Don & Barb's 2012 China Trip

Since I had a business trip to China this year Barb decided that this was a perfect opportunity to check one more item off the bucket list so we decided to extend the trip by a week, have Barb fly out to join me and we'd spend a week to explore China. After much agonizing on what to do we finally decided to just do a tour, trying to navigate around a country where we couldn't even read the street signs just did not appeal. This of course created the second agony of which tour to choose (there are approximately a million China tours available, I know there are a million, I checked :-)

Anyway, after obsessing about which tour to choose, a friend suggested a San Francisco company, China Focus, which they'd used successfully about 10 years ago. Turns out China Focus is still in business and they had a tour that covered the areas we were interested in (mainly the Wall and the Terracotta Warriors) and the dates of the tour perfectly matched our schedule. Fortunately the tour was offered in a land only package (my company was paying for my flight) so we signed up for the tour and this is how it turned out

I spent a week in Shanghai on business and Barb flew in to join me on Thurs. Barb spent all day on Fri. recovering from the trip and walking around a park across the street from the hotel. On Sat. we took a taxi to downtown Shanghai and walked around a lot.

Walked around the French concession downtown, looked at some interesting art deco buildings and had a fun time fending off the street vendors (multiple people showed us cards with pictures trying to sell fake Rolex's, some were quite persistent). Also saw a guy writing caligraphy on the sidewalk in the park using a brush attached to a water bottle — interesting.

We tried to find Yu Gardens but never actually found them, a park nearby confused us and we just got too tired and went back to the hotel. We still had a good time waking around (the break for HaagenDazs was certainly welcome) and Barb had a great time buying pearls/semi-precious stones for her jewelry business.

This is the day we meet the tour so we take a domestic flight from Shanghai to Beijing. The flight is fairly uneventful but getting to the airport turned out to be harder than expected. Turns out there are two airports in Shanghai, Pudong (mainly used for international flights) and Hongqiao (mainly used for domestic flights). Our domestic flight was out of Pudong and that must have confused the porter as he told the cabby to go to Hongiao. Fortunately we recognized the problem before we got dropped off (as we said "we're coming to an aiport but we don't recognize it, could the cabby be taking us to the wrong one"). With some mad hand waving we convinced the cabby to take us to the right airport.

After an uneventful flight to Beijing (navigating even the domestic terminal was easy) we get in around 4PM and the plan was to just meet the rest of our group there after they flew in from San Francisco. Fortunately, we called the China Focus contact (Tony) who informed us that the rest of the group was delayed multiple hours (they ultimately didn't arrive until after midnight) and we should just go directly to the hotel.

No problem, we actually prepared for problems and had the concierge in the Shanghai hotel write out the address of our hotel in Beijing, just in case. This would have been fine except for 2 prolems:

  1. We go to the official taxi line and, after a long line, finally get to a taxi. The driver looks at our luggage (one biggish bag and 2 carryons) and says they won't fit in his trunk so he sends us over to the mini-vans. The mini-van driver will take us to the hotel for a 8,000 yuan ($115) fare (rather than the 100 yuan ($15) fare a normal taxi should take. Fortunately I had my cell phone and I just called our Tony and handed the phone to the mini-van driver. After some spirited conversation the mini-van driver took us over to another normal taxi, we trivially put the luggage in the trunk and off we went. (This is the only time we know for a fact the someone tried to scam us but we were able to work around it.)
  2. As it turns out, the hotel was new and burried back in a side alley, very hard to find. Our taxi driver basically was going to drop us off at the closest intersection where we couldn't even see the hotel (sure, I'm going to let the taxi drop us off in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Beijing). Fortunately, another call to Tony straigtened things out and the cab was able to eventually drop us off at the front door of the Hotel.
Temple of heaven, Tianenmen Square, Forbidden City, Peking duck dinner

This morning we finally met the rest of our tour, a wonderful group of people. There were two other families. Steve and Sophie were a young couple getting married soon and they brought along Sophie's 16 year old son Brian. Jack and Jiaying were a couple a little younger than us with their adopted Chinese daughters Lei-Lei (15) and Ai-Lei (12) and Jiaying's mother Linda.

We start by meeting our guide, Ann, in the hotel lobby and walking to the tour mini-bus. Remember the hotel was in a back alley, it was so tight the bus couldn't make it to the front door.

Jade factory, Great Wall, rickshaw to Hutong, Street vendors

Summer palace, canceled flight

Terracotta Warriors, dumpling dinner, Tang show

Ride around the wall

Village of Tongli, Acrobat show

Maglev train, home


Beijing Temple of Heaven Forbidden City
Great Wall Summer Palace Terracotta Warriors