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It has been truly a wonderful trip...

My wife and I departed Montreal, Canada on Oct. 7, 2008 and returned Dec. 3 having toured China, North-East Vietnam, and Angkor, Cambodia. It has been truly a wonderful trip, well worth all the planning and preparations and it will provide a lifetime of memories – well that part of our lifetime left anyway! We covered 46,000 km (as the crow flies), took 13 flights (18 flight segments), two overnight train trips and registered 31 times in hotels, well earning the 4 days to recover toward the end of the trip on a magnificent beach at Phu Quoc island in the Gulf of Thailand, off the southern coast of Cambodia. Within China we visited 8 of the 28 provinces or autonomous regions, covering this vast country (fourth largest in the world) from East to West (Urumqi, near the Kazakhstan border) and from North to South (Nanning, Guangxi), excepting most of the developed Eastern seaboard and the North-East. Including our last trip, we have spent over four months in SE Asia and China and I feel it unlikely that we shall return. This is more a statement of other places to see and things to do rather than a surfeit of Asia. It is a wonderful part of the world, with cultures and lifestyles so different from our own and magnificent scenery ranging from the Taklamakan-Gobi deserts to the Tibetan plain and high 5000 m snow capped mountains to the fertile vegetable garden of Yunnan to the breathtakingly beautiful karst region of the SE province of Guangxi. Everywhere we went we were warmly greeted by friendly people eager to meet Westerners, some wishing us to pose for pictures with them, I suppose so they could show friends that they had met “Big Noses”, “Potato Eyes” or “Broccoli Hairs”. In Internet cafés young people leapt from their games-playing computers to assist us with translation in order to get us started on our e-mail task. (English is a compulsory subject, starting in Grade 3). The pride of country is very evident in China, perhaps bolstered (as intended) by the success of the Olympics and China’s “coming back onto” the world stage, regaining the stature she enjoyed, and so richly deserved, hundreds of years ago.

Beijing showcased uber-modern China with the new subway lines (a major WOW factor with their ease of travel (English signs or pictograms everywhere) and extensive coverage of this city of 18 million) and of course, the Olympic installations. Contrasting transportation from the modern to the age-old, was the donkey cart ride we took to the ruins of the ancient city of Gaochang, Xinjiang and the camel ride we took through the Gobi desert as we fancied ourselves in a caravan plodding along the Northern Silk Road to Kashgar and the wonders of the West.

Guides & Trip Logistics
We were a mite “inquièt” regarding the China part of the trip as it was organized directly with Guilin Tianyuan International Service, a travel agency located in Guilin, Guanxi, discovered through an Internet search and verified by recommendations we solicited directly from customer contacts given by the agency. For the Vietnam and Cambodia excursions, we once again dealt with the travel agency in Hanoi which had well served us in 2005.

We were very pleased with the services of our infinitely patient and accommodating travel agent “Louise” who persevered over nine months with us via e-mail as we organized the China trip. The hotels were well selected, responsive to our request for three or four star establishments; the guides were all very professional (all required a university degree before gaining their licence); supplied transport was clean and well maintained and the drivers were excellent; pre-selected restaurants were generally very good. Only one guide did not speak either good or excellent English (she obviously thinking in Mandarin while translating into English). All eleven guides were very knowledgeable regarding the culture and history of their region and most had engaging personalities and a couple were downright delights to have as travel companions. In particular, our Xinjian guide “Jack” showed the same great sense of humour, enthusiasm, energy and love of job as our Vietnamese guide “Duc” of 2005. Jack organized my birthday party al fresco under the grape arbour at the private residence of his friend in Turpan - a highlight of the trip.

Throughout the trip, logistics proceeded without flaw – we were never “stood up” upon arrival at airports or train stations and guides and drivers all “held our hands” according to the program. Were we forty years younger, we would feel secure in independent travel in China, but we feel the language barrier and unfamiliarity of the territory is not something we would wish in retirement.

Ethnic Minority People
One of the great pleasures of travel in this part of the world is the opportunity to encounter many ethnic minority tribes. Both China and Vietnam boast over fifty distinct minorities, each with its own culture, geographic territory, language or dialect and of course colourful costumes. We enjoyed artistic shows of the Uyghur, Tibetan, Han, Naxi, Tuong and Khmer cultures and visited rural communities of the Bai, Tay, Blue H’mong, Lo Lo, Cham and Nung peoples. Notwithstanding the destruction (at the hands of the Red Guards) of priceless relics and artefacts in the mad 1966-’76 Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, China amazed us as we absorbed 5000 years of history. It is common for these people to sport their native wear during their everyday life, although some have adopted “modern” work wear.

Some of the peoples we met:

Dining
Throughout the trip we stayed in three or four star hotels (European classification) and breakfast was included. Asian breakfast was served everywhere and in many hotels, a Western breakfast was available; we made our choice depending on our mood of the day and what looked most appealing. In China lunches were included in our package (in order to save time not having to look for a restaurant) and guides took us to very good establishments where, in some cases we had a set menu whilst elsewhere it was our choice. There was no dearth of food – rarely did the chef “lose face” because we consumed all that was served. We were on our own for evening dining and frequently we took the guide’s suggestion; in many cases a picture menu was helpful as it was rare that servers understood English. Throughout China, meals were very good to outstanding and we sampled all of the four major cuisines of China – Sichuan (hot pot, aromatic, fiery chilli spicy, numbing taste sensation from Sichuan pepper corns), Cantonese (stir fry, corn starch coatings, corn starch thickened sauces (not my favourite), Turk-Uyghur-Mongol (mutton and lamb kebabs, chillispice, nan bread, longman noodles) and central-northern China’s wheat based staples (steamed plain and pork filled dumplings, pancakes, Peking duck).As they say in Mandarin, Vietnamese and Khmer respectively…

Zai jian…..Tam biet…..Lea hoi

Ross

Shanghai is a fascinating city...

Shanghai is a fascinating city.  Traditional, colonial, ultra-modern: all these influences blend together in Shanghai.

The two Chinese characters in the name "Shanghai", mean “above" and "sea", respectively, and show Shanghai's relationship to the sea, in this case the East China Sea.

Shanghai is the city with the highest population in China, and is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, with over 20 million people in its extended metropolitan area.  Shanghai today is mainland China's centre for commerce and finance, and is sometimes referred to as the "showpiece" of the world's fastest-growing economy.

During the first half of the twentieth century Shanghai was the cultural and economic center of East Asia, making it the birthplace of everything “modern” in China. For example, it was here that the first motor car was driven and the first train tracks were laid. It was also the home of early twentieth century writers and intellectuals, the birthplace of Chinese cinema and theater, and the birthplace of the “Shanghai” school of art that broke with many of the conventions of traditional Chinese art. Today Shanghai’s modernity is continued and brought to new heights with its many constructions of ultra-modern building design. 

My tour of Shanghai was the E-China Tour 3-day tour Shanghai Classic Tour.

The first day of my tour was a visit to the famous Bund, a boulevard fronting the Huangpu River. The Bund shows off Shanghai’s outstanding foreign buildings, most of which were built before 1937. A veritable feast of early twentieth century European architectural styles, these include Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Classical, Beaux-Arts, and Art Deco styles. To the Europeans, the Bund was Shanghai’s answer to New York’s Wall Street. In the 1930s, this line of buildings housed the city's financial and commercial centers, and the world's greatest banks and trading empires had their base here.

After this it was to Nanjing Road. This is Shanghai’s main shopping precinct and, in fact, one of the world’s busiest shopping streets. It is around 6km long and attracts over 1 million visitors a day. I think the 1 million were all there that day along with me - the street was packed with wall-to-wall shoppers and sightseers.  I was pestered at first by shop owners out on the street trying to give me leaflets and “shanghai” me to buy at their shops, until my guide stepped in and got rid of them with a strong warning.  But the shopping experience in this road was well worth the visit. I ended up purchasing a red leather jacket at a fraction the cost of what I would have paid back home for the same, as well as several exquisite silk pashminas in a variety of colors. 

The next day started with the Shanghai Museum, which is the biggest museum in China. It houses a collection of over 120,000 pieces of Chinese art and cultural relics.  It is especially famous for its treasures of bronzes, ceramics, paintings and calligraphy.  It was huge and contains ten special galleries each one housing respectively bronze, calligraphy, ceramics, furniture, jades, minority art, numismatics, paintings, sculptures, and seals. I was very impressed and realized I would need far longer than the allotted two hours to do justice to viewing all the exhibits.

After that my tour took me to the Yu Garden, constructed in the architectural style of the Ming Dynasty. This used to be a private garden with 400 years’ history. Nowadays it combines with a market and entertainment area. On the day I was there the market and entertainment area was crowded with what seemed like 1,000 people and the effect was rather claustrophobic.  However the garden itself, which needs the payment of an entrance fee, is a quiet refuge in the midst of it all. One of the main attractions of the garden is the Exquisite Jade Rock. The rock is about 3 meters in height and has 72 holes. What is fascinating about this rock is that if you burn a joss stick or a candle just below it, the smoke will magically float out from all of the holes. On the other hand, when you pour water into the rock from the top, the water will flow out from each hole, creating a spectacular sight.
   The afternoon saw a visit to the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, the highest TV tower in Asia. Standing by the Huanpu River is 468 meters high. It is a really attractive building with a unique architectural style, as it consists of a series of colored spheres joined by steel columns to form the tower the whole of which rests on green grass, giving the appearance of, as the tourist brochures say, “Pearls shining on a jade plate”.  To me it was truly impressive that this ultra-modern tower combined traditional concepts, such as the spherical pearls, with 21st Century technology. The tower services the Shanghai area with at least nine television channels and ten FM radio channels. I travelled to the top of the tower in an elevator while an attendant gave us an introduction to it. The view from the top of the tower was tremendous and I was told I could see all the way to the Yangtze River. The exhibits in the spheres there gave me a glimpse of Shanghai through the ages. It is truly a must-see for any visitor to Shanghai and is probably the place in Shanghai that made the biggest impression on me.

Yunnan is a fascinating province...

Yunnan is a fascinating province. Let me tell you about my experiences there when I took the 8-day E-China tour to this province, the 8-day Southwest Highland Express Tour.

I began my tour in Kunming, the capital of this province. With an average year round maximum temperature of around 23 degrees Celsius and plenty of greenery and flowers all over the city, Kunming has been dubbed the “Spring City”.  I loved wandering around this pleasant city, especially enjoying the bird and flower market with its huge variety of items for sale, including pet animals like turtles (not just birds) along with fascinating curios and handicrafts. Bargaining is a must, of course.

The next morning I got up early for a drive of about 120km to visit the Stone Forest. Covering an area of about 400 sq km, this natural wonder was formed from the weathering of the karst landscape over millions of years, which has resulted in magnificent stone columns in a variety of strange and intricate formations.  The place was crowded with tourists that day but this slight inconvenience did not lessen the impact of the wonderful vistas of the attraction.

The following day I flew to Dali.  The city of Dali, home to the Bai ethnic minority group, is one of Yunnan's most popular tourist destinations, both for its historic sites and its "Foreigners' Street" featuring western-style food and music, therefore popular with both western and Chinese tourists.

The day’s touring began with a visit to Erhai Lake, which has been dubbed 'a pearl on the plateau'. It is one of the seven biggest freshwater lakes in China. In the sunlight of that day the surface of the lake radiated like shining silver.  I felt very peaceful there as I contemplated the magnificence and variety of scenery on offer in this magical province of Yunnan.

Afterwards, I visited Dali Ancient City. Its grand city wall, traditional Bai ethnic minority folk houses and marvelous scenery attract many visitors from home and aboard.

The next day, in the morning, my private van drove me to the city of Lijiang, home to the Naxi ethnic minority group.  The Dongba Cultural Museum is the best place to get a close look at Dongba (Naxi) culture. This ancient culture, with its beliefs unifying man and nature, used a pictographic from of writing, reminding me very much of the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writing.

In the mid-afternoon I visited Lijiang Old Town, a well-preserved old city of ethnic minorities with brilliant culture. It possesses an ancient water supply system that still functions today

Te following day I visited Yuhu Village, a village of the Naxi minority group.  I saw the former residence of Dr. Joseph Rock, an Austrian botanist and explorer who lived here from 1922-1949, dedicated to researching the Naxi people and their unique culture and sending the fruits of his research as articles for National Geographic. I marveled at his dedication to a people and couture in a land far, far away from his birthplace and wondered if I would ever do similar in China.

The following day, in the morning I set out on the long drive to Shangri-La.
On the way I visited Tiger Leaping Gorge, believed to be the deepest gorge in the world.

Then I visited the First Bend of the Yangtze River. This extraordinary turn, nearly180-degrees, creates beautiful and marvelous views. Here, the river is wide and the water flows at slow pace. Large willow trees grow alongside the river that is banked on both sides with lush green vegetation and steep mountains that rise up from the river to touch the clouds in the blue sky above. The sight is like a magnificent landscape painting. The First Bend of the Yangtze River is a world-famous geological phenomenon and an extraordinary panoramic scene.

The following day I visited Shangri-La, not quite the place envisaged by James Hilton in his book of the same name, but a close imitation.

I firstly visited the site of Songzanlin Temple, which is reputed as 'the little Potala Palace '. Being the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Yunnan, Songzanlin Monastery is one of the famous monasteries in the Kang region. Afterwards, I paid a visit to Bitahai Lake, which is over 3500 meters (about 3828 yards) above sea level. Bitahai Lake is famous for its limpid water and its beautiful scenery which is set against the mountains and forests surrounding it.  My last stop was Meili Snow Mountain, one of the most sacred mountains of Tibetan Buddhism.

The following day I took the morning flight back to Kunming, contemplating the marvels of the impressive province of Yunnan.

We are really enjoying Guilin. What a beautiful place!!!
Good Morning Loiuse,
 
Thank you for the bouquet of Roses.
 
We are really enjoying Guilin.  What a beautiful place!!!
 
We are enjoying the tour.
 
We will definitely recommend your tour company to our friends and co-workers back in Shanghai and else where.
 
Regards,
 
Sungchin
You run a very efficient organization...

Hi Sherry,

Am back in Bnagalore and as can happen at times like this it feels like I've never been away.
I had a truly great time in both Xi'an and Shanghai, thanks to you and your guides. You run a very efficient organization and I"m sure you'll only get better. I hope I can make it to the World Expo in 2010. I'll certainly be in touch with you then.
I was hoping I'd  get to meet you but it sort of added to a sense of mystery to have evrything arranged by you and not seeing you!! Like one of those suspense movies!
Anyway to remove some of the suspense I"m including a couple of pix with me in them.
It was nice talking to you though only  briefly from the airport. The acrobatic show was definitely more than adequate compensation    for   the  extra  hour of wait at the  airport.

Good Luck and God Bless,
Cheers,
Hemaa Narayan

DESTINATION CHINA -- Author: Eunice Shearer

I am an Australian. My first experience with China came in November 2007 when the English language school I’d been doing casual teaching at in Queensland, Australia, offered me the job of teacher of an intensive six-week English language course at the Sichuan Normal University in Chengdu, China.  A salary plus pre-paid travel and accommodation expenses were offered as part of this job, so mildly curious about China (an unknown country to me) I took the job. Before leaving Australia I also arranged with a travel agent to spend one week after my teaching appointment ended visiting four other famous destinations in China: Guilin, Xian and Beijing.  So began a journey that would have an incredible impact my life.

Chengdu
Chengdu is the capital city of Sichuan Province in southwestern China and is on the major route to Tibet. It is one of the most important economic, transportation and communication centers in Southwestern China. The city is famous mainly for its pandas and its spicy food.

The panda (or black and white “giant panda”) is native to central and southwestern China.  Due to poaching and destruction of its habitat there are relatively few pandas left in the world today. It is estimated that around 1500 are still living in the wild and around 300 living in captivity, in China and in zoos outside China. I visited the panda breeding research centre located not far from downtown Chengdu.  It covers a large area of around 90 acres and contains not only the typical black and white giant pandas but also the red-furred bushy-tailed “red pandas” (that look more like foxes) and over 20 species of other rare and endangered animals.  Yes, the pandas are cute, in a gigantic way, as they munch on their bamboo leaves all day while idly lying in semi-reclined positions on the grass.

Sichuan cuisine originated in Sichuan Province and is famous for its spiciness resulting from liberal use of chilis and Sichuan peppercorns. One of the most popular of these is Sichuan hotpot, in which a simmering metal pot of stock is placed in the center of the dining table. While the hot pot is kept simmering, ingredients are put into the pot and cooked at the table. Typical hot pot dishes include thinly sliced meat, leafy vegetables, mushrooms (of which there are many varieties) and seafood. The hotpot I sampled was delicious, but very spicy, and just the thing to warm me up in the chilly winter air of Chendu in December!  However, you can order a non-spicy and equally delicious version of hotpot if you prefer.

A warning about Chengdu in December: bring, or buy there, your warmest clothes, including thermal underwear.  Not just because the outdoors temperatures can be near freezing (which is to be expected) but because the indoors temperatures almost match those outdoors (which is not expected by a first-time visitor to Chengdu).  With temperatures falling to around 5 degrees (and getting colder by the day) I discovered that all the locals leaving doors and windows open and don’t bother to turn on the heaters.  I couldn’t understand why they didn’t go for the warm and cosy feeling like I, a tropical-blooded Queenslander, insisted on.  They preferred to rug up in overcoats and shiver. The Visa department at the Chinese Embassy where I had to sit in for an hour one day was the worst.  Imagine it.  Outside temperature 5 degrees, and inside temperature 5 degrees, in a vast hall with heaters, but none of them turned on, and waiting my turn at the counter sitting on freezing cold aluminum seats, the only kind of seats there to sit on. Even restaurants, where most of us love to feel warm and cosy as we eat, were almost as cold.  I was sitting in a restaurant on Christmas Eve, so it was full of diners, and I looked around to see every person sitting at the tables eating was wearing an overcoat!

I looked forward to my next destination, the more southerly city of Guilin, hoping that at least the restaurants would be warmer.  I was right.  The weather there was chilly also, but yes, the restaurants were warmer.

Guilin
I sat in a window seat on the plane that flew me from Chengdu to Guilin. I'd heard about the fantastically shaped limestone hills that the city was famous for and I was expecting to see maybe 10 of these surrounding the city. My God! I looked down from the plane and saw the vast plain below me infested with thousands of those hills, stretching as far as my eyes could see.

I exited the airport arrivals hall to be greeted by my beaming guide, a young man who spoke English fluently and had lots of interesting anecdotes to tell me about the city, its history and the many different cultures of this region of southern China.

On my first evening in Guilin I attended the Minority Groups concert at a theatre in downtown Guilin. As well as traditional Chinese Han culture, the traditions of local minority groups, such as the Miao, Dong, Zhong and Yao, also formed a vital part of the local culture of this region. I was stunned by the mixture of traditional dances, singing and costumes as well as the mask dances and the acrobatic performances that made up this performance. 

The next day I went on the Li River cruise.  I think everybody who visits Guilin does this cruise – it's a must-see.  This was a full-day cruise along the famous Li River where one can see the best of the limestone hills scenery as the boat cruises leisurely by.  The cruise ended in the up-country town of Yangshuo, popular as a place of recreation by both foreigners and local Chinese. You can bargain for and buy all kinds of traditional handicrafts here, mostly in West St, (named after the “westerners” that inhabit the town) as well as hang out at bars, discos and pizzerias if you feel like being just a “westerner”.

On my second night in Guilin I went on the Four Lakes cruise.  This was a riverboat cruise around the four lakes located in the downtown area of Guilin city, brought to life at night by the floodlighting of buildings, greenery, hills, bridges and the magnificent twin Sun and Moon pagodas in the centre of the first lake. The magic of this cruise was completed by tales told by my guide of the colorful and often sad history of Guilin. Unlike the Li River cruise, the scenery on this cruise was largely made by humans, therefore to me all the more impressive and magical.

My last day in Guilin consisted of visits to Elephant Trunk Hill, Fubo Hill and the Reed Flute Cave. Elephant Trunk Hill, a symbol of Guilin City, is part of a limestone hill beside the Li River (the river that runs through the city from beyond the mountains far beyond) and is shaped like an elephant dipping its trunk into the river to drink. A park beside Elephant Trunk Hill, called ‘Lovers Island’, is filled with - tasteful and modernistic I must add - sculptures of lovers in different poses. Here I had some fun being photographed posing beside these sculptures.

Then it was on to Fubo Hill, another one of the spectacular Guilin hills located right in the centre of the city, this one a Buddhist shrine with a thousand year-old history.  Here I wrote a prayer on a yellow prayer flag, dedicated to the future happiness of my two children, and tied it on a string near the ceiling of the cave, one of hundreds of yellow prayer flags on a string that was one of dozens of strings of flags lining the ceiling of the cave that was a shrine.

Then it was a visit to the Reed Flute Cave. This is a vast series of caves or caverns with stalactites and stalagmites formed over millions of years into fantastic shapes, likes animals, people and even fruits and vegetables, all of them imaginatively named!

Before I left Guilin I visited a silk factory and a pearl factory. I was tempted to buy a magnificent silk quilt but instead spent my money on a beautiful multi-coloured pearl necklace and earrings.

Guilin had made an enormous impression on me.  What next, I wondered, as I boarded the plane for my next destination, Xian.
 
Xian
I arrived in Xian at 2 minutes past midnight on 1st January 2008. From the window seat on the plane I saw fireworks exploding around the city.

Exiting the arrivals hall, I was met by a different English-speaking guide, but one who, in the chilly late night air, also smiled broadly and greeted me warmly. He took me directly to a McDonalds restaurant in downtown Xian for my evening meal.  This McDonalds restaurant, filled with young men and women wearing modern fashionable clothes, was directly opposite an ancient bell tower. Around this tower fireworks were exploding, celebrating the incoming New Year. That was my first impression of Xian and my lasting impression of China – the ancient and traditional – the bell tower and fireworks - seamlessly integrated with modern-day life – the fashionably dressed young people in the restaurant.

Xian is a tourist destination famous mainly for its terracotta army of soldiers dating from around 210BC, the Qin Dynasty. That’s where I went on my first day. The pit in which these were buried was discovered by farmers in 1974 and is the most significant archeological find of this century. The array of thousands of terracotta figures - warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians - arranged in columns in a pit many times larger than an aircraft hangar was an unforgettable sight.

That evening I climbed the city wall that surrounds the central part of the city of Xian. This is the most complete city wall that has survived in China, as well as one of the largest ancient military defense systems in the world. Not only wide at its base, the wall is very wide at its top, about12 meters wide.  My guide told me that it is a popular place for cyclists to ride around doing circuits on a warm sunny day.  Unfortunately when I visited the wall it was neither daytime nor warm and sunny, so I shelved that idea for a future visit to Xian.

This visit was followed by the famous Dumpling Banquet Dinner and Tang Dance Show.  The Tang Dance show was a colorful performance of the traditional music and dances of China. It took place in a theatre restaurant where I sat at a table consuming 12 courses of dumplings of various shapes, sizes and flavors while watching the dance performance. As Xian is in a more northern region of China, rice does not grow here as easily as does wheat, therefore dumplings, made from wheat flour, are a local specialty.

While in Xian I paid a visit to a pagoda, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda to be exact. Pagodas are Buddhist temples, Chinese style.  These multi-tiered towers, also common in Japan, Korea and Vietnam, are an instantly recognized symbol of China. The Big Wild Goose Pagoda was built in 652 during the Tang Dynasty and functioned to collect Buddhist materials that were taken from India by the hierarch Xuanzang. Relics of his journeys are housed within the buildings comprising the pagoda and murals depicting his journeys line their inner walls. And why the name “Big Wild Goose”?  It is said that once upon a time a big wild goose fell to earth with a broken wing, landing at the feet of some very hungry monks.  This was a reminder to the followers of Buddha not to eat meat, not even that of a wild goose that, like a gift from Heaven, had fallen at their feet.

Xian impressed me as a clean and modern city retaining a wealth of ancient Chinese traditions. The New Year’s fireworks around the ancient bell tower in front of McDonalds had epitomized this.

The following day it was on to Beijing, China’s capital.

Beijing
Before I actually visited Beijing I imagined it to be inhabited by millions of people riding bicycles in the streets and dressed austerely in Chairman Mao-style uniforms.  This image was shattered the moment I left the airport and, accompanied by my third friendly and informative personal guide, drove the wide modern freeway to the city centre.  The city looked clean, with tall modern buildings surrounded by gardens and trees, and people dressed in modern clothes riding in modern cars and buses. I could not see any of the Mao-uniformed bicycle-riders of my imagination.

But of course there is the ancient, traditional and cultural side to Beijing that most visitors come to see: namely the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and of course, the Great Wall, to mention but three of these.

On my first day I visited the Forbidden City followed by the Temple of Heaven.

The Forbidden City is vast and magnificent.  It covers 72 ha and is the world's largest surviving palace complex. It is a rectangle 961 meters from north to south and 753 meters from east to west. It consists of 980 surviving buildings with 8,707 bays of rooms. Only some of these are open to the public and most of the rest of this vast complex is still being restored.  The name "Forbidden City" comes from the fact that traditionally ordinary things (people or materials) could not enter the gates, they were "forbidden" For 5 centuries it was the home of then emperors of China. The last emperor to live there was Puyi, who lived in the palace until 1924.

The Temple of Heaven is even bigger than the Forbidden City, covering an area of about 2,700,000 square meters. It was built in 1420 A.D. during the Ming Dynasty to offer sacrifices to Heaven. As Chinese emperors called themselves 'The Son of Heaven' they dared not to build their own dwelling, the Forbidden City, bigger than a dwelling for Heaven.  Like the Forbidden City, it also is magnificent.  At the centre of this temple complex is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, a triple-gabled circular building built on three levels, where the Emperor prayed for good harvests. The building is completely wooden, with no nails. It is one of Beijing’s most famous architectural landmarks.

One interesting part of this temple complex is the Echo Wall, enclosing the Imperial Vault of Heaven. If you and another person stand at the east and the west roots of the wall respectively and you whisper a word, then the other person will hear clearly what you say. 

The following day I climbed The Great Wall. You don’t just walk along the top of the wall because each relatively flat section of The Wall is joined by stone steps, and these steps are so steep that you have to actually climb them, not step up or down them. After 2 hours my progress was about 200 meters along The Wall.  I was glad that I had chosen “the easier” route from the 2 alternatives offered by my guide.  Yes, this The Wall was vast and magnificent also.  From the top of the section that I did climb I looked out over the first few kilometers of Wall snaking its way over the hills and forming just a small part of the of some 2400 kilometers more of this incredible structure – so big that it generated the urban legend “it can be seen from the moon”.  Actually, it can’t be seen from the moon but it can be seen from space from a distance where most other man-made objects can’t be seen.

Conclusion
Visit China. You'll be glad you did. It may even have the incredible impact on your life that it did on mine.

Eunice Shearer

We will definitely use the E-China Tour company again...
Dear Louise,
 
Thank you for your message.  Yes, please do pass on our very high praise to your local partners.  We were most impressed with the service- it really was excellent and we are just so appreciative of all the hard work of everyone who made our tour such a success.
 
It is a pity that we could not meet you, but I am sure we will be back again.  We were in Guilin in March but only for a few days and we would like to revisit again sometime.  We are such China fans!  We enjoy visiting your beautiful country very much, so you can be sure we will be back again sometime, and we will definitely use the E-China Tour company again.
 
Many many thanks and enjoy the Olympics - it is such an honour for us to be here and we are very excited that today is the Opening Ceremony.  There is great excitement in Beijing as you can probably imagine. We will try to find a big TV screen in a park to watch the opening ceremony with the local people this evening.
 
Warm wishes from all our group.
 
Susan
We had a great time in our tour...

Hello Louise,

It really was wonderful to meet  you in  Guilin. We had a great time in our tour. We also brought Guilin memory with us from Guilin Museum. I have uploaded  pictures from our trip. These  pictures with you and Sherry are very nice.

Talk to you later. Thanks.
 
Vibha Desai

Regarding the trip, overall it was really good...

Hi Sherry

As you said I am really tired after our two-week trip.  
Regarding the trip, overall it was really good; all the guides were very good and we have learnt lot about Chinese history.  
Citidines Hotel was superb in Xian; I wish you could have booked the same in Beijing or in Shanghai.  
Home Inn was not good.  
I have a suggestion. You should instruct the local guides to take us to a local market for shopping. They all took us big mall, where you get branded items and it’s too expensive. Those branded ones we do get in India for the same price. We wanted to buy some things from China, but we could not. The reason was we could not go on our own because of language problems.  
In Shanghai, first our tour was over by 4pm. Instead, if they had given 1-2 hrs more for shopping in the local area, we would have been very happy. 
Sherry these are suggestions, please don't misunderstand me  .
My son and husband purchased mobile phones, which are working here. I hope they will work for a long time, because the shop has not given any warranty card. 
Sherry, you should add one more city, Shenzhen. I heard it is very good and we can do lots of shopping there. 
Nothing more, we all enjoyed everything else.  
My husband and children convey special thanks to you. Many times they remember you in China. 
And they asked me to write a letter to your manager and convey that you have done a good job!!!!
I wish you the very best for the future, dear friend, and pray to the Lord that your dreams will be fulfilled as soon as possible.

With love, Sathya

I enjoyed my trip very much. My first tour in China, was with your company...

Hi Louise,

I enjoyed my trip very much. My first tour in China, was with your company. The guides, Richard & Andy, were wonderful. They spoke English very well, were very knowledgeable and I enjoyed their company. Your help planning the tour was exceptional. You answered all my questions and made the process very easy. I would highly recommend your company to anyone visiting China. I used the information you provided me to get to and from the airport on my own. It saved me money. I showed the cab drivers your instructions, in Chinese, and it worked very well. I can not say that for my second tour in China. It was not half as good as yours.

Thanks for the stamp with my name in English and Chinese. I will use it on all my letters.
Thanks again for all your help.

Tom Irvine

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