I love when I can find a great deal on a trip and boy, did I find one: a 10-day trip to China with roundtrip airfare, hotel, and guided tour for $499, plus $100 tip and the visa. I found some friends who wanted to join me and next thing you know, there were 8 of us going on this trip. We extended it by 2 days so we could visit Cheng Du as well, which was an additional $200 plus $20 tip. I also upgraded to have my own room for an additional $40/night. The tour company was SNA Tours, and they were a pleasure to work with. We arrived at LAX airport early, hoping to be able to upgrade to business class. We were able to pay an additional $600 for business class one-way, and it was so worth it. We each had our own little pod where the seat fully reclined. It was very comfortable, and the airline (Sichuan Airlines) provided a variety of meals and snacks throughout the 13-½ hour flight (which turned out to be 12-½ hours as we arrived an hour early).
Once we arrived at the airport in China, we went through customs, which was quick and easy. They stamped our passport books, took our pictures and fingerprints, and then we were sent into the next room to get our luggage. Once we got our luggage we departed the luggage area and waited to meet the SNA guide. Our tour group was pretty big, around 65 people, so they broke us up into 2 groups. We loaded up the bus and headed to breakfast/lunch. Once we finished eating we visited Daming Lake and Black Tiger Spring. They are both beautiful places. We then checked into our hotel for our first at night Grand Mercure Jinan Sunshine. This is a lovely hotel with a nice sized, modern room. They offer a full buffet breakfast, which has both western and eastern food and has both breakfast and lunch items.
There is a wonderful mall that is a 5-minute walk from the hotel. This has to be one of the most beautiful malls I have ever seen. I felt like I was in an enchanted museum. Words cannot describe the beauty, so all I can say is be sure to stop in and visit this mall and walk on every level. You will find beautiful displays with flowers, statues, unique store displays, and fun activities for kids (2 levels of play area with games, bowling lanes, roller skating, and so much more). There is also a large variety of restaurants to choose from, so I would suggest having dinner here one night.
The next morning we checked out of our hotel in Jinan and headed to Qufu City to visit the Temple of Confucius, which was built to worship the Chinese thinker and social philosopher. We then walked around the Confucian Cemetery area. Then we drove 1-½ hours to Tai’an and checked into the Four Points by Sheraton Tai’an, a beautiful hotel with really nice rooms. The hotel also has a very nice pool with steam room and Jacuzzi. They also offer a breakfast buffet. We walked around the area and visited the night market. While walking there you see groups of people all over just dancing in the streets and parking lots. While walking back to the hotel we came across the most beautifully decorated restaurant (across the street from the street market). It had a pink panther theme and every little detail made this such an enjoyable restaurant. We just had a couple of dishes but if given the opportunity, I would come back to try more items. If you are staying at this hotel, I highly recommend stopping in this place for a drink or a bite to eat and admire all of the creativity that went into this restaurant.
Our next morning started out by visiting the Dai Temple and their bonsai garden. After the temple we visited a local farmers’ market. The food they had was so different and the largest vegetables I have ever seen. It was a fun experience. We then visited a rural village where we saw how the homes and offices were years ago. We then learned how to do paper cutting, which was actually pretty cool, and then learned how to make dim sum--another fun-filled day. In the evening we attended the Taishan Fengshan night show. This show was spectacular. With the mountain as the backdrop, the history of China is told using lights, music, video technology, and a very large cast.
The next morning we departed early to take the bullet train to Beijing. It was a very comfortable ride. We visited the Temple of Heaven, which has the most beautiful grounds. While there we had a tai chi lesson and watched people perform amazing stunts on the outdoor equipment. We then visited the temple. After the Temple of Heaven we went to the Hongqioa Market, where they sell everything from purses to scarves to luggage. Whatever you decide to purchase be prepared to negotiate, as they start very high but come down a lot when you start to walk away. They use a calculator to tell you how much it costs, and then you negotiate back and forth by typing in the amount you want to pay on the calculator. There is a great food court downstairs and there is also a McDonald’s, Subway, and KFC. After eating the Chinese food the last few days, I really enjoyed McDonald’s.
We then had a 2-hour drive to our next hotel, the Crown Plaza Huailai. This hotel is stunning. The lobby is gorgeous, and the rooms are spectacular, very large and comfortable. They have a great indoor pool with a separate pool for kids with giant water slides and fun activities. For the adults they have a few different pools with water jets for different areas of your body. Very relaxing. There is also a lap pool. This was one of the nicest indoor hotel pools I have visited.
Our last day in Beijing we spent the morning at the Great Wall of China. We climbed the Juyongguan section of the wall, which was 3700 steps. It was such a great experience and a thrill to finally reach the top. After the wall we visited a jade factory and learned how the art sculptures were created, and then we had time to shop. Before heading back to the hotel we visited the Ming tomb, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was very interesting and amazing what they had to go through to get through the tomb.
The next morning we visited the Summer Palace. Once we were inside, we took a boat ride across the water. After walking around there for a bit we headed to Hutong Village, where we had lunch with a local family. We then took a pedicab ride through the city.
Our next destination was a 2-½ hour ride to the Gubei Water Town Hotel. The lobby is very grand. The rooms are a very nice size. The hotel is very large and therefore the rooms are far away from the elevator. Gubei Water town is a replica of an ancient village. It has only been open for a few years, and it is absolutely stunning. The leaves had turned color. Everywhere you looked was picturesque. There are stores and restaurants throughout. We visited a hot pot restaurant and really enjoyed our meal. After walking around all day we went to the square for the 4:00 show where there was a variety of acrobatic acts. We then took the boat ride along the water to the cable car so we could take the cable car to the Simatai Great Wall. The view was beautiful in the evening. When we returned, we walked to the fountains to see the free fountain and light show as well as the drone show. This is a spectacular show and one not to be missed.
The next morning we departed early to visit the Lama Buddies Temple. After this we went for an Oriental foot massage, which was much needed, and then continued our day walking through Tiananmen Square and then into The Forbidden City (which has over 9000 rooms). We ended our evening at the Kungfu Legend Show, which was very entertaining. We finally checked into our new hotel, the Beijing Hampton Inn by Hilton Daxing. This hotel is not as luxurious as the other hotels, but the rooms are clean and very big, so still very comfortable, and we were there for such a short time as we had a morning flight from Beijing to Cheng Du. The flight was around 3 hours. Be very careful not to leave any power banks in your checked bag. A couple of people in our group had notices in their luggage that their power banks were discarded. They did check my power bank to see the mAh so be sure you stay within the limit. Our last hotel was the Holiday Inn Chengdu High-Tech Center. The rooms are very large and comfortable. We walked 10 minutes down the street to an area with a lot of restaurants to choose from. We ate at a Japanese restaurant called Heying that we all really enjoyed.
Our last day in China we spent at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Research. Wow, did this turn out to be one of the highlights of my trip. We were able to see giant pandas, red Pandas, and even baby pandas. It was truly amazing watching them eat, sleep, and play. After spending a few hours there we went shopping on Jinli Street, an area with a lot of different shops and food stalls and restaurants. From there we drove to Kuanzhai Street, which is a smaller area with nicer stores and restaurants, but they also have food stalls to try all of the different foods as well. It was a really fun day.
The next day we had our return flight from Cheng Du to Jinan to Los Angeles. We had the option to upgrade to business class for $780.00. I chose to stay in my economy seat. When we arrived in Jinan we had to show our boarding pass to depart the plane for our connecting flight, and we also had to turn in a form that we filled out when we first arrived in China. If you didn’t have that form anymore they give you a new one to fill out, so don’t panic if you can’t find it. We had some foreign currency left and I was planning on spending it at the airport, but in Cheng du the waiting area was a tiny room that didn’t have any restaurants nearby, and since we were already through security I didn’t want to go back out to the main terminal. The Jinan airport did not have any restaurants open, and there was one little store where you could purchase some snacks (Pringles, chocolates, tea) and some souvenirs but not any real food so be prepared for that.
Things to be aware of when visiting China: You will need to download a VPN prior to leaving the states in order to use Google and Facebook, as China blocks these sites. Always carry toilet paper and hand sanitizer or wipes, as the bathrooms typically do not have any. Most of the toilets are built into the ground, known as squatty potties, so be prepared. There are usually one or two handicap stalls that have the western toilets. I got some foreign currency before I left the US, but I had no problem using ATMs to get money out using my debit card. My bank does not charge fees, so this was the easiest for me. Most places did not take credit cards or US currency (including the mall), so make sure you have plenty of Chinese currency. I used the XE Currency app to help convert the currency. Be sure to carry a business card from your hotel so you can show the taxi driver if you need a ride back to your hotel. I used the Voice App to help me translate. You can also use pictures to ask for help. I also used an app called Snap & Translate, which worked sporadically. You will need a converter for electricity, and I also brought a N95 rated face mask for the smog, but I did not need to use it (although there were a few people in my group who did).
Since I booked this trip based on the low-priced package I wanted to break down my expenses for you:
Total costs of trip:
12 day tour: $699.00
Optional Private room $400.00 (Upgrade for 10 days, $40/night)
10 year visa $160.00
Optional Fee to company to get visa $130.00
Optional Upgrade to Business Class one way $600.00