China Travel Tips

Reflections on Travel in China

Friday, February 26, 2010

Cooking Classes in China

I receive many inquiries from some clients about taking a cooking class in China. Finally I found one that is great for tourists with limited time available. They have a one course Class with either a morning class or an afternoon class. Same for two course Classes on different days of the week. The school is in a rural setting at a farm house near a small village but they provide transportation from and back to your hotel. Small classes are featured with a visit to a local market to pick out the necessary food, with five carefully selected dishes, with recipes of the dishes cooked at your own work bench with English fluent teachers to instruct you as you prepare the dishes under their care. And of course you get to eat the meal when you are finished. Private classes or Advanced Cooking Classes can be arranged in advance. It's a great way to experience the local culture and to learn about Chinese cooking at the same well as having a great meal! Tours to China is by business and I am always looking for new ways for my clients to enjoy China in so many ways. As a China Tour Operator I have spent 21 years traveling through out China to find many unique experiences for my clients. I hope as a China only Tour Operator I can plan a special Private and Custom Tour for you or your group.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Craft Worshops in China

As a custom China Tour operator, clients often tell me they do not want to be led to shopping places. That is understandable since Group Tours often must include Shopping Stops because the companies get kick backs for taking tourists to them. An exception to that is what I call Factory Workshops. I always suggest special workshops however where you can actually see the crafts being made and can appreciate the art that is being created. Some of these are the Cloisonne workshops in Beijing, the carpet shops in Shanghai, Jade Carving shops in Xian and many more through out China. Above one woman is free hand painting inlaid furniture with gold gilt paint. She asked me if I would like her to paint on my old camera (I carry three with me) and painted a small gold dragon on it. One never has to buy anything but it is interesting to see crafts being actually made. The two sided embroidery pieces in Suzhou are another where it takes 6 years to learn how to do it. Hand made knives in Kashgar are another favorite of mine or the stone tea pots that I have collected and no longer can find anymore. Antiques are plenty as well however many are well made fakes too. The Beijing Panjiayuan Flea market held on Saturday and Sunday is a great place to hunt and peck for unusual items. For more information on shopping email me or better yet my wife who has me bringing home suitcases full of delightful treasures over the years.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tea Houses in China

As you can imagine there are thousands of Tea Houses in China. Above is a famous one right in Shanghai that should not be missed. It is located just outside the Yu Garden Area on the Crooked Bridge. Over 270 years old in continuous use, it is a classic tea house on two levels. Go up stairs and get a window view of the area. For a special treat ask for the beautiful Tea Balls which open up into a beautiful flower. I buy them in Beijing and bring them home with me after each trip. The Yu Garden area is also in the Old District without cars and a great place for shopping besides see the #1 Garden in all of China. If you go to Suzhou which is just 40 minutes by train from Shanghai, besides known for its formal gardens and as the Venice of the East because of the Canals running through it; there is the QianTang Tea Houses. Each one is built like the 200 year old tea houses of old and with original and some fake antiques in them to give you the real feeling of stepping back in the past and enjoying a quiet afternoon or a much needed rest stop after a day of touring. There are thousands of tea houses all over China but these are a couple of my favorites.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Great Hall of the People

One of the best sites in Beijing is the Great Hall of the People. It is never included in Group Tours because it is used by the Government so often and is the Assembly Hall of their Congress. It is used for State Dinners and the reception of Foreign Diplomats and High Government Representatives. Built in the 1950's by the Russians for the Chinese Government, it has the largest Auditorium seating over 10,000 people with the largest stage in China. There is a reception Hall decorated in the style of each Province of the country. Although you can not go into these, the doors are open and large windows allow you to peek into them. When it is open to the public, you can also have lunch in the large banquet hall. Located on the west side of Tiananmen Square in the central area it is truly a site not to be missed. Next to the Great Hall on the south side of Tiananmen Square is Mao's Tomb which also has an erratic schedule of openings. On the East side is the History Museum and across the street on the North side is the wonderful Forbidden City which is usually included in all tours of Beijing. Another must is taking a walk through the Beijing Hotel only a few blocks east as it is part of the history of Beijing too. For more sights of interest keep reading my blog.

Lunch with Friends

After 21 years and 50 trips to China one develops many friendships. Above my friends and I often go out on day trips together. One of our favorite things to do is having good food in local restaurants. My friend, Mr. Li, is an excellent cook and often just goes out into the kitchen of the restaurants and cooks our lunch with some special recipe that he knows. Other cooks often watch him to learn his techniques. I too go out into the kitchens and see what they are preparing for the day or just to learn something new as I love to cook too. The atmosphere isn't as important as enjoying great food especially with fresh ingredients available in the countryside. One still needs to be careful of where you eat because of sanitary conditions but your guide will know the places to go. If you notice, I haven't missed too many meals in my life and China is a fantastic country to enjoy good food. During my trips I often review restaurants especially in the larger cities where I send clients on tours. Tours of China is my business as a China Tour Company specializing in Private Custom Tours to the client's interests for the past 20 years. Let my experience as a China Tour Operator do a tour just for you.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Chinese Gardens

Chinese gardens offer a very restful place to enjoy nature and a peaceful surroundings. Better even is a nice cup of tea in a traditional tea house. Comprised of well placed rocks, stones, ponds, shrubs and trees you will see few flowers. During the spring months the flowering shrubs stand out as you see above in the photo; otherwise it is the placement of green trees and shrubs places amongst the rocks and ponds that make Chinese gardens special. When in Shanghai you must go to see the Yu Garden once the home of a wealthy merchant. Suzhou about one hour from Shanghai is known for its 87 formal gardens although only 28 of them are open to the public. Above are photos of the Humble Administrator's Garden the largest garden in Suzhou. Two of my favorites are the Garden of the Nets and Lingering Garden but you can spend days visiting others as well. There are gardens all over China of course but these and gardens in Chengdu and Emeishan are some of the best in China. There is an organization in Seattle that is planning a special China tour in 2011 keying in on Gardens of China. If interested I will put you in touch with them when it is announced to the public. Contact me at:

Friday, February 12, 2010

Visiting Churches in China

I give talks on China now and then as well as slide shows in the Seattle area. Someone asked me about churches in China. In Europe people like to visit churches and usually in China people like to visit Temples. There are some beautiful churches in China and above is one Cathedral in Beijing. There is a South Beijing Cathedral the Immaculate Conception one built in 1904, the Beitang Cathedral built in 1887, Xishiku Cathedral and the St. Joseph's church on Wangfujing street which most tourists see in the shopping district. There are others as well including some Protestant churches but most seem to be Catholic. Masses are generally early in the morning and Sunday masses are often standing room only. In Shanghai the largest Cathedral there has an English mass but most are in Chinese of course. Most churches are locked during the day so if you want to tour the insides of any church be sure to go early in the morning before, during or just after the masses. Earlier I wrote about a Catholic church in south China that was rebuilt by the government in a very poor area after their church was destroyed in a bad storm. Tours to China is my business as a China Tour Operator with China tour packages and customized tours to your interests and needs. We do Yangtze River Cruise tours also.   Click on the photos for a full screen view!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Lhasa, Tibet

My Chinese associates tell me that the Americans seem to be the most interested in Tibet more than other nationalities. I find that true as a Tour Operator to China and Tibet. Many people love it but some people return home a bit disappointed. Perhaps their expectations were much more. Many going to Lhasa expect to see high towering mountains....except that in Lhasa at 10,000 feet you are on top of them. One must go to central and western Tibet to see the higher peaks. Lhasa, the largest city, is only about 300,000 population but the new train going there has brought more tourists than ever to Tibet. The main attraction of course is the Potala Palace. It is only open during the morning hours and a entrance ticket is required but often sold out so be sure you have reservations before you go there. Above you see a photo of the Palace and a photo looking back at the city which I took standing on top of the Palace roof. Then below is the famous Lama Debaters which is always interesting to see. The sun is very bright and a good hat and sun screen is necessary. I had a sun burn from just 25 minutes on the roof of the Palace. A permit is required to enter Tibet and your tour company can get this for you in advance. You should be in good health as the 10,000 altitude is highly noticeable as you arrive by plane or train which are pressurized so the effect is immediate. A few hours rest to get use to the change and a special ginger tea with brown sugar helps to get use to the change. For more information contact me at I am a Seattle Tour Operator for China only for over 20 years.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Xishuangbanna - Tropical Yunnan Province

As a tour operator to China, I have some clients who can only get away for a Tour to China in the winter months or cooler months of the year. For those people I try to send them to southern China or in warmer areas. Xishuangbanna area and the city of Jinghong in the south just north of Viet Nam, Laos and Burma is one of those special areas. Wild elephants, fantastic tropical parks, rubber, pineapple, banana and other tropical fruit plantations abound in this area. Also over 26 minority nationalities are in Yunnan province with their different cultures, clothes and traditional ways. One culture, the Hani people, the woman do all the work and the man retires once they marry. My wife thinks that is a bad idea of course. Xishuangbanna is the area surrounded by jungle but has an airport to fly into from Kunming. The locals call their area "Banana" for short. The tractor shown above is the local transportation for the farmers bringing their produce to the many wonderful markets scattered through out the countryside. My guide shown above calls those tractors a "Banana Benz" A take off on the Mercedes Benz of course. A local joke! Few western tourists come here but it is a wonderful escape from the colder areas of China in the winter as well as so many western tourists. For more information on Tours to China check out web site at

Thursday, February 4, 2010

World Park in Beijing

As a China Tour Operator doing private and customized Tours to China, I do tours for many families with children. I try to balance interesting places for adults as well as children. In Beijing and Shanghai there is the Children's Palace where Chinese children go to learn the arts, music, dance, painting, computer and many other activities usually after school and on Saturdays and Sundays. We must make appointments for tourists to visit but children find this very interesting meeting Chinese children also. There are specialty parks like World Park in Beijing which you see above. There are sights from all over the world built in smaller sizes but as you can see the Eiffel Tower of Paris looks full size in the photo but is actually only 45 feet high. It is like a tour of the world all in one park. There are other parks in China such as Minority Parks and Beijing Miniature Park which can be included in any private custom tour that we can plan. When planning a trip to China you might as well see what you are interested in rather than a general tour of the main sights. Customized private tours for your own group of friends or just yourselves can be arranged with your budget in mind. We have China Tour Packages, Tibet and Silk Road packages too available on our web site at

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

One Temple Not To Be Missed in Beijing

When I am working with clients I often hear that they do not want to see too many temples. Over the past 20+ years I have visited hundreds of temples myself. Like Churches in Europe there are some that you do not want to miss. One Temple like that is the Lama Temple in Beijing which is close in and easy to get to but seldom included in tours because buses have a difficulty getting to it. Monks are still at this temple and can often be seen at prayer time chanting in the main temple room where the 5 story tall Buddha carved from one sandalwood tree trunk is located. Photos are forbidden but you can buy postcards like the one above. The temple was actually built around it after it was located there. So when in Beijing take the time to go see this temple if it is not included in your tour. Tours of China is our business so if you are looking for a China Tour Package or a private Custom China Tour, we are your U.S. China Tour Operator with over 20 years experience. Ask for our references of past customers who do not mind being contacted either about their tours or our services as a China Tour Company.