boat weren’t together. Our guide didn’t come with us so we had no idea what the person on the boat was saying as all in Chinese.
Our guide kept asking us if we wanted to go left or right on our cycle ride but tricky for us to give a preference when we didn’t know what we were going to see, or not see, in either direction. He got a bit irked when we said we didn’t know.
There was a visit to an old house — but no lunch, although I think we were actually slightly relieved there was no food (apart from peanuts) looking at the house. Fascinating to see it but I don’t think I would want to eat there!
Lunch was the day before at a restaurant where we were the only people. All a bit odd and arrangements kept changing all the time. Bin was also the only guide who didn’t give us a feedback from to fill in at the end of the stay. He wasn’t bad – just not as good as the others! He was the only one that we didn’t give a generous tip to. One general point, they all take a lot about the Ming dynasty or the Qing dynasty or various other dynasties and so all the time we were constantly asking “which century was that?” which was a way of saying “ok how impressed should we be that the Chinese built this when we were still doing whatever we were doing in that century?” Not sure if they can tweak their script — still mention the dynasties but give a rough idea of which century something was built. I assume too that they are all told not to ask about us or ask about life in the UK! All very interesting culturally speaking.
All in all out trip was fabulous so thank you so much Liddy for organising everything for us. It certainly was a trip of a lifetime.
Wilson Family (with child aged 7)
Travelled Easter 2018
Hi Alex – I have been pondering over what feedback would be useful to you from our China trip… we had a fantastic time, and very little to improve on (unless you can persuade the Chinese to have slightly softer beds!). Jack who picked us up in Kunming was lovely, and the hotel better than I expected. The temple tranquil. Ching met us in Dali, and was really open to chatting about China, including politics. Very different to previous trips.
Being Bia, also gave us great cultural insights. I loved Dali. Probably my favourite venue. I could have had another day there. We loved the ski lift up the mountain to walk around and see the temple. We took the boat trip out to the island on the lake. It was very expensive, but as it was good weather, rather nice. We took a tuk tuk back to the hotel. Talking of the hotel, the western breakfast was dreadful! The Chinese breakfasts were great! The park opposite the hotel was great for watching locals play cards, draughts, Chinese music, children having boxing lessons…
The morning at the market was great. I had to buy tea and take lots of photos!
Shaxi and the old theatre was so relaxing. Great spot! Good food (unless you order chicken fingers). and lovely staff. Room small, but the place was so nice, who cares! We hired bikes, B squeezing into a child seat on the back, as there were no little bikes. She loved it. We walked into town and enjoyed watching all the ladies working in the fields. We found a temple that seemed to be a community centre, great people watching. Nice little town. It looked as if there was a temple and cave complex near, but we didn’t have time to visit.
Rachel picked us up to take us to Lijiang. She too was great, and really understood and interacted brilliantly with B. She was great when we swapped from the guest house to the hotel. We explored Shuhu town and Riverside park the first day, then the weather changed so we didn’t bother with dragon pool, as we couldn’t see the mountains… But this did mean that there was a huge amount of fresh snow when we went up in the cable car. We had snowballs, and then made a snowman in meadow on the way back! We went to the old town and explored. It was very touristy.
The guest house we had chosen had great potential. Venue good for Shuhu, lovely view of the mountains… The garden could have been lovely, and with a good clean, fewer dogs, less music and some customer service, it would be a good place again! The replacement hotel probably wouldn’t be what I would chose on an itinerary, however worked out well. There was a bath, which B approved of. And the Chinese breakfasts were better than the guest house. Many thanks for enabling this swap.
We had a great time is Beijing. It was lovely that you allowed our friends to come to the great wall with us. We had a great day. We chose to go up on the ski lift and down on the luge. That was such good fun!
We did Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, wandered around Hutongs (and tried the toilets… B can make this into a good story) lots of restaurants… Our guide here was the first that we didn’t gel with. She didn’t know B’s name by the time she was taking us back to the airport…
So from this summary, I hope you can tell that we had a fantastic time.
So now to saving for the next trip!
Partridge Family (with children aged 5, 11 & 15)
Travelled Easter 2018
Thanks so much for an amazing holiday. We have seen so much and it’s going to take weeks for it all to sink in! A few places really shone as being highlights although we all liked different sections. The kids all loved the pandas and we spent ages at the reserve there. Please pass on our thanks to our guide, Wen, who was endlessly patient. Actually we liked everything about Chengdu and really felt that Wen went above and beyond in showing us around. She took us to her favourite restaurant, which we would never have gone to on our own, and ordered all of these delicious dishes. I never thought I’d get the kids to eat tofu and whilst I can’t say they are converted, Wen was able to persuade them all to try a mouthful, which was an achievement!
Yangshuo was also amazing, such beautiful scenery and a real eye opener for the kids to see all the farmers in the paddy fields, the water buffalo and everything. M and the older two had a great time on the cycling excursion and D and I enjoyed our little walk. It was a shame we couldn’t all go cycling but it’s a good reason to go back, when D is a bit older.
Beijing was manic and the traffic was awful but we still enjoyed it. Thanks so much for the recommendation to go out to the Great Wall at Jinshanling – there were only a handful of other visitors and it is soooo beautiful. What views! We spent ages here. The Forbidden City is really impressive but to be honest, we found this a bit too much. It was really busy and we could hardly hear the guide and the kids got a bit bored with all of the endless palace buildings. Sounds terrible but I’m just being honest. We loved the Temple of Heaven though, and it was great being here at the weekend to see all of the people doing Tai Chi.
A big thank you to Holly as well. We didn’t really have any problems but it was lovely of her to call us every so often to check in and make sure we were fine.
Chapman Family (with children aged 16, 20 & 22)
Travelled Easter 2018 – Uzbekistan & Kyrgyzstan
We went on another great holiday organised by Stubborn Mule. The holiday included Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The sheer joy of landing in places which were dotted on the Silk Road was somehow romantic (Tashkent, Khiva and Samarkand). Uzbekistan was a mix of Soviet organisation with the old cradle of the Islamic world. In Uzbekistan a complete mix of ethnic looks from such a rich background of its trading past and so friendly. There was great interest in our visiting family and lots of interaction and laughter although our Russian and Uzbek was non existent.
The food was great and varied – not just dumpling and noodles. The old monuments and the history enchanting. The accommodation was good and the hotel in Bukhara magical. Travelling across Uzbekistan gave a picture of a thriving country much larger than we had expected – the dollar much needed for exchange (on the black market).
In Kyrgyzstan, we faced a poorer country and in the area we went more mountainous. Again very friendly and much less English spoken anywhere – Russian very useful. We trekked in the mountains which was hard work for the oldest member (me) as we climbed to 3,500m but well worth it. We had a great experience with mountain shepherds eating bread and sardines with black tea mixed with blackcurrant jam, high in the mountains in a smokey hut (9 of us crammed in) but a great feeling of common humanity. The views were great.
The walk ended up by a lake where we could swim and relax. The final stay was up in the Tien Shan mountains by SongKul Lake – isolated Mongul looking peoples and the most spectacular night skies , but cold! We stayed in a yurt under piles of blankets with small boys feeding the fire – what a memory.
This was a great holiday for those wanting some adventure and a chance to venture into Central Asia with its rich history and peoples. A big hit from the Chapmans.
Travelled September 2017
We really appreciate everything everyone did for us and hope the following details shows how we got on and will be useful for others!
Bullet train to Xian was 6 hours. On arrival we were fascinated by the Drum Tower, the Mosque and the Muslim Centre. The Terracotta Warriors site was mind-boggling. Thoroughly enjoyed the mid-day water fountain show in front of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. The Hanyang Tombs on the way to the airport were great: a good atmosphere and not busy. Couldn’t believe there are about another 13 similar sites not yet explored. The location of the Citadines Hotel is very central – within easy walk of the city centre.
Flight to Chengdu was on time. We did see baby pandas in the Research Centre – 3 & 5 months old – how cute! Also had a good view of 2/3 red pandas. What a beautiful setting. Took tea in the People’s Park and watched the world go by. Our volunteering morning was hot and hard work, but what a good experience: couldn’t believe we actually fed a panda. Baba! Our beef, and chicken and peanuts dishes which we cooked at the Sichuan Food Museum Cookery School were very tasty and we enjoyed our steamed sweet sticky rice panda heads for dessert! The trip to the Giant Buddha at Leshan was a very enjoyable day: good boat trip and an easy walk up to his head. The Buddha Zen Hotel was A1. Fantastic courtyard.
Qingxi’s old houses were quaint – what a lovely town. In Tangjiajhe Nature Reserve we saw takin, golden monkeys and munjac deer. The Grand T Hotel lived up to its name but was empty. As it was rather wet we only stayed 2 nights and, on the advice of our guide, drove to Jiamenguan Bridge Hotel for one night. Although did walk up the mountain and took the cable car to the glass skywalk the clouds unfortunately came down and we didn’t see much. What a shame.
The Dorsett Grand in Chengdu was a typical international hotel and could have been anywhere in the world: had a good meal in their Chinese restaurant.
Drive to Siguniang was interesting – fantastic scenery. Shuttle bus along the valley was great fun and the lakes with dead trees in them unusual. Mike did the exploration on horseback/walking but Susan did not. Altitude problems started to affect us – should have taken the tablets earlier. Mount Yue Hotel was fun.
The drive to Danba was hundreds of hairpin bends but what views! Ate yak skewers from a roadside stall. Visited an 800 year old blockhouse. The father of the present owner had hidden wall paintings during the cultural revolution. Herui Buke Yard Inn was out of this world. 4 poster beds, enormous very comfortable room. Beautiful courtyard and entrance.
Was very moved at the Huiyuan Monastery and thoroughly enjoyed the mountains along the drive. On our guide’s advice, we didn’t do the homestay but stayed in the Wansen Lingha Hotel in Dawu.
We retraced our steps to get to Tagong/Lhagang: a very windey road but the Stone Forest was unique. Although black, they came out white in the photographs. Loved Tagong which was a small friendly town and the wild flowers outstanding. The Tianzhu Hotel was small but friendly.
The stone carvings/paintings in the river on the way to Xinduqiao were unbelievable. Saw snow capped mountains. From our room at the Photography Paradise Hotel could see the bottom of the second highest mountain in China and from the viewing point saw the top! The hotel was extremely busy with, mostly Chinese, tourists: great atmosphere.
The drive to Labahe was beautiful – more snow capped mounts and rushing rivers – what a road! Walked across the wobbly chain bridge in the centre of (??). On the way to the Labahe National Park was macaque monkeys on the roadside. With a park guide, Mike went for a walk in the forest – saw birds and walked under a waterfall! Susan walked along the river opposite the hotel. A group of Brits in the hotel had seen red pandas. The Luming Hotel was very comfortable and fantastic position.
Drive from Labahe to Ya’an was along a very busy road – saw the new road on stilts being constructed. Saw lots of tea plantations and Kiwi fruit (have a ring of red flesh – very tasty). The Hongzhu Hotel was extremely posh – enormous room. Jason and Mr. Lee the driver took us to a fantastic chinese courtyard restaurant for our final evening with them.
Chrystal (English name), our guide in Beijing was extremely helpful and couldn’t do enough for us.
Our guide in Chengdu and the Tibetan Plateau (Jason) went out of his way to ensure we saw as much natural history/animals as possible. Mr Lee the driver was extremely competent. They were both good fun although Mr Lee didn’t speak any English!
Priday Family (with one child aged 10)
Travelled Summer 2016
HI Liddy – our China trip was fantastic. In every way it exceeded all our expectations. We had the most wonderful holiday and that is entirely down to the perfect itinerary you put together. Having no experience of travel to China I think you know us better than we know ourselves for what we were looking for in our holiday. Your advice regarding where to go was spot on for our family.
The service we got from your partners in China was exceptional. The guides in particular were outstanding. They were friendly, informative, flexible and accommodating. The most wonderful thing was how they interacted with M. They went out of their way to ensure we saw more than just the sights but ensured that he enjoyed all his experiences. (Which, as parents when travelling is exactly what we are looking for. Happy children = happy parents). They were personal shoppers, language and calligraphy teachers, personal restaurant advisers, photographers, a masseuse and friends.
Our thoughts on hotels:
The Red Wall Garden Hotel in Beijing was beautiful. It was a perfect oasis and easy introduction to the city. You told us that the Citandines hotel in Xi’an would be a functional business apartment hotel. It was in a perfect location and a high standard. We had read some trip advisor reviews, which weren’t too complimentary however we found it great.
The Buddha Zen was lovely, however due to our packed itinerary we didn’t really spend enough time to appreciate it. We had to leave before breakfast to go to the Panda research centre and to leave to go to the airport.
The hotel in Baisha was interesting. You were spot on to recommend a stay in Baisha as it was a beautiful village and a real contrast to the hustle and bustle of the Chinese cities we had stayed in. We easily caught the bus into Lijiang. It was more basic than we had been expecting, (no privacy in the bathroom, a very basic breakfast, no restaurant). However our room and view from the rooftop was lovely.
We arrived expecting to be able to order some food at the hotel but it didn’t have a restaurant. A young girl from the hotel walked us up into he village to a restaurant and ordered for us as they had no English menus. It turned out to be one of our highlights. We returned a day later to reorder using pictures on our iPad! The village was so quiet it did tend to shut down in an evening after the day visitors had left. All the above said, would we change it…? No… but future clients may need a heads up on what to expect.
The Yangshuo Mountain retreat was stunning. Clearly your partners in China have a fantastic relationship with the hotels as we were given the best room in the hotel. I will never forget the moment I drew back the curtains on our first morning to see the river and the surrounding karst formations.
The Butterfly on Prat was perfect for our stay. It was in a great location with lots of great restaurants and bustling bars. The room was of a high standard and quite spacious for a city hotel.
We adored our panda volunteer experience I think we have all voted that as our top day and I would definitely recommend it. M was blown away to actually sit with and touch a baby panda. Thank you for letting our guide know it was a surprise. They kept it a secret from him until the last minute. He was slightly bewildered to be dressed up in blue overalls!
I can’t do the sights we saw justice with my description, other than to say we weren’t disappointed. Sometimes you look at holiday brochures and feel you’ll never get photos to rival what is presented to you. We did.
Thanks again Liddy. You organised a perfect holiday that was worth every penny. I thought you couldn’t have topped our trip to India last year, but dare I say it I think you did… Where next?
Family P (with one child age 11)
Travelled Summer 2016
We are having an amazing time so far in China. Everything has gone perfectly and we have seen some fantastic sights and amazing experiences. I wanted to email to ask if you could let your partners in China know how exceptional their guide Lisa has been with us in Chengdu. She has been tireless in ensuring we have the most wonderful experiences. She has been amazing with M teaching him calligraphy, getting him to try food and going out of her way to try to find him a football top. She took us to some fantastic restaurants, helped us order and showed us how to cook hot pot. She has had a constant smile and her enthusiasm is infectious. We are so impressed with her that I felt I could not wait until our return to let you know this feedback. We look forward to our onwards journey to Lijang tomorrow.
Family W (two adults, father and son)
Travelled Easter 2016
Just a note to thank you for organising our trip so well. It all went perfectly with each set of guide and driver being punctual and very helpful and friendly. Perfect choices. Our itinerary worked very well too and gave us an excellent cross section of the country. Fascinating it is! Many thanks.
Family D (with two children aged 1 and 6)
Were not able to travel for personal reasons.
We are a family of 4 – our kids are 1 and 6 years old. This spring we have decided to book a trip to Asia. We contacted Liddy at Stubborn Mule Travel for our planning. First of all, we didn’t have a clear idea of the destination, but Liddy very patiently proposed us a couple of possible, child-friendly itinerary ideas to some Asian destinations. We picked China. Liddy then assisted us in the organization of our trip, taking into consideration our budget, our needs and wishes, trying to accommodate all our requests.
She patiently and efficiently modified the itinerary several times, until it matched our wishes and possibilities. The itinerary she put together for us perfectly balanced city sightseeing, nature discovery and relaxation. Liddy is very professional, she replied to our e-mails with suggestions and advice in less than 24 hours and was ready to answer any question we might have.
Liddy, we really hope we’ll be able to organise our future trips with you.
Thanks again and all the best!
Family W (two adults, father and son)
Travelled summer 2015
First I want to thank you for arrangements that went like clockwork. Our trip in China was exceptional. We had such a good time and the main credit for that has to go to you. In every case our guides and drivers were excellent.
They were obliging and helpful at every turn and were good fun to be with. And when we were thwarted by a landslide in getting to Dazhai our guide Kevin Li quickly made alternative arrangements and we went instead to Longjie and stayed at the Star Wish Hotel. Even on that part of the trip we had to skirt around another landslide.
We marvelled at the skill of each of our drivers. How they drive through the crowded streets is amazing. Lane markings seem to be there to use up paint but appear to have no other significance. We were a little apprehensive when we were told that our guide in Xi’an (Amy Hou) had a dental appointment the morning we were to depart but relieved when she had organised one of her colleagues to accompany us to the airport. He was a delight and we had such a good conversation on the way.
Only one experience left us a little bemused. From Yangshuo our visit to the local village was excellent and it turned out that Kevin Li, our guide was born and brought up in the village. “… where you can join a family for lunch” wasn’t quite the way it happened. A couple of local dishes were brought to a low table with low chairs (a bit like kindy chairs) and P and I ate alone. Our guide and driver were nearby and didn’t partake and the “family” never appeared. This was in a studio where the family (parents?) paint wall hangings and fans etc. We did watch them at work before we went on our walk through the village.
Despite possible misgivings about the Dongfang we were well pleased with our accommodation throughout. The Dongfang Hotel was fine as was the Citidines Hotel, and we were quite enchanted with the Mountain Retreat and the surroundings. The Star Wish Hotel was modest (but perfectly acceptable) and the surrounding Rice Terraces were just beautiful.
I want to thank you for making our trip run so smoothly and enjoyably. When next I travel Stubborn Mule will be my first choice. Also I thought you might want to read the email I sent to the family during the trip for more information:
“On arrival in Beijing we were met at the airport and taken to our hotel. We spent the afternoon looking over the Temple of Heaven. We ventured out that evening to a little restaurant. We were the centre of attention with some young people thrilled to have their photographs taken with us. Next day was our visit to Tianamen Square and through the Forbidden City. I had no idea that it was so extensive. These Emperors sure knew how to do things on a grand scale.
Our next experience was a ride in a pedal-powered rickshaw through an old part of the city called Hutong (I think). No English on the menu so we chose by pictures. It worked OK but was a disappointment a couple of nights later when we were sure that what looked like mushrooms were pig’s ears or worse.
The Great Wall was stunning. We went to a section a couple of hours from Beijing on M’s recommendation and were rewarded with a truly memorable time. We must have spent three hours there walking and climbing and photographing and just drinking it in. I’m not sure if the company included a trip on the bullet train from Beijing to Xi’an especially for P but he was ecstatic. We were both pretty excited as the countryside zapped by and the speedo reached 307km/hr. Again we were met as we came off the train.
In Xi’an we rode a tandem bicycle around 1/4 of the top of the old city wall and in the afternoon visited the Terracotta Warriors (all 7000 of them). An extraordinary sight to behold! We were lucky to see archaeologists at work carrying out meticulous excavation.
Xi’an to Guilin where a new guide took over and we were taken to Guangshuo. Our accommodation was called the Mountain Retreat where we spent two nights. On the first afternoon we rode on a bamboo raft down the Yulong River propelled by a man with a long bamboo pole. That night we took in a spectacular Light Show with the illuminated mountains as a backdrop. Next morning we took a motorised boat ride along the Li River to a small village that just happened to be the birthplace of our guide. He led us through the narrow streets and told us about village life. We were fascinated to learn that the vast majority of Chinese have ready access to quite fast broadband, even in such small villages.
There seems to be building going on apace everywhere you look. The achievements of the Chinese under Communist “government” are astonishing. I am sure there would not be the progress we saw under a democratic style of government. With a population of 1.3 billion people they will soon be a force to be reckoned with. All of Australia’s 23 million population just matches the population of Beijing alone.
Yesterday we were to go to a place in the mountains called Darzai where there are spectacular rice terraces. But that was not to be. Our path was blocked by a landslide so our guide rejigged the arrangements and we stayed overnight in Longjie. We saw rice terraces in the most beautiful surroundings. The trip changes were made seemingly effortlessly and we sailed on regardless. Another special experience.
I’m sure I’ve left out a lot, but I guess we need to have something left to talk about when we return!”
Family M (with three children aged 10, 10 and 13)
Travelled Summer 2015
The trip was totally awesome. We were thrilled with all the arrangements and the very hard working, friendly, flexible guides who helped us along the way. Everything worked like clockwork. I was worried about all the different places and elements we were juggling with three kids the potential for error was pretty big but all went very smoothly.
Family L (with two children aged 13 and 16)
Travelled Summer 2014
Called to speak to you today [Kelly] but had a long chat with Liddy. Absolutely super time – many thanks for your help!
Family W (extended family group with four children aged 10, 11, 12 and 13)
Travelled Christmas 2014
I have been meaning to write you, but you beat me to it. I am finally back to a normal schedule. I do want to thank you for all your help and patience with us as we worked out the details of the trip. It worked out beautifully, and everyone had a good time and had many wonderful experiences. We’ll wait a couple of years, but we are interested in a safari also.
Family S (with three children aged 2, 8 and 8)
Travelled October 2014
Overall, we had a really fabulous trip. Here are our thoughts. Our guide and driver in Beijing were both very good. They made everything really easy, and I don’t know how we would have survived without them!
We really enjoyed everything that we did in Beijing. In addition to the planned excursions, we decided to see the Temple of Heaven Park one morning, and the Summer Palace in the afternoon, and those were fantastic as well. I wished we had a whole afternoon to spend at the Summer Palace. So beautiful!
Jinshanling was a mixed bag. We could see how gorgeous it must be when the weather is clear, but with the smog so bad, we could barely see 100 yards in front of us. Such a disappointment because I can imagine how stunning it is, especially in the fall! The “town” itself is undergoing major renovations right now. The road to the hotel was closed because they are repaving it, and there was lots of heavy construction going on in the area right in front of the hotel. You were right when you said the hotel is “simple!” We treated it like one step above camping– basically just a bed to sleep in and a roof over our heads – and it was fine.
The food was actually surprisingly good. I think if we did it over again, we would only stay the night at Jinshaling if we were really planning on a vigorous hike on the Wall, such that we’d be too tired or it would be too late, to do the drive back to Beijing. As it turned out for us, the air quality was so bad that we only spent a couple of hours on the wall itself, and debated whether we should just go back that evening. Maybe when the little town has more restaurants/stores (they seemed to be building quite a lot), there will be more to do and see there.
The Regent and Sofitel were both gorgeous, perfectly located, and we had no complaints about either.
The train ride to Xi’an was definitely an adventure. The kids loved it, although it was definitely not the most comfortable night’s sleep!
The biggest issue for us was the poor air quality, which of course you have no control over, but we felt ill-equipped to deal with that. I think we were there during a particularly bad week, which was a shame.
Overall we had a wonderful time and I think we really got to experience “real Beijing.” Your suggestions and itinerary were spot on.
If there is any more specific feedback that I can provide, let me know.
Family D (with two children aged 8 and 14)
Travelled summer 2014
I assume you’d like some feedback on the trip, so these are my thoughts (before I forget it all):
The hotels were all great – there were no duds. The only bad experience was at (bizarrely) the Sofitel in Xi’an where I got food poisoning from something I ate at the buffet restaurant (Azur). Even the one at the Great Wall was fine – we each had a suite! I think the Buddha Zen in Chengdu was my favourite as it combined being very comfortable with lovely Chinese style. We also had a great hotel in the rice terraces (more on that later – it wasn’t the Panorama though!). The kids’ favourite was the Langham at the airport. The room was HUGE with a staircase and tennis court size bedroom! They ran around screaming hysterically. I’ve started writing reviews on Tripadvisor.
Our first guide, Leo (in Beijing) was by far the worst. His English was incredibly hard to understand so we couldn’t really chat with him. He was fine in terms of sorting things out but we didn’t find him very inspiring. He didn’t allow for lunch in the schedule on the first day. He dragged us through the Forbidden City without showing us any of the side streets – to be honest it was so hot and crowded that I didn’t bother asking to see anything else. At the Great Wall we could have done the walk to the next town and they could have picked us up in the taxi but he didn’t suggest it. Maybe he thought it would be too tricky for us but I didn’t ask because again he was too difficult to converse with. I gave him a good rating on his feedback form, because I didn’t want him to ‘lose face’ but I would suggest that the tour company don’t use him again with English-speaking guests.
After that things really picked up. The guides in Luoyang, Xi’an and Chengdu (Jackie, Paul and Snow) were all great. Paul and Snow both spoke very good English and were very interesting to talk too. They were both quite young and very enthusiastic. We loved them.
The last guide, Kevin was less good but still better than Leo. His baby son was in hospital so he may have been distracted. He was the only guide to drive us himself. His driving was fine, but we were just in a normal saloon when all the other cars had been people carriers so we were a bit tight on space with three us of us on the back seat. At one point he asked us if it was OK for him to drive us, but it seemed a bit late by that point to say ‘no’. His English was fine, although he wasn’t as chatty as Jackie and Snow, probably just as well in view of the fact he was driving.
On the whole this worked very smoothly. The only major hiccup was flying into Guilin as the original flight was cancelled and so we were put on a later one. It actually worked in our favour as we had a lovely day in Chengdu and then when we got to Yangshuo we found it had been raining hard for days so we wouldn’t have had anything to do had we arrived earlier.
Beijing was horribly crowded (no surprise there). We enjoyed the Temple of Heaven – more for the park and the characters doing their dancing than for the Temple itself. This was where we realised J would get lots of attention. He’s got blond hair and the Chinese found him unbearably cute – he was stopped for photos everywhere and got a taste of what it’s like to be a celebrity!!
We went to Tiananmen Square with Leo, but we’d already walked over there on our own the previous day so didn’t hang around. As I said before, the Forbidden City was unbearably crowded – we couldn’t even see into the pavilions as there were so many people. I would suggest this was done as the first activity of the day when it would be cooler and possibly not as crowded as when we went.
We stopped at the Yonghe Gong temple, which was the first temple we saw. It was a lot pleasanter than the Forbidden City.
The Summer Palace was nice but I thought we whizzed through it rather quickly. We liked the boat trip back to the start. We had an unscheduled stop at a “Silk factory” – basically just a silk shop, which was a bit annoying – it wasn’t a factory at all.
The Hutong tour was quite fun although it felt more like a ride to the house where we had lunch, and then a ride back. The lunch food was quite nice but there was no interaction with the people whose house it was. It seemed a bit unnecessary really – a restaurant would have been fine.
The acrobat show was quite fun, although I’m not sure it was the main one in Beijing. It was in a theatre in a library so it looked fairly amateurish although the acrobats themselves were quite impressive (including the world’s bendiest woman who was extraordinary).
The Great Wall was definitely one of the highlights of the whole trip and you were absolutely right to send us to Jinshaling. It was much more beautiful and felt much more authentic than Badaling. We had a long walk on it – it was very hot and we got very sweaty but the views were amazing and it was one of the few days where the sun shone!
I’m not sure it was necessary to stay there – the car ride was only a couple of hours so we could have gone back that evening, especially if we’d left Beijing a bit earlier (we left at 9.30 I think). Still, the hotel there was fine and we had quite a nice dinner in the basic restaurant (the only place I think in the whole trip where they gave us tea without us asking (and paying) for it!).
The bullet train was definitely worth doing. I pushed the kids out and bagged the window seat and found it amazing watching all the cities we went through – especially the vast numbers of empty tower blocks. Really quite extraordinary. Really makes you think about what’s happening to the Chinese economy.
The white horse temple was our first stop in Luoyang. It was quite pretty although not much different from the Yonghe Gong in Beijing. The Chinese government have started importing temples from other Buddhist countries to build around this one, which was strange to say the least (if very Chinese) – we saw a Thai, Burmese and Indian one!
The Shaolin Monastery was probably the biggest disappointment of the trip. It just wasn’t that interesting or atmospheric. I think you’d have to be a real Kung Fu fanatic to appreciate this place. It was a shame we couldn’t go on a cable car trip into the mountains – that might have been more fun.
The Longmen Grottoes were very impressive although I think the kids didn’t appreciate them so much. All in all I’d say that Luoyang isn’t a must-do stop on the trip although personally I found it interesting.
I missed the tour of the Muslim quarter, old walls etc in Xi’an as I was too ill to go, but the others came back very enthusiastic. I summoned up the energy to go to the Terracotta Warriors although I was still feeling rubbish. We queued to get a golf cart to avoid the long walk. The site is definitely a must-see although I wish I’d been feeling better to take it all in.
In the evening the kids and B went to a restaurant/theatre which involved eating a variety of dumplings (which they really enjoyed) and watching a Tang-dynasty show, which they said was a bit bizarre.
The next morning I felt a bit better so was able to see the Big Goose Pagoda – interesting and not how I remember it, but the modern development around it was as interesting as the pagoda itself!
Chengdu was probably my favourite place. The hotel was great. The pandas at the Chengdu panda base were great, and it was good to get there early as the pandas were more active and the crowds arrived later. We saw a bunch of teenage pandas climbing over each other, which was hysterical, and also saw some really tiny babies.
We went to the wide and narrow alleys for lunch which was fun, especially at the restaurant where the staff didn’t speak any English and we had trouble even getting some water (when we finally got some it was sweet. Yuck!). We didn’t see any more of Chengdu that day – we went back to the hotel as we’d arranged a theatre trip in the evening and wanted to give the kids a rest.
I had a potter around the streets around the hotel and went to the local temple, which was very pretty and a slightly different style from the ones in the North. The theatre show was great – a kind of highlights of Sichuanese Opera with Face-changing (where the actors change masks on their faces almost instantaneously). The kids loved this, and it was pretty amazing. I think you should maybe put it on the itinerary.
The next day we went to the Bifgenxia Panda Base. We dressed up in outfits like the Dharma project in Lost (if you saw it!) and then swept up some bamboo leaves. The cages had already been cleaned out by the more permanent volunteers. After that we chopped up some panda food and fed a panda, which was fun. We went back in the afternoon to feed another one. But it wasn’t as if I felt we were doing anything useful.
It was amazing to be so close to the pandas (although we weren’t allowed to touch them) but I felt we could probably have done this at the base in Chengdu. As I love pandas so much I think it was worthwhile but anyone who isn’t quite such a panda fan could probably just get away with one trip (and probably to the one in Chengdu as they let you see the babies there – there was only one at Bifgenxia and that was covered up). It occurred to me that the panda base I’d been thinking of all along was the Wolong one. I know it got damaged in the Earthquake but is it up and running again? It’s the famous one (sister base of Bifgenxia) so I think it may be the one to go to in the future.
Anyway, I’m really glad we did this but I think you have to be a panda fanatic (which I am) to get the most out of it. My husband was quite happy to leave the afternoon feeding, until I insisted. And he refused to do a photo, which was a shame – the guide said the cost of the photo was 1500 Y for a two year old or 3000 for a one year old – and only one person gets to touch it.
The next day was the day when the flight was delayed. In the morning we went to the People’s Park, which was on the original itinerary for the Chengdu tour. We just wandered around ourselves and it was great – lots of Chinese people doing Chinesey things (eg singing karaoke loudly and badly; dancing with balls in a kind of curved tennis racket; a tai-chi class with swords – the usual stuff!). In the afternoon the guide took us to the Dujiangyan Irrigation project, which we really enjoyed (we paid extra for this).
Yangshuo – You were absolutely right – it has changed out of all recognition since I was last there. Indeed the whole area has had a building boom (maximum of six storeys according to Kevin!), which means it doesn’t look nearly as remote or charming as it used to. I was glad we were at the Mountain Retreat, which was lovely, with very good food. As it had been raining so hard we weren’t able to do either of the boat trips, which was a real shame. Kevin took us to a place with a great view over the Li River. It was quite a long drive but the view was amazing and on the way back we stopped at a ‘stone’ village and saw a flock of ducks being herded.
The following day we were hoping to do the raft ride but the current was still too strong so we went straight off to the Rice Terraces. This was quite a long drive, but scenic and we stopped half way at a tea farm for a tour and tasting. Kevin had already told us that the road to Dazhai was blocked so he booked a hotel in a village called Ping’an instead. When we arrived at the ticket office we were told we had to park the car and then took a shuttle bus up to the first village.
From there we had to walk to Ping’an. Kevin originally said it was 40 minutes but it was actually 1 ½ hours. We had left most of our stuff at the ticket office but B had his computer so we hired a local lady to carry it along with a couple of rucksacks. The walk was beautiful and we all loved it. Ping’an was also lovely. The road to it was blocked too so there were very few tourists there as the only way in was the 1 ½ hour walk. The hotel, the Star Wish was lovely – very comfy, Chinese style, nice bathrooms, rustic.
The next day we did a walk to two viewpoints overlooking the terraces. I wish we could have had a full day there and walked to Dazhai. It was such a beautiful place – would have been even more amazing in Autumn when the rice turns yellow or spring when it’s planted and the terraces are flooded, but it was still lovely. To be honest I preferred it to Yangshuo although obviously I’ve seen Yangshuo before and we didn’t really get the best out of it.
Finally it was back to Beijing, where there was no one to meet us so we paid for a shuttle to the hotel. When we got there the manager said the driver had been waiting for two hours and was still there but we walked up and down the line at Arrivals four times and didn’t see him. But the room was so amazing we all forgot about it.
So all in all it was a very memorable trip. My husband liked it far more than he thought he would. The kids learnt how to use chopsticks and had some great experiences although they’re probably too young to realise how great. J was photographed so many times but he found it very amusing. We were extremely lucky with the weather as the only times it rained were in the evening, apart from a brief shower on the way down from Ping’an.
It’s been a real education in terms of understanding a bit more about China – we were amazed at how poor the Chinese were at speaking English. Also amazed at the wealth and some of the prices. The coffee shops in the airports were completely empty as the coffee and tea was so expensive (eg £28 for a pot of tea!!). We were all agreed that the best day was the first day in Chengdu.
Hope that’s helpful. Please feel free to call or email back if you have any questions.
Best wishes and thanks again for your organisation!
Family D (with one child aged 7)
Travelled summer 2014
Yes home and happy. We had a great trip – thanks for organising it. I’m glad we did it through you for the small family-focused extras you offer (swimming pools particularly, lunch at someone’s house etc).
We met Holly in Beijing briefly and she was capable and very customer-friendly in a western sense. Only slight hitch was our overnight train was cancelled so she put us on a later one and gave us a great boat trip in Shanghai to fill the time.
The tour guides in Guilin (Kevin – good) and Xian (Cathy – excellent) were also v good. The guys who did transfers were less so – they did the basics ok but in a no-frills way. It all seemed a bit beneath them – no help with bags, minimal language help, thoughtless in places. This isn’t a complaint, just a comment that you/she may find helpful.
One other thing worth telling future clients, I think. No tourist can walk up to Starwish with anything other than a day pack and with the cost of porters being what it is, many will prefer to do a repack and leave bags at the ticket office. We were told this last minute.
Nothing else comes to mind. We had a lovely time – thanks again.
Family F (with two children aged 6 and 8)
Travelled summer 2014
You said there was no rush, but still, I feel bad about taking almost a year to reply! Here’s my summary… thanks again for putting together a great trip for us.
X’ian: Can’t remember the guy’s name but he was great.
Chengdu: Susan was awesome. Our son got sick right as we got to the airport for the flight to Guilin, crying, wouldn’t go through security, worried we’d miss the flight, nightmare. Susan stayed with us and helped us through it all.
Yangshuo: Kevin was great.
In general the activities were great, I think you put together a great tour. I go back and forth on whether we tried to squeeze too much in. In the end I think it was just right. It was too much, but we’ll never have the chance again as a family, so I’m really glad we got to see what we did. We had time to sleep when we got home. Our couple days in Yangshuo were supposed to be kind of rejuvenating, but instead we were dealing with the “sick kid in foreign land” scenario for a while there which was not exactly stress-free.
The home visits were the only let down for me. I was hoping for some kind of interaction. For the hutong visit the family showed us their living room, then we sat in the front room whcih was basically just a table and chairs and the mom served us food while we ate alone with the guide, like a restaurant. The second one was much better in the sense that we got to see where and how our guide lived, but again the mom just cooked and then left, the kids were too shy to come out of hiding:)
There were a lot of logistics (e.g. flights, train, hotels) to take care of here and I have to say that I think everything went off without a hitch, you and the local team get a lot of credit for that. Here’s one tip for the future, you should let people know that the overnight train in August might be unbearably hot while in the station, but once it gets going the AC kicks on and it’s OK. That was scary for a little while.
Citadines Central Hotel — just OK
Buddha Zen Hotel — very nice
Yangsho retreat — great
Everyone’s favorite was hot pot with Susan. The worst was breakfast at the Great Wall. I wish somehow we’d gotten more great meals into the trip. You gave us suggestions, we’d done a little of our own research, the guides helped some…but in the end it was still hard.
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