The China travel agent, Catherine was very responsive, both during the planning phase and during the trip. She listened to what we wanted to do and see, and I wouldn't have been able to make all the detailed arrangements without her. Other than in Guilin, I felt our local guides and tour companies were well prepared for us, flexible, knowledgeable, and personable.
China has so much to see; we needed a lot more time! Our 7 year old daughter, with blonde hair and blue eyes, was a HUGE hit everywhere on the trip. I think we got a much warmer reception from local people as a result of traveling with a child. :-)
Pingyao is a picturesque old walled city with interesting historical sights and great people watching. Staying overnight in one of the old courtyard homes that has been converted to an inn really added to our experience of the city. Yao, our tour guide, was great at showing us around inside the walls, timing our stops so that we caught the free short historical live performances that occur at various times/places.
Visiting the Terra Cotta Warriors, although very touristy, is a definite must. The Yangling Mausoleum (also goes by Tomb of Emperor Jingdi, Han Jing Mausoleum or Liu Qi Mausoleum) is fabulous and should be added to every standard itinerary of the Xi'an area. This museum opened only a couple of years ago, and it contains some nice exhibits and a fabulous area where you can walk on glass floors atop ongoing excavations and down in beside excavated pits with glass walls. We thought this museum was MUCH better than the Shaanxi History Museum where everyone goes. (Thanks to TripAdvisor reviewers for pointing out this place!)
Taking the high speed train from Xi'an to Luoyang was a great way to get to the Longmen Caves where we really enjoyed checking out the thousands of Buddha carvings in the cliffs along the river. Our 7 yr old liked the quick stop at a nearby paper cutting shop where they showed her how to make her own butterfly, and she bought some cheap, pretty souvenirs for her classmates.
Bike riding in Guilin countryside among village homes/farms and karst formations was a real highlight. Just be sure you have a feel for Chinese style driving before you attempt bike riding!
Temples outside Beijing, Tanzhe Si & Jietai Si, were peaceful and lovely and still had a relaxing, spiritual vibe that we didn't find in any of the temples in the big city.
Insist on a detailed itinerary with very specific information on what you get each day, whether it's sights you'll see or amount of time you'll have a guide & driver. We had one minor (easily resolved) question and one large problem where the my itinerary didn't show specific information that had been discussed with the travel company, and local providers didn't think I had paid for services so I had to re-pay locally (which the travel company refunded when I got back home and emailed them about the problem).
Stay at higher grade hotels. Many of the hotel rooms were quite run down (dirty carpet/bathrooms, leaky plumbing) even tho we were staying at 3 & 4 star properties.
Spend more time around Huang Shan so you can walk around on the mountain in good weather.
Spend less time on Drum & Bell Towers in Xi'an; go there on your own and use your guide to see more tombs and other historic sites around the area.
Set up the calligraphy class with a professional teacher. Our instructor spoke no English and didn't seem to have any experience teaching novices how to make the basic strokes. The table setup made it nearly impossible to watch her work and copy her movements, especially for a child trying to imitate someone on the opposite side of the table.
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"Catherine was very responsive... I wouldn't have been able to make all the detailed arrangements without her."
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