TRIP OF A LIFETIME! We're typically do-it-yourself travelers. Overall we enjoyed our times when we were on our own more than when we were with a guide. However, we did enjoy having the driver and guide for the Great Wall (Mutianyu) and the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi'an. Plus our guide en route from Guilin to Yangshuo arranged the amazing sunset raft trip down the Li River. Having someone meet us and return us to the airports was extremely helpful, and at the train station, it was almost essential! We chose 4-star hotels in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong and 5-star hotels in Xi'an and Yangshuo (although the one booked for us in Yangshuo was at most a 3-star). We opted to eat meals on our own and had no trouble in any locale even though we spoke NO Chinese. Shanghai and Hong Kong were very easy to navigate on our own, and we loved that! More than anything we wanted to see how the people lived, and we felt we were able to do that better when we were on our own. The way we structured our trip, we were able to have plenty of time on our own while utilizing the guide services only where they were truly needed.
Overall the China travel agency delivered what was asked. Our hotels met our expectations except for the 3 nights in Yangshuo (as noted above). Prior to departure we did ask that the one in Shanghai be changed as they had us staying in Pudong originally. Most of the transfers/guide services were as expected. Our guide in Xi'an (David Xu) was exceptional; however, we rated our guide in Beijing (Michele) a 4 on a 10-point scale. We did not book any of the recommended "extras" and found that was best. We could book these locally when we arrived depending on weather, timing, etc.
* Impromptu Li River cruise from Yangdi to Xingping on a six-person raft just before sunset* Self-guided tour of and lunch in the Muslim Quarter in Xi'an* Bicycling in the countryside outside Yangshuo* Walking the Bund and lunch in the French Connection in Shanghai
1. Stay an extra day in Hong Kong and probably another in Beijing2. Carefully check out each hotel recommended by the tour company prior to departure.3. Fly from Beijing to Xi'an instead of taking train (even with deluxe sleepers, we didn't get much rest)4. Take a cab to/from the Hong Kong airport (would have been faster)
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