What you can get from China Odyssey Tours
Author:Mark King, December 12, 2005
Hong Kong - Guangzhou - Lhasa (Tibet) - Deqing - Zhongdian - Lijiang - Dali - Kunming - Guilin - Hong Kong
Perfectly Arranged Travel
In November 2005, I was shopping for some tickets for a weekend in Hong Kong on the internet when the Google search generated an advertisement for China Odyssey Tours in the margin. I normally don't pay much attention to the Google ads, but I visited the site and saw it was quite well presented, and there was a simple enquiry form to fill in. Less than half interested I made a quick enquiry about a short tour ex Hong Kong to Guilin.
There was a reply within a couple of hours from Violet, which was very impressive in its detail and honesty. She offered some good suggestions and said what she could and couldn't supply economically. That rather impressed me. We had travelled a few years earlier with the China Travel Service and had been very impressed but had not returned to China because their travel programs tend to be Beijing centred, and not so readily customised. Starting and finishing from Hong Kong, makes a lot of sense when coming from Australia. China based operators seemed to be a fraction of the cost of Australian based ones, but I was a bit wary dealing with a "private" Chinese internet based company without a referal.
I sent an ambitious expanded itinery to Violet, including Tibet, Western China and an impossible timetable ( leaving in less than 2 weeks, and no Visa's, Tickets or Tibet Permits in hand ). Violet replied again in hours, with a very efficient program for a fully personalised tour for myself, wife and two daugthers. I did a couple of rough checks of prices with standard tours of similar length on the net, and found Violet compared favourably. We normally don't bother with organised tours, but in China I am happy to make an exception, as the language is still a real barrier to getting around there, particularly in Western China, which tends to see more chinese than western tourists, and the cost of a guided package is relatively cheap. If you are on a limited timetable you can reduce your stress levels quite a lot by taking a package.
Slightly jittery at the prospect of sending off all that money on the internet we did ring them, and found a genuine company on the end of the phone. We signed up and paid by Visa. There were some minor program changes which Violet solved by working until 10 PM on the Friday night before we left.
The program ran like clockwork. The best features were, the Local Ethnic Guides and Hotels generally in the Old Cities. Traveling off season also worked very well in terms of cost and crowds. They also read us correctly, as Westerner's we are not so heavily into arranged shopping racquets, and more into climbing hills, trapsing around and enjoying some free time. The guides may prefer the shopping trips, but they never pushed us into it, and the few places we visited were not too bad anyway, and in the case of the "Silk Factory" in Guilin actually seemed pretty good (we have a flash silk quilt now, which cost less than our Sheridan cotton ones ) . Our regrets are not having bought more things, once you come back and re-adjust from Yuan to Dollars, you realise, you should fill your bags, sometimes even at airport prices ( which may be five times the street price) it is bargain territory.
You have to have reasonable expectations, especially in Western China . Get used to Chinese breakfasts, at least you will lose some weight, your guides will be sincere and dedicated but still simple people with basic education. Take your guide book to fill in the explanations, and if you have your own mini bus as we did, take an interest in the program and just ask the guide/driver to modify your tour on the day to suit. Be ready for a few queazy tummy days, and some poor weather.
Also remember the Chinese are extremely honest, you will pay westerner prices and the odd person will try to charge you a bit extra for a bottle of water, but if you were really naive and very half hearted about bargaining, you would probably find at the end of the trip you had only spent a hundred dollars more than the most hard line and savy tourist. To be honest they will probalby use the difference better than you. It is a third world country, not the Gold Coast.
Violet was very keen on getting warts and all feed back. I mentioned in passing that there had been a discrepency of a couple of lunches on the program, which hadn't mattered because we were queazy at the time anyway. Without asking, after the tour, she credited our account with twice the value of the lunches.
I was very pleasantly suprised, and if our tour was at all typical, I would not hesitate to recommend them, with a particular recommendation for Violet ( who works too hard ).
markking@(protected for privacy).com.au
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