Review of China Essence 10 days tour

This  air-inclusive 10 day China tour came with a budget-friendly price tag of less than $599 USD and not only included flights from North America but meals and stays at 5 star hotels.

Deals like these sound too good to be true and sometimes are.  My family and I (family of six) had to try it out for ourselves.

The Deal

This deal was offered by Compass Holiday.

It included flights from select North American Cities on China Air/Hainan Airlines, stay at local 5 star hotels and some meals included.

Itinerary:

  • Day one: Starts with flights from North America to Beijing, China
  • Day two – Day four:  Beijing.  Including visits to Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace and Great Wall of China.
  • Day five: Beijing – Shanghai -Wuxi.  Optional tour of three kingdoms city and Nanchang street.
  • Day six: Wuxi – Suzhou.  Grand Canal cruise of Suzhou
  • Day Seven: Suzhou – Hangzhou. Visit Suzhou Lotus Garden
  •  Day Eight – Hangzhou – Shanghai. Visits to Shanghai waterfront and Shanghai commercial center.
  • Day Nine: Shanghai – Free day/Shopping
  • Day Ten: Shahghai – Home.

As an alternative there are similar Groupon offers for US Cities.

Flights

Flights were with Hainan Airlines.  The plane itself was quite comfortable with nice leg room for all. This made up for the fact that we could not get upgraded seats for my son who is six foot five.  If you are travelling as a group, I recommend to pay the extra to get your seats together or call the airline to reserve seats as we were seated all over the plane.

Although the flight was long, (13 hours from Toronto to Beijing), the food was good, (Chinese airline food to give you a taste before you land), and plenty of fun to be had.  Each seat had its own TV screen with lots of entertainment options (movies like Thor Ragnarok, TV shows, and games).  The flight attendants were pleasant and there were lots of choices for alcoholic drinks.  Overall it was a good flight experience.

Shanghai Hotel Foyer
Shanghai Hotel Foyer

Accommodation & Food

Accommodation for each location were at local 5 star hotels.  In Beijing we stayed at the Great Wall Beijing Hotel which was nice but is beginning to show its age.  The hotel at the last stop in Shanghai was an absolutely amazing Hotel on the outskirts of the city built in the French renaissance architecture style.   Our room had King Louise XVI furniture with a full poster bed. Not to mention tohe washrooms were out of this world; the toilets had built in bidets that not only got the job done but also massaged your rear end.

Round table Lunch
Round table Lunch

Each hotel served buffet-style breakfast.  It was usually a combination of standard Western hot breakfast items and Chinese food. Fried rice, wanton soup, and dim sum were some of their oriental selections. Some hotels had more selection than others.  Overall breakfast was excellent. Whether you are a native Chinese citizen, or a westerner unfamiliar to food from the east, there was something for everyone.

For lunch the tour guide offered us group lunch for the price of  ten dollars ($10 USD) at a restaurant.  This style was typical in China with round rotating tables that took about 10 people, where everyone would be taking food from the same dish.  Lunch would consist of some steam rice, steam vegetables, fish dish, meat dish and spring rolls with a beer.  All this for ten dollars,  you can’t go wrong.

For dinner we were left on our own.  There were lots of options around.  Most of them surprisingly decently priced setting you back ten dollars ($10 USD) for a decent meal.  In fact at one location we went to a high end restaurant to treat ourselves and were surprised at the bill.  For a group of six people we ended up spending about twelve dollars ($12 USD) each.

One thing to watch out for when ordering food is that not a lot of the locals speak English. China after all is a nation of over 1.3 billion mandarin speaking people.  Luckily most places had what they called picture menus.  This allowed us to order most food just by pointing at the pictures.

Tours

On day three we did a tour of the historic Tiananmen Square, Mausoleum of Mao Zedong and the Forbidden City – Imperial Palace for the Emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasty.  All three tourist attractions are within walking distance to each other. We didn’t go into the Mausoleum of Mao as the line up was really long.  Leave plenty of time for these attractions  as it takes a whole day to see all of them and they are all fascinating.

Peak of the Imperial Palace
Peak of the Imperial Palace

Day four was a full day walk up the Wall of China.  This is not called one of the eight wonders of the world for nothing.  This is a hikers dream; but not so much if you aren’t into walking up miles of steep winding stairs in hot weather. Take lots of water and good walking shoes as you will need it.  Read my daughter Alisha’s blog for her experience of this walk.  This definitely is a must see on any tour to China.

Beijing Olympic National Stadium - Birds Nest
Beijing Olympic National Stadium – Birds Nest

We completed the day with a stop by the Olympic National Stadium, otherwise known as the birds nest.  This is a good place to stop and buy souvenirs at a reasonable price.  Remember to bargain as this is quite commonly acceptable in China. Don’t let the foreign surroundings intimidate you as the locals will take full advantage of this and sell you items for markup prices.

Restaurant on Nanchang Street
Restaurant on Nanchang Street

Other tours we did included a visit to Nanchang street in Wuxi.  It was a nice mixture of ancient and modern architecture, although we didn’t feel much for it.  I think after the long drive from Shanghai airport we would have preferred some rest time in the hotel.

We went on the Grand Canal Cruise in Suzhou which was nice and relaxing and visited the Suzhou Lotus Garden (Couples Garden) which as gardens go was interesting.

Shanghai Waterfront
Shanghai Waterfront

Shangai is where we spent the last couple of days.  Shanghai is China’s largest city and its financial hub.  It takes a couple of hours to get from the outskirts to the financial district.  There is lots to see and do here.  The Bund is a good place to start.  This is the waterfront area in central Shanghai with a beautiful skyline.  Walking distance from the Bund is Nanjing Street.  This is a must go if you are into shopping.  Watch out for the cheap knockoffs in the side streets around here.  If you are looking for cheap clothing deals visit the Qipu Road wholesale market, however be prepared to bargain.

Shopping

Dragon Well Tea Plantation
Dragon Well Tea Plantation

There are a lot of mandatory shopping stops disguised as tours on the trip.   Some of these were interesting  – Chinese Medicine Institute, Dragon Well – Tea plantation and the Silk Embroidery factory.  Albeit others were a waste of time – Jade workshop and Pearl breeding center.  I understand that the sponsorship from these vendors helped subsidized the price of the trip but I think it would have been nice if some of them were optional.

Statues in a Shopping Mall
Statues in a Shopping Mall

If you are looking to go clothing shopping, Shanghai is the place to be.  Nanjing street has every major clothing brand and more but at prices that are comparable to North America.  For the more brave amongst you, I recommend you head out to the clothing markets such as Qipu Road or A. P. Plaza Yingyang market.

Tips

  • China is a country with over 1.3 billion Mandarin-speaking people.  Do not expect most people to speak English.  Download an English to Mandarin translation app onto your phone to assist you.
  • China bans most social media apps like Facebook, Youtube, Google, even Snapchat. If you want access to these sites in China I personally suggest NordVPN. Otherwise, download a language translator, WeChat for social media, Bing for searching, and Baidu maps prior to going.
  • China is well known for its traditional foot massages.  There are spas every where.  On the trip our tour guide took us to a spa with a 90-minute foot massage special for $30 US dollars. Furthermore the massage was awesome except that the next day one of the other tour members had the same massage at another spa for $15 US dollars. The point here is that a lot of events are cheaper if you find them yourself, instead of following a tour guide.
  • Bargain hard for the items you want, once the locals at the market catch a whiff of your tourist scent, it’s over for you. Moreover if you have a friend familiar to China reach out to them before purchasing so you know whether you are getting a good deal or not.

Final Review

Overall I would give this tour a very good rating because of the flights, hotels and value for money.  Make some of the mandatory shopping tours optional and I would give it excellent.  However this would most likely result in the price going up.

 

 

Watch out for our next blog on Allure of the Seas: Cruise.

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