China Travel Stories - Beijing Land Only Tour
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Embassy & Visa
Beijing Land Only Tour / Palace Hotel
My 22 year old son and I took a J&O Tours "Modulars - Land Only" tour in Beijing from May 7 - 13 (i.e. 5 nights in Beijing). The trip was fantastic.
Neither my son nor I had any previous interest in visiting China. The idea to visit Beijing came up when I was trying to determine something unusual to do during my work sabbatical. One morning I woke up and decided I'd like to stand on the Great Wall of China. That was the genesis of the trip.
After doing substantial online and local travel agent research, I decided to book a Japan & Orient (aka J&O Tours) tour due to a combination of the following factors: a choice of an independent (vs. escorted) tour, inclusion of historical sites I was interested in seeing, length of trip (and the flexibility to add two extra days), choice of hotels and price.
Using the Internet, I next determined that American Express has a number of "travel experts" available to discuss tours with. I called Chris Chance at AMEX Travel Services in Denver and was impressed with her knowledge of travel to China, J&O Tours, and willingness to provide me with all info I needed.
There are three major financial considerations when choosing a trip like this: airfare (depends on airline, travel dates and seating type), hotel (depends on travel dates and level of luxury), and length of stay. Doing some previous research on my own, I had discovered that United Airlines had the lowest US carrier prices from Tampa, FL to Beijing (through Chicago) - roughly $780/person R/T coach.
I had also decided that I wanted to have a western style, high service hotel to come home to at the end of each day. The Palace Hotel, just 20 minutes from the Forbidden City, became my hotel of choice. Both United and the Palace Hotel were options offered by J&O Tours. (FYI, the entire trip - personal purchases aside - cost a bit less than $3,000 for the two of us.)
The trip was sensational. While I have traveled a fair amount, I had never taken an "independent" package tour like this. The J&O Tour trip description includes the line "Meet & Greet and private car round trip transfers." I understood this to mean a person would identify us at the airport and ensure that we were transported between the airport and the hotel.
However, the reality was that this person - Steven Dou, a CITS employee - became our personal guide for our time in Beijing. While he was only "contracted" to take us on our two days of tours, he ended up spending a total of four days with us. In addition to our planned tours of the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Ming Tombs and Great Wall at Badaling, and an acrobat show one evening we separately contracted him to take us to Jingshan Park (where people exercise each morning and also overlooks the Forbidden City), Lama Temple, a tour of the Hutong, and a visit to the Underground City.
During two of the days Steven toured with us alone and on the other two days we were joined by another US couple. Steven always arranged drivers, tours, lunches, a dinner, translations and explanations...everything. We had virtually no "wasted time" in being lost or being unable to understand some local item or site. Our time was 100% productive because of Steven.
Beijing is a wonderful city. It is much cleaner, friendlier and modern (while maintaining it's historic sites) than I had anticipated. The entrepreneurial spirit and capitalism displayed in its stores and on its streets ran counter to my cold-war vision of the city. In addition, we never felt out of place and were quite comfortable roaming around on our own hours.
The Palace Hotel is a US 4+ star hotel. Our room was very comfortable, service was very good, and amenities like an indoor swimming pool and restaurant that served some Western dishes made our stay there thoroughly enjoyable.
I would recommend it without hesitation to anyone looking for a western-style hotel stay. As an aside, while on a conference trip former President George Bush stayed in the hotel one evening during our stay.
My favorite events: standing on the Great Wall at Badaling (take the cable cars/gondolas to the highest point), spending time in Tiananmen Square, visiting the Mao Mausoleum and seeing Mao Zedong in a glass viewing casket, visiting the Hutong, our visit to Jingshan Park, the acrobat show, and much of our time in the Forbidden City. Most memorable picture: me - wearing a New York Stock Exchange logo'ed shirt - standing beneath the large portrait of Mao Zedong overlooking Tiananmen Square. My (almost) surreal but personal capitalistic statement.
By the way, I occasionally asked myself if we were only being shown the "best of" Beijing and whether our guide was giving us the politically correct answers to our many questions. I quickly decided the question was unimportant. The beauty and history of the place were evident to the eye. I rarely (but occasionally) felt that I was being spoon-fed PC answers. Do your own research prior to the trip and you'll be okay.
All in all, I can't say enough about J&O Tours, Chris Chance at American Express, Steven Dou of CITS and all the wonderful experiences we had during our stay in Beijing.
Story Courtesy to Maxnest