While walking through the Lethbridge Seniors one year ago, I found a brochure called “ Treasures of China” detailing an 18 day tour of China. The brochure gave all the details of hotels,cities and all the things they would be doing. The trip included all meals, hotels and local guides plus all fees and transportation.The tour included Shanghai and touring the city, the Jade Buddha Temple, the Bund, the Yu Yuan Garden, touring a silk factory and seeing how silk is harvested and made into cloth. From Shanghai the tour would be going to Hangzhou to see the beautiful West Lake, visit the Lingyin Temple and tour the Dragon Well Tea farm. Suzhou would be next ( the Venice of the Orient). The tour includes a canal ride through the city, visit a silk rug factory and tour the Masters of Nets Garden. The tour would then set off for Yichang to catch a cruise ship to sail the Yangtze from the dam, 600 miles north to Chongquin through the Three Gorges. The cruise would include touring the dam sight, boarding a ferry and sampan to view the gorges of the Shennong Stream, home of the mandarin duck, golden monkeys and hanging coffins, to say nothing of the breathtaking sights of the Wu Gorge and Qutang Gorge. A stop in Fengdu would allow a tour of the ghost city. A quick visit to the city of Chongqing would be followed by a trip on a bullet train to Chendu…… home of Research Base of Giant Pandas. After a visit with the pandas the tour would continue on to Xian to view the Terra Cotta Warriors. From Xian the tour would go to Beijing where a visit to the Great Wall, Tian An Men Square, The Forbidden City,and the Beijing Olympic Center. As well as enjoying a Hutong Tour in a Rickshaw, the last day would be a free day to be spent touring on your own or shopping for those famous discounts and “knock off” products. It looked like one would see and do a great deal and I was excited to think about it. I brought home the brochure for Brian to read but never thought he would be interested. After reviewing the brochure he was interested and we agreed… let’s go for it!
There were a series of pre trip meetings planned but as luck would have it, we could attend only one…. in November 2012. At the meeting we met perspective travellers and the tour organizers from Triple D Tours, a local travel company. They gave a detailed account of what we could encounter and showed photos of some of the sights we would be visiting. While both of us had some reservations, we bit the bullet and paid up.When one visits China, you must obtain a Chinese Visa prior to going. The tour company would help with the paperwork and send it in for us. As part of the application, we would be submitting our passports with the application. The deadline for the Visa application changed a number of times, and finally we realized we would be in Mexico when the applications would be sent in, so we had to apply and arrangement for our own Chinese Visas. Speaking with the Chinese consulate in Calgary, they provided the on line application instructions, so early March we drove to Calgary and dropped off our applications. We returned the following week and the process went off without a hitch. The rest of March was spent planning the needed items ( electrical plug ins, back pack, hand sanitizers, Chinese currency, and setting the list of items to take etc.) The laptop would be staying at home as internet would be sporadic, also I was trying to pack light.
Considering I had a year to plan and organize, just days before we left for China I bought some books on China. Fodor’s “China” provided more information than I wanted but pages 757 through 781, titled “Travel Smart China” was helpful and confirmed my concerns about food and hygiene. The information aided in planning what to take and I was glad for the small packages of toilet tissue I prepared, to say nothing of the hand wipes and small packages of kleenex. It was also helpful so I was able to avoid using a “squatty potty.” Leaving the books for last, I did read “China Survival Guide – How To Avoid Travel Troubles and Mortifying Mishaps” by Larry Herzberg and Qin Herzberg on the flight on our way to Shanghai. I highly recommend this book. I found it very helpful and should have read it before leaving home. However it did prepare me for some of the cultural norms…. like spitting copious amounts of sputum in public is an accepted practice, and also westerners should not get their nickers in a knot when it comes to pushing and shoving when in crowded places. I actually got quite used to it and learned to do it myself. I only hope the next busy day at Walmart….I don’t “hip check” someone! It talked about the traffic in the large cities ( they are ALL large) and warned pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way and crossing a street is a very dangerous activity! If anything it was a mis-understatement!
After all the planning, packing and making sure things were looked after at home, we went to bed early April 7 2013.I was too excited to sleep so the 2 a.m. alarm came way too soon. Triple D had arranged a small bus to take 18 of us from Lethbridge to the airport, so on a very cold, icy morning we set off on our journey. As it turned out this trip was likely the most dangerous part of our journey. The roads were icy and the bus bounced all over the road. Thank goodness traffic was light until we hit Deerfoot Trail in Calgary….then it got really hairy! We arrived at the airport in good time and spent extra time on the tarmac waiting to be de-iced, then it was off on our first leg to Vancouver.