Having read about "factory tours", I specifically asked for a non-shopping trip and that's exactly what we received. We are a group of 10 friends who have traveled together, both on-our-own and at times on a private tour, to different countries over the past 10 years. Christina from our China travel agency provided us with great service, responding to our individual questions, concerns, and requests on a timely manner. She put together a well-paced itinerary, touching on all the highlights, choosing 4 and 5 star hotels in each city. She even customized the itinerary for one couple who have been to Beijing, not interested in seeing it again, arriving 2 days later.
About a month before the start of the trip, another couple decided to join us at the last minute. Since they have been to Shanghai previously, Christina customized yet another itinerary. She was amazing - (since she had to wait until this last couple had received their Chinese visas) on short notice booked rooms at the hotels where the original group were staying, seats on the same domestic flights, which I noticed were all flying full. Even their Tibet travel permit arrived just a few days before that part of the trip.
The vans provided for transfers and sightseeing were very spacious, and the drivers drove safely. The guides in each city were knowledgeable, accommodating, and very flexible, being that we love to take photos, especially group photos, which take a little time to set up. They also had a good sense of humor, especially Ryan in Shanghai, who never seem to run out of jokes and trivia. They were pro-active on a couple of occasions, re-arranging the sightseeing schedules to minimize the impact of adverse weather (rain). The few shopping breaks we requested were easily and conveniently arranged.
A low water level at Chongqing prevented all passengers from boarding the Yangtze cruise boat there, but the cruise operator had buses waiting to take us to the next stop at Fengdu. The guides on site were great in handling the situation and, except for the minor inconvenience of the two-hour bus ride and a little exhaustion at the end of a long day, the transition was handled quite smoothly.
When the recent CICA summit in Shanghai triggered a shortage of certain hotel rooms and higher prices, our travel agency bent over backwards to honor their commitment per the original quote and ate the difference. It was important that we ended the trip on a high note, staying at the Marriott City Center.
Everyone in the group enjoyed the trip, pleasantly surprised that everything went smoothly, there were no domestic flight delays, and all felt we got a good value for the price we paid.
Visiting the less-crowded Mutianyu section of the Great Wall made it more enjoyable. Experiencing a massive sea of humanity on a Saturday in Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City is unforgettable. Peking duck dinner at Dadong Restaurant in Beijing was a wonderful way to start the trip.
Seeing and hearing about the history of the terra cotta warriors in Xian is fascinating.
There was anxiety among the group about altitude sickness before we arrived in Lhasa, but the effects were relatively minor and easily dealt with. We (in our 60's and mostly out of shape) all managed to make it to the top of the Potala Palace and it was definitely a memorable experience. One more item crossed off the bucket list.
Winding down the trip with a 3-day cruise on the Yangtze river through the vistas of the three gorges was a great idea, capped by two nights in a luxurious hotel in Shanghai.
Christina from our travel agency, who arranged this trip, taking a 90-minute train ride from her home base Hangzhou to Shanghai to meet us just for a few minutes and give us some local treats - priceless.
Probably add a few more days to the trip and visit a less-traveled area with amazing scenery, possibly the Panda bears conservation area.
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