China Tour Review by a Published Canadian Author:
“So you want to take a China tour. Family and friends have given you some leads on a possible tour company but you’ve found their recommendations to be a little too qualified with “howevers” and “buts” to instill you with confidence. So you go to the internet and find page after page of tour company listings and you begin to think that vacationing in your backyard is maybe not such a bad idea after all.
Well, before you give up, let me direct you to Laurus Travel and their comprehensive website at www.laurustravel.com. Not only can I recommend Laurus Travel without hesitation, I can do so with the confidence that the company will deliver a tour that will likely exceed your expectations. I can say this having recently taken Laurus’s 17-day China Odyssey tour with my wife who too has nothing but good things to say about the company and its founder and director, Julius Yan.
Laurus was established in 1998 and operates as a Canadian-based company out of Vancouver, British Columbia. Julius himself was born and raised in China and can speak at length about China’s history and its current political and economic strengths and weaknesses. He is also very knowledgeable of the cultural and social complexities of this ancient civilization. We were fortunate to have Julius as our tour leader for the first week of the trip, although there was never any question that his local guides (who have been carefully chosen by Julius for both their professionalism and regional expertise) were equally versed in the history of this dynamic country and its current status as a rapidly developing world power.
We would use the travel time between tour sites and airports for question and answer sessions and, given the small size of our tour group (a company policy), there was always time for Julius and the local guides to respond to our queries. (Our tour group comprised seven couples for the first week; then, because not everyone had signed up for China Odyssey tour, we divided into smaller groups depending on our chosen destinations, and my wife and I enjoyed the unexpected pleasure of having a local guide all to ourselves for the remaining cities on our itinerary.)
Laurus promises a cultural-historical tour without the interruption of forced-shopping excursions. And I can assure you that they are true to their word. Our tour brought us to palaces, temples, stone walls (including the Great Wall, of course) and gates, and national treasures to be found in Beijing, Xi’an, Guilin, Chongqing, Yichang, and Shanghai. Nicely balancing the historical wonder of these sites were fascinating walks down hutong-alleyways, or through public gardens with age-old trees and luscious flower-beds, or into the frenzy of a crowded marketplace or flea market. Often at night, there were opportunities to take in traditional theatrical, dance, and musical events. The highlight of the tour for us was a visit to the Dazu Rock Carvings in the west part of Chongqing City. These amazing sculptures represent a convergence of Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian statue art and, although they are included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, they were unknown to us prior to our visit, unlike many of the other sites on our tour (e.g., the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, or the Terracotta Warriors). In fact, I think they are one of China’s best kept secrets for many western visitors and, in talking with other travellers, it would appear that a visit to the carvings is not on the itinerary of all tour companies. An unfortunate omission, if you ask me.
With a population of 1.3 billion people, China’s cities are crowded and, due largely to the vast number of motor vehicles and the country’s heavy dependence on coal-driven electricity generators to supply the needs of its citizens and expanding industries, the air quality can be disturbing for many visitors (if not for the locals themselves). For us it was all part of the China experience and made us even more appreciative of the day spent at the undulating Longi Rice Terraces in the hills of Longsheng or the day cruise down an 83 kilometre stretch of the Li River that snaked through karst mountains and past picturesque villages with wading water buffalo and net-casting fishermen.
The three-day cruise down the Yangtze River on the Victoria Cruises MS Liana was also a welcomed delight and we experienced the natural beauty of the Three Gorges from onboard while enjoying splendid meals, demonstrations of snuff bottle painting and silk embroidery, lectures on Chinese medicine and fresh water pearl jewellery, and fabulous evening floor shows, featuring period costumes and the unique apparel designs of China’s many minority groups.
So I hope this recommendation helps you decide on a tour company that will make China a journey of a lifetime for you. I appreciate that choosing a tour company can be a difficult decision, particularly given the fact that you’re essentially buying a product sight unseen. It was initially difficult for us in that sense too, until I spoke with Julius a few of times over the phone and came to realize that I was dealing with someone whose company mission was customer satisfaction. Laurus offers more than a dozen China tour packages, varying in price according to the length of the tour and the number of destinations, and each package is carefully planned by Julius and his team of professionals who personally visit the cities, the hotels (our rooms were all 5-star luxurious with fabulous buffet breakfasts), the restaurants (the trip was as much a culinary tour as it was a cultural-historical experience), and all of the sightseeing destinations to make sure the package they offer you is nothing less than excellent. Laurus only offers China tours. They are not all over the map, if you’ll pardon the pun. They specialize in China tours. And as I’m sure you know from experience, if you want something done right, you go to a specialist.”
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Dean is a published poet from Ottawa, Ontario. This piece was first published on October 25, 2012.