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China is great in September, with Vantage


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China is great in September (September 13, 2012-October 3)

Vantage China is a great way to go.

Why we booked Vantage China

We had done Russia with Vantage and were impressed, so we booked Vantage China. We were not disappointed. The trip was fantastic. It was very well organized and executed. Our program manager, Tan, was the best and our local guides were excellent (In particular, Kong in Beijing and Charlie in Shanghai).

General comments on the tour

The tour seemed to be designed for maximizing a traveler’s exposure to China. It is a very large country and our trip covered much of the most populated part of the country. We visited seven Chinese cities (not counting those during the four day river cruise) plus Hong Kong, which is part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), but until 2047 administered separately, retaining its very capitalist system. One of the tour’s advantages was that we visited many of the key historical and cultural places in China as well as most scenic. However, the other side of the double-edged sword was that to see all these wonderful places, the tour required much travel within China. We became familiar with China’s airports, in Beijing, Xian, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Yichang, Chongqing, Guilin and Hong Kong. Also, we traveled on China’s version of the high speed TGV train from Hangzhou to Shanghai. We did tire somewhat from all the airports, but Vantage minimized our hassles. We were escorted throughout the tour by our excellent program manager, Tan. We didn’t have to handle our checked luggage until we got off the plane in Hong Kong. Vantage took care of all the tips to our luggage carriers, etc. Further, we didn’t even have to check into our hotels, since once we arrived at the hotel, it took Tan just a few minutes until he handed out our room keys. All out local tours were handled by local guides that spoke excellent English and were familiar with the sights.


Our hotels were all first rate, some were exceptional. All were located in central areas and five stars by US standards. A couple probably were just barely five stars, but we were told they were the best hotels in the city. The cruise ship, Century Diamond was generally good, with a rather spacious cabin and all the amenities of a European river cruise ship. The ship was not quite up to European standards to some degree, in that we noticed something of a musky odor (not bad, but noticeable). The service at all the hotels and on the ship was excellent. Only once, one morning for breakfast at Shanghai, did dear Wife, Ginny take over as server, pouring coffee for several of our group.


If you decide to take to trip to China and don’t care for Chinese food, you may have a problem. We had a couple of people in our group that were meat and potatoes guys and they tired of the oriental food. We loved the food. Overall, it was excellent. We did have buffet breakfasts every day that provided us with the option of a western breakfast, which helped us deal with constant Chinese food. Also, we had a few meals on our own, in which we managed to find pizza, which was pretty good. The Chinese food varied in the different parts of the country that we visited and some of it was spicy. We had dishes that we had never experienced as well as some which we were familiar. Not every dish was wonderful, but we were usually served with several dishes and could choose to pass on the dishes we didn’t want. Chinese food in the US is different from what we found in China. Chinese meals don’t include sweet deserts (usually watermelon). Also, meals are served on a lazy-susan, which rotates in front of each person seated at the table. Frankly, I tired of this method, since frequently the restaurants would bring out the food in stages and you never knew if another dish would appear. Sometimes dishes would appear late in the dinner, after I was full and had eaten other, less favorite dishes. Also, you have to wait for people to server themselves and for the food to rotate to your position.


We liked the people in China. I know that many of the people we encountered where the ones paid to serve us, but we found the people to be friendly, even if they could not speak much English. Still, we found many, especially young people that spoke English. We were told that English has been mandatory in the schools for some years. China has 1.4 billion people and it shows. Every city was crowded with people and in public, the Chinese are a bit pushy. They are in a hurry to get where they are going and don’t queue up like in the USA or UK. Still, no one was really rude to us. We had a few opportunities to visit Chinese homes and enjoyed those visits.


Traffic was awful everywhere we went. In the large cities like Beijing and Shanghai, automobiles jammed the freeways and streets. Drivers are very aggressive and it seems that watching from our bus, we were constantly waiting for an accident to happen. In some of the cities, motor scooters are prevalent as well as cars. Sometimes families of four (yes, there are some families with more than one child in China) ride on one scooter. No one wears a helmet while on a scooter, cycle or bicycle in China. We were told that over 80,000 people die on the roads per year. More people are buying cars in China and using them. The road systems infrastructure is pretty good in the cities that we visited, for example, Beijing has six ring roads for its 24 million people. We saw American cars there. GM has a Buick plant there, as well as Ford. VW was in China early, and VW is probably the most popular car in China.


Pollution is bad in China. Beijing and Shanghai were not as bad as cities like Xian and Chongqing. The government made a big effort to clean up the air pollution in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics and the International exposition in Shanghai in 2010. Chongqing was the worst, and fortunately we were only there one day, at the end of the river cruise. We saw solar panels frequently in China, but once you go to rural areas, we noticed the odor or burning wood. I suspect that many farmers are still living in more primitive conditions, burning wood for heat. We were told not to drink the water while in China and were issued two bottles of purified water every day in our hotels and on the boat. Also, we could purchase more water on the tour bus (two bottles for one dollar or six Yuan). We were told that we could brush our teeth with the water from the faucet. We followed directions on that and had no problems requiring Imodium. We were told that for the government to provide drinkable water from the faucet would put out of business the purified water companies.


On our trips to Europe, we generally drink more wine than anything else. However, Chinese don’t drink much wine. The drink of choice was beer. We drank a lot of Tsingtao, which is one of the best beers in the country, but also tried the local beers, which were not bad. The beer in China is not bad, especially, Tsingtao, but it is only 3% alcohol and that difference was noticeable. Still, we found the beer was reasonably priced in the many convenience stores that were close to our hotels. We did buy some beer in hotel bars and paid from 18 to 45 Yuan per beer ($1 = 6.3 Yuan). The beer in convenience stores runs from 5 to 15 Yuan for a half liter bottle. We did try “Great Wall” Chinese wine and found it forgettable. If you are curious, don’t waste your money. Sure, you can buy it for 50 Yuan, but it is not worth drinking it while holding your nose. Don, our friend on the tour from California tried the Chinese vodka in the minibar (18 Yuan) and it didn’t remind him of Stoly. Perhaps drinking less was not a bad thing; I only gained a pound on our trip.

Cultural connection

We were very pleased that the tour did its best to expose us to Chinese culture and history. We had some visits to Chinese homes, were we talked with people (usually through an interpreter). Our program manager and guides gave us great information on the modern history of China, including their personal experiences and current Chinese living conditions and expectations. They talked openly about the disastrous “Great Leap Forward” and “Cultural Revolution” which resulted in the death of up to 60 million Chinese people. We learned that the Communist Party has loosed up in recent years, but still filters the internet and expects Chinese not to conflict with the party line. Sill, China’s traditional culture took some huge hits under Mao, but it clearly has not disappeared. Taoist, Buddhist and Confucius influences are still the cultural base of the country. However, western influences have changed China, from Marxist collectivism under Mao to US business and pop culture. Our guides told us that Chinese have seen American movies and TV shows, and our standard of living. They want what we have. Under Mao, before the party opened up China, the Chinese assumed that we were just as poor as they were. We got a good dose of Chinese history, including the names of emperors that we forgot ten minutes later, but it was good. I had read some books on Chinese history and found it fascinating, but had a problem remembering all the Chinese names.

Mao and the Communist Party

During our trip, it seemed that our guides and program manager brought up stories about what the people went through during Mao’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) resulted in the death of about 30 million people. In addition Mao’s Great Leap Forward (1958-61) led to at least 18 million deaths, perhaps as much as 30 million people. I have read that Mao was responsible for the death of 70 million Chinese. What most of our group found unexplainable was that Mao’s responsibility for this near genocide is readily acknowledged by people in China, yet Mao is still respected and considered a kind of George Washington of modern China. They consider his early years to be largely correct. The Chinese Communist Party’s official line is that Mao was right 70% of the time and wrong 30%. It appears that the CCP has moved away from mass murder toward a somewhat more open society, but is afraid to admit Mao’s culpability, since it goes to the heart of the historical source of power of the party.

China largely has a capitalist economy.

We learned that about 70% of the economy is private ownership, with 30% government owned. The government owns monopolies in profitable areas like the cell phone company. The government owns all the land in the country, but has leased property for 70 years. Apparently, it started leasing for 30 years in the 80s then shifted to 70 years in the 90s. People purchase condos (apartments) with these leases. No one knows what will happen when the leases expire. I suspect that before those leases expire, the government will eventually grand total ownership. Farming is the one area where collectivism has been retained. Farmers have one-third of an acre, like the small plots farmers had in the Soviet Union. Large farms are still collective farms. It was acknowledged that farming in China is largely inefficient. Private ownership of land is likely a factor.


We learned that China has about 150 million Christians, with many of them young people. Some estimate an even larger number. This is more than 10% of the population. Many Chinese are atheists. We did see evidence of the worship of Buddhism in the country. If Christianity continues to grow, that will pull China more toward westernization. Still, old Taoist custom like Feng shui is very prevalent. Feng shui has guidance on which direction that your house should face and how it is constructed. We found older homes in China have a threshold of at least a foot high board to step over to keep out the evil spirits. We discovered that evil spirits only travel in straight lines, so build a bridge with turns.


Prior to going to China we read about the eastern (squat) toilets. I visited China for one day, from Hong Kong in 1981 and discovered the hole in the floor toilets. Now those eastern toilets are not just holes in the floor, but are flushable with water. Still, they can be intimidating, especially for the ladies. Our guides constantly advised us when we could find western toilets instead of the eastern types. Our hotels and new buildings in China have western toilets, but older buildings usually do not. Be aware that bathrooms in China generally don’t have toilet paper in the stalls with the toilets. The paper is on the wall as soon as you enter the bathroom. You are expected to take what you need prior to entering the stall. If you forget, you may have a problem. Many public bathrooms in China have no paper towels, but a very weak hand dryer, which takes forever to dry your hands. Therefore, be prepared for air drying your hands.


China’s language is tough for westerners. You can see the same word with four different tones that have four different meanings. Further, there are many dialects throughout China. Some of these dialects like Cantonese in Southern China are different languages. Our program manager told us that Cantonese is more different from Mandarin than German is from English. We learned a few words in Mandarin during our visit, but fortunately road signs are in Chinese and English. Also, most restaurants and businesses in the major cities have signs in both languages. Chinese has no alphabet. Korea and Japan have adopted a phonetic alphabet, but China has resisted. The symbols are the words themselves making it harder to learn the language, even for Chinese. We learned that there is no Chinese keyboard for a typewriter or computer keyboard. Chinese have to type in English on an English keyboard then use a program that converts the English to Chinese characters for documents or emails.

The weather

September is the best time to travel to China. High temperatures were in the low 80s most of our trip.

Our tour

After overnighting at a hotel near the Jacksonville airport, we departed from Jacksonville at 5:59 am for our flight to Chicago on September 13. After catching our flight to Beijing in Chicago, we arrived there on September 14. Tan collected us at the airport and took us by bus to our hotel, the Beijing Marriott Hotel City Wall for four nights. Our hotel was located close to the old Beijing rail station and remnants of the old city wall. The hotel was very nice and had a reasonably priced Chinese restaurant with a great daily menu price of a full meal for less than $10. The Italian restaurant was pricey, so we didn’t eat there.

On September 15th, we saw Tian’anmen Square, which is the largest square in the world. The square has the entrance to the Forbidden City at one end and at the other Mao’s mausoleum. The Forbidden City and imperial palace includes mostly wooden buildings, most of which have burned to some degree since built during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (6 to 4 centuries old). The palace is enclosed by the Forbidden City. Apparently, while the Chinese invented gunpowder, paper, movable type, they were late with concrete, which the Romans used profusely two millennium ago. Not many buildings were built with stone and concrete. City walls were built at some point, as well as the great wall. We understand that they used some form of Chicken soup to build the wall. That evening, we ate dinner at a local restaurant for a traditional Peking duck banquet. The duck was excellent, as well as the other dishes provided.

On September 16th, we had a full day, going to the Great Wall (the Badaling portion) and the Ming Tombs. The Great Wall was one of the highlights of our trip. The history of the wall is interesting. The Great Wall was originally several walls, some built as early as the 7th century BC, later joined together and strengthened, it became known as the Great Wall. Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang built it between 220–206 BC. Little of that wall remains. The wall was rebuilt, during the Ming Dynasty, around 1505AD. There are towers on the wall spaced two bow-shots apart. We learned that many died building the wall and were buried in the wall. The wall did keep out barbarians for centuries, but failed in two key invasions. First, the Mongols in the 13th century and later, the Manchu in the early 17th century made it through the wall. The Manchus were able to get through the wall due to infighting within China, not to overcoming the wall. The early wall was made of cut stone, but the Ming Dynasty used cut stone and brick. The portions of the wall visited by tourists have been repaired extensively in modern times. We learned that it is a myth that the wall was visible from outer space. After visiting the wall, we stopped at the Ming Tombs, which was a very large area North of Beijing that the Ming Emperor set aside for their tombs. The tombs are buried underground with large mounds of earth on top, creating large hills. The tombs were created according to feng shui principles by the Ming Emperor that moved the capitol of China to Beijing. The entrance to the tombs is a pathway called the sacred way lined with many statues of guardian warriors and animals.

On September 17th, our group took a ride on a trishaw, a bicycle-powered rickshaw, through the narrow lanes of a hutong, a traditional neighborhood. We visited a local family for tea and later be the guest in another home for lunch. That afternoon, we visited the Summer Palace, which is on a lake (we took a boat ride across the lake) and the Zoo, home of the giant pandas. The palace was very busy with many Chinese visiting the site. The Summer Palace was heavily damaged by European forces during one of the wars in the late 19th century. We saw about four Pandas at the zoo. Later that evening we opted for the Peking Evening Show with dinner, which was called an opera. The dinner before the show was probably the worst meal we had in China. The show was pretty good, but nowhere near as good as the show we saw in Xian. Still, I recommend going to the show.


On September 18, 2012 we took one of our five internal flights (all from one to two hours) to Xi’an. That city is the home of the famous Terra Cotta Warriors. Our hotel was the Shangri-La Golden Flower, which was not as nice as our hotel in Beijing, but still a nice hotel, with a friendly staff. Xi’an is a large city of 8 million people, but not as large as Beijing’s 24 million. Every city we visited in China was larger than New York City except our last city, Guilin. All the cities were crowded with cars and or motor scooters and of course people. On the bus trip from the airport to our hotel, we saw hundreds of 20 or more story apartment building, either under construction or in use. Xi’an seemed to be a city under development more than was Beijing. The air pollution was worse than Beijing. The city was the ancient capital of the Qin, Han, Tang and other dynasties. Its ancient name was Chang'an. Emperor Qin Shi Huang, of the Great Wall also had the funerary warriors built and buried at his tomb. What we learned is that after his burial, a popular revolt resulted in attacks on the warriors. Most were damaged and archaeologist are still excavating and repairing the warriors. The warriors were discovered in 1974 by a local farmer, while he was digging a well. That same farmer is still alive and autographing picture books of the warriors. I have such a book with his autograph.

I am getting ahead of our timeline. Our first night in the city, we attended a Tang Dynasty (618AD –907AD) banquet with entertainment. The food was good and the show was fantastic. This show was far superior to the optional opera show that we saw in Beijing. The music, dancing, costumes and choreography was just awesome. The next day, September 19th, we visited the Small Wild Goose Pagoda, which was built between 707AD–709AD, during the Tang Dynasty. The Pogoda and area was sought by Buddhist pilgrims.

In the afternoon, we drove outside the city to the museum of the Terra Cotta Warriors. This was another huge highlight of our trip. We were impressed by the museum, which had several buildings. The buildings were modern, well organized and well maintained. We have visited museums in many foreign countries and several have not come up to the level of what we find with the National Park Service or Smithsonian in the USA, but we found this museum is on the same level as the Smithsonian, Louvre, Vatican, etc. It was a bit crowded, but we were able to enjoy our visit there. There are three separate buildings for three pits (excavations) of warriors. Pit one has most of the warriors. The warriors were buried in tunnels. The tunnels had wooden ceilings covered with reed mats and layers of clay for waterproofing. Pit two has cavalry and infantry units as well as war chariots and is thought to represent a military guard. Pit three is for the command post, with high-ranking officers and a war chariot. There is a separate building housing war chariots. If you go to China, going to see the warriors is a must.

A personal issue came up in Xi’an. My checked luggage did not make the flight from Beijing, but with Tan’s able assistance, it was tracked down and brought to my hotel room the afternoon of the second day. Our tour group had its problems on the trip. One elderly member of our group could not get out of bed one morning and had to be taken to the hospital. We believe it was a small stroke. Tan assisted that couple that did not follow our group, but after some days departed China for the US. Apparently, the gentleman was able to fly home on commercial air. Further, one lady in our party had her wallet stolen out of her purse in Guilin. Again, Tan assisted her in notifying her credit card company that arranged for expressing to her a new card to her hotel in Hong Kong. Whenever there was a problem, Tan was there to assist in a successful manner.


On September 20, 2012 we set out for the airport for another short flight to Hangzhou. That city is known for its scenic beauty and favored by newlyweds. It did have its scenic beauty, which I will explain, but it was another multi-million person crowded city with much construction, many cars and people. Next to our hotel, the Landison Plaza Hotel Hangzhou, there was construction that we could hear somewhat, into the late hours of the night. This was the worst situation that we encountered regarding our hotel during our trip, but there wasn’t much Vantage could do about it. We were able to sleep, but just not like we would have liked.

On September 21, we started with a stroll through gardens to West Lake, and then cruised on the beautiful lake, seeing pagodas and beautiful landscaping. That afternoon we visited a tea village outside the city where we saw a small tea farm and had lunch at a local farmer’s house. Also, we saw a presentation on how tea is dried and marketed as well as explanation of the use of tea extracts as herbal health supplements. Green tea has been used by Chinese for centuries as a kind of medicine. It has properties that include antioxidants and other beneficial properties.


On September 22, after stopping at a Chinese Medicine Museum and attending a lecture on Chinese medicine, and lunch at a local restaurant, we left Hangzhou for a 120 mile high speed train ride to Shanghai. The train looked very much like the TGV that we took from Paris to Lyon this May. It achieved speeds in excess of 300 km per hour (190 miles per hour). This was a pleasant change from another air flight. We were able to see some of the countryside and the seats had more room than an airplane. The seats were nice, even though we were in second class.

Our hotel in Shanghai was the Longemont Shanghai, which was very nice, but also very tall. We had a room on the 41 floor. Ginny is not happy at that altitude and would not look out the window. Still, the hotel was great. We found a 7-11 nearby to purchase beer at reasonable prices. We drank our beer with our friends on the tour Don and Karol from California.

That evening we attended the optional Shanghai acrobatic show. The show was amazing. It was about an hour and a half of jammed packed acrobatics that wowed the crowd. I commended during one female’s act that “she can’t do that.” We saw amazing feats of acrobatics that seemed impossible for humans to perform.

On September 23rd, we toured the Bund, which was the riverfront area with European architecture that was a banking and commercial center in the late 19th and early 20th century by several European powers and the USA and Japan. These countries had concessions that were areas of land in Shanghai governed by their law, not Chinese law. The area across the river from the Bund, Pudong, was developed by China in the last 30 years as a development zone. Pudong has some of the most spectacular skyscrapers in the city. The TV Tower and Shanghai World Financial Center are some of those buildings.

Later, we visited the Yu Yuan Gardens and Bazar and the Shanghai Museum. The Yu Yuan Gardens and Bazar was created under the Ming Dynasty and are very attractive, even though not that old. The Gardens included a large tea house in the center, next to a pond with a zigzagged bridge, which was designed to stop evil spirits (they can only go in straight lines). The gardens include a rockery, which were artfully piled rocks. We did some shopping in the bazar after touring the gardens and rockery. The Shanghai Museum was another wonderful surprise. We spend about two hours there viewing exhibits for furniture, ceramics, clothing and bronzes. The interesting exhibits were well displayed.

On September 24th, we took the optional tour to the Fengjing Ancient Water Town Tour. This tour took us several miles outside the city to a community that at one time was converted to a commune. We visited that commune, which included some buildings that housed people in this collectivist paradise. There was much Communist propaganda on the walls. Also, there was an old MIG-15 aircraft used in the Korean War that was purchased by the commune for the air force, and then later returned as a monument for the commune. Most of our visit included the Water Town Tour that had us go in sampans through the canals of the town. It was nice to see small town China, past and present.

Yangtze River Cruise

On September 25th we caught another flight to Yichang to embark on our riverboat, the Century Diamond, for a four day cruise of through the Three Gorges Dam locks and Three Gorges area of the river to Chongqing. We arrived somewhat late in the day.

On September 26th, we had a morning optional tour for 260 Yuan each to the “Tribe of the Three Gorges,” which was recreated village extending down a small lake and stream (a few miles downriver from where our ship was docked. This tour turned out to be a pleasant trip. The recreated village was attractive, as well as the costumed inhabitants, fishing boats and wedding show. We saw a group of monkeys there as well.

In the afternoon, we toured the Three Gorges Dam. We took a series of escalators up to a viewing area, nicely landscaped, where we could see the dam and the five locks that raise ships 370 feet. We were told that these were the largest locks in the World. They looked bigger than those on the Panama Canal. Our ship went through the locks with three other ships. The dam is the largest in the World, and 607 feet high and 6,500 feet wide. The dam reservoir displaced 1.13 million people and we heard a lot about how China rebuilt cities and dealt with the historical sites lost. In some cases, items were moved. The homes that replaced those displaced were larger and more modern than the ones the people left behind. Still, we heard that some people still miss the old towns.

On the evening of the 26th, we transited the locks, but we did not stay up to finish, since it took hours to complete the transit.

On September 27th, we cruised the Xiling Gorge in a smaller river boat, viewing awesome gorge scenery, and then breaking up into small group boarding motorboats, for a scenic trip up one of the "little gorges" of the Yangtze. Afterwards, returning to the Century Diamond, we cruise between the twelve peaks of the Wu and Qutang gorges for more awesome scenery. This day was another one of those highlights of the trip.

On September 28th, we stopped at a small Yangtze River town where we visited at the home (townhouse structure) of local people. The home housed a multi-generation family, with the father working in Chongqing during the week and the son working in Southern China, near Hong Kong, but visiting home from time to time. We also visited a local kindergarten. The children became very excited at our visit.

On September 29th we disembarked the ship at Chongqing visiting the General Joseph Stilwell Museum. The city was the temporary capital of China during most of WWII, since the Japanese occupied the most populated areas of China in the East. There was not much to the museum; still it was interesting to see where he had his headquarters in WWII. We learned that Chongqing was heavily bombed by the Japanese during WWII, but the Flying Tigers had their revenge, shooting down many Japanese aircraft. Chongqing was the most polluted air we encountered on our trip. We were happy to leave this city of 34 million people. Afterwards, we fly to Guilin.


Our hotel in Guilin was the Lijiang Waterfall Hotel. It was a nice hotel with a large waterfall on one side of the hotel that covered the entire height and width of the hotel. The waterfall would go off at 8:30PM every evening for about 12 minutes, so we made sure to be there for that event. Thousands were there to view the waterfall. The hotel had a large open center, with hotel rooms opening to that center. We took the optional Guilin by Night tour with dinner. Dinner was Chinese and good, and then the night tour involved a boat cruise on the four lakes in Guilin, highlighted by cormorant fishing, which involves fisherman using cormorant birds with collars to catch fish. The birds swim just below the surface alongside the fisherman’s raft catching fish, and then the fisherman retrieves the bird and then fish. We saw this, at night and I got some marginally good photos of this interesting fishing method.

On September 30th, we took a very scenic boat cruise down the Li River in Guilin. The river cruise was awesome. Guilin is famous for its remarkable limestone karst peaks. These peaks are spectacular and many. I took so many photos that my friend Don commented that at some point he didn’t need more photos of rocks. Still, those rocks were amazing. This proved to be another highlight of our trip.

On October 1st, this was National day in China, as the anniversary of the PRC (October 1, 1949). We were getting out of the country (sort of) to Hong Kong in time to avoid the massive crowds. We had already seen what we thought were massive crowds, but Tan said it would be much worse. She showed us photos on his I pad of the many traffic jams all over China’s freeways. Apparently, the government decided to waive the tolls for the highways on the holidays. This caused massive traffic jams, with people spending the night on the highways.

On our way out of town (we had a late afternoon flight); we stopped at Chuanshan caves to see the rock formations. It was moderately interesting. We then proceeded to the airport for our flight to Hong Kong.

The flight was a little late and we arrived in the city in the late PM. We stayed at the Hotel Nikko Hong Kong. It was a nice hotel in Kowloon. We decided to skip food and went for a German Paulander weitzen beer near our hotel.

On October 2nd, we had a tour of Hong Kong Island with views of Repulse Bay, a drive to Victoria Peak, and a sampan ride through Aberdeen floating village. We had a western Farewell Dinner that evening. I had been to Hong Kong in 1981 and noticed some key changes. The skyline was filled with even more skyscrapers, many exceeding 50 stories. The city seemed more Western and more prosperous than before. A good example of the change was I Aberdeen. When I visited there 31 years ago, most of the harbor was filled with small sampans that people lived in on the water. Today, the harbor had many expensive yachts, large fishing boats and very few of the sampans that I saw there in 1981. We were told that the younger generation of those fishermen didn’t want to fish and live on the water. I suspect that prosperity had assisted in that transformation. Hong Kong is known for its business environment with few regulations. It appears to be thriving.

Tan explained to us that may shoppers from mainland China love to come to Hong Kong to buy designed items. Also, until the law was changed many Chinese would come to Hong Kong to have their babies, so they could move to the city. The city is very crowded with 7 million people in 40 square miles, so the local government put a stop to that.

On October 03, 2012 we flew back to the USA, starting with a 14 hour flight to Chicago. The flight was brutal and with a five hour layover in Chicago it was more tiring. The flight to JAX was an hour and half late leaving, causing us to arrive home about 2 AM.

I weighed in the next day and had only gained one pound. I suppose that I can thank the Chinese food for that. Come to think of it, we saw few heavy people in China. Our guides told us that some of the young people love going to KFC and McDonalds, leading to some overweight kids.

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Ok, you convinced me...I'm booking China for Sept., 2014 with Vantage. I would book for 2013 but I've already booked Panama Canal transit and Lewis and Clark so 2014 it is. You made it come alive and I felt like I was there. A few questions:


1. I have difficulty walking on uneven terrain and for long distances due to a severed achilles tendon. We've both done Russia and while I had difficulty at Pirogovo, the rest of the trip was hard, but I didn't miss anything. How would you compare walking in Kiev and Russia to China?


2. Food: I more vegetarian than meat-eater, so I don't anticipate a problem with the food, but I am allergic to duck. Was there an alternative meal to the Peking duck? If not, I just won't eat duck, it's not a life-threatening allergy, just an unpleasant one.


3. Thanks for addressing and describing the toilets! None of us ever do and it's interesting because it's all we talk about while we're there! :D I've been to Egypt, Jordan, Greece and Russia....I can handle any toilet! :D


4. Planes: I know you put my mind at ease about Aerosvit, it was every bit as nice as you said it was.....what airline did you fly within China and how was it.


5. Air pollution: Did you use the disposable medical masks? I had problem with air pollution in Egypt and whenever anyone tells me they're going, I always recommend they bring these with them.


I think that covers everything immediate. Thanks again for a really great review and history lesson!!:) Now I'm really psyched about going!!

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Ok, you convinced me...I'm booking China for Sept., 2014 with Vantage. I would book for 2013 but I've already booked Panama Canal transit and Lewis and Clark so 2014 it is. You made it come alive and I felt like I was there. A few questions:


1. I have difficulty walking on uneven terrain and for long distances due to a severed achilles tendon. We've both done Russia and while I had difficulty at Pirogovo, the rest of the trip was hard, but I didn't miss anything. How would you compare walking in Kiev and Russia to China?


2. Food: I more vegetarian than meat-eater, so I don't anticipate a problem with the food, but I am allergic to duck. Was there an alternative meal to the Peking duck? If not, I just won't eat duck, it's not a life-threatening allergy, just an unpleasant one.


3. Thanks for addressing and describing the toilets! None of us ever do and it's interesting because it's all we talk about while we're there! :D I've been to Egypt, Jordan, Greece and Russia....I can handle any toilet! :D


4. Planes: I know you put my mind at ease about Aerosvit, it was every bit as nice as you said it was.....what airline did you fly within China and how was it.


5. Air pollution: Did you use the disposable medical masks? I had problem with air pollution in Egypt and whenever anyone tells me they're going, I always recommend they bring these with them.


I think that covers everything immediate. Thanks again for a really great review and history lesson!!:) Now I'm really psyched about going!!


1. Some of the excursions do require a fair amount of walking. There are places where you can walk more, like the Great Wall. DW and I decided to walk to the tower at a high point and found the incline to be very steep. It was a substantial effort and only a few in our group when this far. However, this was optional. Other places like the Ming Tombs and Forbidden City require walking about a mile or so. The surfaces are generally too uneven. In Xian there is modest walking to the Terra Cotta Warrior museum.

There is walking in other excursions that amount from half a mile to a mile or more. Some days there is little walking. We had one lady in her 80s that used a wheelchair in the airports and managed most of the tours, but did opt out on a couple. I don't think she climbed the Wall very high up.

It is hard to compare with Russia and Kiev, but probably similar in most cases.


2. We had duck more than once during our trip, since the Chinese eat duck a lot. Even at the Peking Duck dinner there were other dishes available. I would suggest that you tell the Program Manager early in the trip about your allergy. Most of the dishes served on those lazy-susans included meat, but you could ask for vegetarian. A couple of meals we had a sit down meal and had a choice of beef, fish or vegetarian.


3.The eastern (squat) toilets are more an issue for the ladies, since the only time they are the only choice is in some locations at public toilets.


4. We flew different airlines on our internal flights. Companies like China Eastern, Xiamen Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Hong Kong Airlines and Juneyao Airlines. All had rather new aircraft, with professional staff. One pleasant suprise was that on all these short flights they served a nice lunch (Chinese food, of course). The food was good for airline food.


5. I would recommend using these masks, although the air was not so bad in Beijing, the cities in the interior of the country had the worst air. DW and I both came home with mild respiratory issues we are treating with over the counter medication. We saw some Chinese using the masks, but not as many as we expected.


It was a great trip, if you have more questions, just ask.

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Wow! Thanks a lot for the review. It was very thorough. I have thought about this trip and compared it to taking a cruise from Beijing to Shanghai. This seems to really expose you to more of China. But the thought of all those airports and all the Chinese food (I'm more an Italian girl:D) has held me back. I'll have to rethink it!!!

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Thank you for extensive review. I was looking at this trip for 2014. I did Russia with Vantage and felt that they did a great job.


When did you do Russia? We were supposed to return home on Sept. 5, 2012, but got an extra day due to Lufthansa strike. Did the pre-trip to Kiev so left NY on Aug. 17. Were we on the same trip?????:) Plus we're looking at China for Sept. 2014 too.

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When did you do Russia? We were supposed to return home on Sept. 5, 2012, but got an extra day due to Lufthansa strike. Did the pre-trip to Kiev so left NY on Aug. 17. Were we on the same trip?????:) Plus we're looking at China for Sept. 2014 too.


Arrived in St Petersurg 9/11. I probably got on the boat the day you got off; lol. Still going through the pictures :). I'm not sure when to go to China in 2014 but maybe I will take 4774 Papa's recommendation and go in Sept, which is a good month for me to travel with DH

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