80.3 F
Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, May 25, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesCHINA BY AIR, BOAT AND TRAIN

CHINA BY AIR, BOAT AND TRAIN

Newly retired, my wife, Judy, and I have decided to exercise our love of travel. Our first project included a trip across the Pacific with a week in Hong Kong, four weeks in the People’s Republic of China, two weeks in Sri Lanka and a week in Los Angeles. The total cost for the two of us was about $9,000 — thanks to the good graces of two friends, my father’s frequent flier miles and a superb travel consultant with excellent contacts inside China.
One reason we made the trip has to do with significant physical changes soon to occur in China. In the year 2003, the country hopes to complete the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. This project was conceived to provide hydroelectric power, improve shipping between the international port of Shanghai and the interior of China’s southern provinces, and alleviate disastrous river flooding. To accomplish all this, the dam will create a reservoir more than 300 miles long flooding over 150,000 acres of land. Two of the most scenic areas in China will be inundated, the Three Gorges of the Yangtze and the Mini Three Gorges. We wanted to see this area before it was lost to view.
Another major goal of our trip was viewing the Terra Cotta Soldiers in Xi'an. A recent archeological dig discovered this entire army of life-size clay figures standing at attention and ready to do battle. To date, no two figures have found to be the same. An adjoining dig includes a summer palace with all its accouterments. The Chinese have covered the sites with granite and steel buildings while excavation takes place. Complete excavation is projected to take 12 more years.
We began planning our trip early 1998 and meant to take it with friends from Singapore during Christmas break a year ago. An extended fall semester at the University of the Virgin Islands due to days lost because of Hurricane Georges forced us to cancel our tickets, and our friend’s relocation to Seattle forced us to regroup. I went on the Internet and started searching, making inquiries of several travel agents listed in The New York Times and Miami Herald. Judy and I had read an interview with James Michener several years ago indicating he traveled independently except for China and Russia, where he used guides. We had followed his advice with regard to Russia and were totally in agreement.
Our airfare was a gift from my father. He died leaving more than 100,000 Delta Skymiles in his account. I learned it was possible to inherit these miles by sending Delta a copy of his death certificate and a copy of the will, which make me his heir. With additional mileage from our charge card and flights to the States, we managed to obtain first class coupons from Delta.
Delta Air Lines does not offer business class from St. Thomas and across the United States, so one is forced to travel either coach or first class. Catch 22 on Pacific flights is that the Delta partner Singapore Air (rated the world's best) doesn't make first class seats available to Delta coupon holders. The saving grace is that SA’s business class is excellent. We ended up flying first class from St. Thomas to San Francisco, business class from there to Hong Kong, first class from there to Sri Lanka and then on to Singapore, business class from Singapore to Los Angeles, and first class from L.A. back to St. Thomas — logging a total of 140,000 miles.
For those who are 62 years or older, there are a lot of air options. One can use Delta or American Airlines senior citizen coupons to reach any gateway for about $180 each way. The AA Travel Club Newly retired, my wife, Judy, and I have decided to exercise our love of travel. Our first project included a trip across the Pacific with a week in Hong Kong, four weeks in the People’s Republic of China, two weeks in Sri Lanka and a week in Los Angeles. The total cost for the two of us was about $9,000 — thanks to the good graces of two friends, my father’s frequent flier miles and a superb travel consultant with excellent contacts inside China.
United, Northwestern, and China Air have all had coach rates around $800 to $900 from various parts of the United States to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. A friend of mine often uses around-the-world ticketing and flies first class at half the published rate. Ticket discounters such as www.cheaptickets.com and www.airtreks.com are most helpful. Air Treks has a $995 round-the-world ticket.
If you are into group travel, China Tours is reported again and again to be the best. The latest bargain from this group is $999 all-inclusive including air from the West Coast, with 11 nights and six cities in China. This does not include Xi'an, which would have to be booked in addition (www.chinafocustravel.com). The air carrier is China Air, which is reported to have all new airplanes. Anyone interested in touring anyplace is well advised to check out www.frommers.com, which has an excellent daily newsletter on world travel bargains.
We found nirvana with Helen Yue of China Custom Tours in New York City. Ms Yue had placed an ad in The New York Times and returned my call in person. She’s at www.chinacustomtours.com and info@chinacustomtours.com. We corresponded via telephone and e-mail and developed a most pleasant rapport. Ms.Yue is affiliated with China International Travel Services’ Yangtze branch, which really was important, as CITS is the national travel agency for the whole country. She offered us a customized itinerary with car and driver/guide at each site, arrangement of all in-country transportation, whatever class hotel we desired and whatever inclusive level we chose. The more we talked to Ms. Yue, the more we liked what we heard.
Ultimately, we booked the following:
– a one and a half-day deluxe sleeper train trip from Hong Kong to Beijing, where we spent four days
– an overnight deluxe sleeper train trip to Xi'an, where we stayed two and a half days
– a flight to Guilin, where we spent two and a half days
– a flight to Chongqing to board a four-day Victoria Yangtze River cruise to Wuhan, where we spent a day
– a flight to Hangzhou, where we stayed for a day and a half
– a train trip to Suzhou, where we stayed for two days
– a train to Shanghai, where we spent two days
– a three-hour rapid ferry ride to Putuo Shan, where we stayed two days
– the rapid ferry ride back to Shanghai, and
– a day and a half deluxe sleeper train ride back to Hong Kong.
Our accommodations were 3-star business class hotels or better. All hotels were more than adequate and the Plaza in Suzhou was superb. Upon arrival at a city, we would be met at the gate by a guide with our name and transferred to an excellent sedan or van. All drivers were most skilled and all guides spoke excellent English. We could spend as much time as we liked where ever we liked and were never constrained to anyone else’s schedule. The Suzhou guide improvised the time on Tiger Hill so we could enjoy an annual celebration; in Beijing, we chose to visit a segment of the Great Wall which was not so touristy and took our time climbing; we decided to forego the freshwater pearl factories tour. The total cost for 26 days, Hong Kong to Hong Kong, for accommodations, breakfast, lunch, guide, driver, car, and entrance to all attractions came to $3,600 each. Could we have done it more cheaply? Yes. Do we wish we had done so? No. This was the perfect trip for us.
Our No. 1 practical recommendation for Americans traveling to China: Take a change of underwear and a credit card. You can purchase top-quality everything there at outstanding prices — luggage, clothing, jewelry, you name it.
Next: Hong Kong

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.




Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.

STAY CONNECTED

20,771FansLike
4,722FollowersFollow

FROM FACEBOOK

Comments Box SVG iconsUsed for the like, share, comment, and reaction icons
Load more
Newly retired, my wife, Judy, and I have decided to exercise our love of travel. Our first project included a trip across the Pacific with a week in Hong Kong, four weeks in the People’s Republic of China, two weeks in Sri Lanka and a week in Los Angeles. The total cost for the two of us was about $9,000 -- thanks to the good graces of two friends, my father’s frequent flier miles and a superb travel consultant with excellent contacts inside China.
One reason we made the trip has to do with significant physical changes soon to occur in China. In the year 2003, the country hopes to complete the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. This project was conceived to provide hydroelectric power, improve shipping between the international port of Shanghai and the interior of China’s southern provinces, and alleviate disastrous river flooding. To accomplish all this, the dam will create a reservoir more than 300 miles long flooding over 150,000 acres of land. Two of the most scenic areas in China will be inundated, the Three Gorges of the Yangtze and the Mini Three Gorges. We wanted to see this area before it was lost to view.
Another major goal of our trip was viewing the Terra Cotta Soldiers in Xi'an. A recent archeological dig discovered this entire army of life-size clay figures standing at attention and ready to do battle. To date, no two figures have found to be the same. An adjoining dig includes a summer palace with all its accouterments. The Chinese have covered the sites with granite and steel buildings while excavation takes place. Complete excavation is projected to take 12 more years.
We began planning our trip early 1998 and meant to take it with friends from Singapore during Christmas break a year ago. An extended fall semester at the University of the Virgin Islands due to days lost because of Hurricane Georges forced us to cancel our tickets, and our friend’s relocation to Seattle forced us to regroup. I went on the Internet and started searching, making inquiries of several travel agents listed in The New York Times and Miami Herald. Judy and I had read an interview with James Michener several years ago indicating he traveled independently except for China and Russia, where he used guides. We had followed his advice with regard to Russia and were totally in agreement.
Our airfare was a gift from my father. He died leaving more than 100,000 Delta Skymiles in his account. I learned it was possible to inherit these miles by sending Delta a copy of his death certificate and a copy of the will, which make me his heir. With additional mileage from our charge card and flights to the States, we managed to obtain first class coupons from Delta.
Delta Air Lines does not offer business class from St. Thomas and across the United States, so one is forced to travel either coach or first class. Catch 22 on Pacific flights is that the Delta partner Singapore Air (rated the world's best) doesn't make first class seats available to Delta coupon holders. The saving grace is that SA’s business class is excellent. We ended up flying first class from St. Thomas to San Francisco, business class from there to Hong Kong, first class from there to Sri Lanka and then on to Singapore, business class from Singapore to Los Angeles, and first class from L.A. back to St. Thomas -- logging a total of 140,000 miles.
For those who are 62 years or older, there are a lot of air options. One can use Delta or American Airlines senior citizen coupons to reach any gateway for about $180 each way. The AA Travel Club Newly retired, my wife, Judy, and I have decided to exercise our love of travel. Our first project included a trip across the Pacific with a week in Hong Kong, four weeks in the People’s Republic of China, two weeks in Sri Lanka and a week in Los Angeles. The total cost for the two of us was about $9,000 -- thanks to the good graces of two friends, my father’s frequent flier miles and a superb travel consultant with excellent contacts inside China.
United, Northwestern, and China Air have all had coach rates around $800 to $900 from various parts of the United States to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. A friend of mine often uses around-the-world ticketing and flies first class at half the published rate. Ticket discounters such as www.cheaptickets.com and www.airtreks.com are most helpful. Air Treks has a $995 round-the-world ticket.
If you are into group travel, China Tours is reported again and again to be the best. The latest bargain from this group is $999 all-inclusive including air from the West Coast, with 11 nights and six cities in China. This does not include Xi'an, which would have to be booked in addition (www.chinafocustravel.com). The air carrier is China Air, which is reported to have all new airplanes. Anyone interested in touring anyplace is well advised to check out www.frommers.com, which has an excellent daily newsletter on world travel bargains.
We found nirvana with Helen Yue of China Custom Tours in New York City. Ms Yue had placed an ad in The New York Times and returned my call in person. She’s at www.chinacustomtours.com and info@chinacustomtours.com. We corresponded via telephone and e-mail and developed a most pleasant rapport. Ms.Yue is affiliated with China International Travel Services’ Yangtze branch, which really was important, as CITS is the national travel agency for the whole country. She offered us a customized itinerary with car and driver/guide at each site, arrangement of all in-country transportation, whatever class hotel we desired and whatever inclusive level we chose. The more we talked to Ms. Yue, the more we liked what we heard.
Ultimately, we booked the following:
- a one and a half-day deluxe sleeper train trip from Hong Kong to Beijing, where we spent four days
- an overnight deluxe sleeper train trip to Xi'an, where we stayed two and a half days
- a flight to Guilin, where we spent two and a half days
- a flight to Chongqing to board a four-day Victoria Yangtze River cruise to Wuhan, where we spent a day
- a flight to Hangzhou, where we stayed for a day and a half
- a train trip to Suzhou, where we stayed for two days
- a train to Shanghai, where we spent two days
- a three-hour rapid ferry ride to Putuo Shan, where we stayed two days
- the rapid ferry ride back to Shanghai, and
- a day and a half deluxe sleeper train ride back to Hong Kong.
Our accommodations were 3-star business class hotels or better. All hotels were more than adequate and the Plaza in Suzhou was superb. Upon arrival at a city, we would be met at the gate by a guide with our name and transferred to an excellent sedan or van. All drivers were most skilled and all guides spoke excellent English. We could spend as much time as we liked where ever we liked and were never constrained to anyone else’s schedule. The Suzhou guide improvised the time on Tiger Hill so we could enjoy an annual celebration; in Beijing, we chose to visit a segment of the Great Wall which was not so touristy and took our time climbing; we decided to forego the freshwater pearl factories tour. The total cost for 26 days, Hong Kong to Hong Kong, for accommodations, breakfast, lunch, guide, driver, car, and entrance to all attractions came to $3,600 each. Could we have done it more cheaply? Yes. Do we wish we had done so? No. This was the perfect trip for us.
Our No. 1 practical recommendation for Americans traveling to China: Take a change of underwear and a credit card. You can purchase top-quality everything there at outstanding prices -- luggage, clothing, jewelry, you name it.
Next: Hong Kong