Touring China

 

Michele Cook
Cook at the Great Wall. Imperial Tours highlights the marvel in its culinary tour itinerary. Guests even get to sip cocktails on the Wall.

 

 

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Michele Cook of Mansour Travel Company in Beverly Hills has relied on Imperial Tours for years. Her clients have raved. So, in March, she decided to to see what the fuss was all about—in person.

China was a new frontier for me. I had confidently used Imperial Tours several times for my clients, and now I was about to experience the company’s extensive knowledge and impeccable service firsthand. From my arrival at Beijing to my return from Shanghai, our March trip went off without a hitch.

I flew nonstop on Hainan Airlines from Seattle to Beijing. The check-in and in-flight service were extremely efficient. Going through customs and immigration in Beijing was seamless—it took less than 20 minutes, courtesy of a company representative who met us upon arrival. I was then welcomed by our China host from Imperial Tours, Todd Pang, who ensured our trip went smoothly. I couldn’t imagine experiencing China for the first time without him!

For the first two nights, I stayed at the Aman at Summer Palace, Beijing, a 45-minute drive from the airport. General Manager Mark Swinton oversees an excellent property. I loved the “secret” gate leading to the Summer Palace. When you are outside the grounds, the hotel equips you with a cell phone. Upon return, you call and a staff member meets you at the gate.

After two days of indulging in the spa, pool and gym, Imperial Tours took us to the Raffles Beijing Hotel, a 15-minute walk from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

Next morning, we woke up to snow falling softly over the city—this was spectacular and unexpected! When we went to see the Temple of Heaven, we were intrigued by the locals who met in the morning for tai chi, socializing, dancing and games—and due to the snow, they had all gathered in the covered walkways between the buildings. From the Temple of Heaven, we explored the Antique Market, a large outdoor emporium of statues, furniture and other hodgepodge.

For lunch, we dined at the China Grill restaurant in the Park Hyatt Beijing, which opened in 2008 as the tallest building in the capital. We then ventured out to the Forbidden City in a comfortable minibus. The snow gave a surreal touch to the historical buildings. The highlight of our excursion in the Forbidden City was a private viewing of one of the small palaces where the emperors resided. Note: If you want a primer on the Forbidden City, check out Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor.

Our day ended with an outstanding dinner at The Lan Club, a restaurant I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Beijing. Our China host joined us each time we dined and answered questions we had about the cuisine as well as the sites we had visited during the day.

On our hour-long drive to the Great Wall, we listened to our excellent guide’s experiences as a young student. Due to the snow, our plans had to be altered a bit, but Imperial Tours handled everything with ease.

Typically, the company arranges a private banquet in a secluded section of the Great Wall, but because of the snow we were transferred to the top of the Wall by cable car. Although we couldn’t walk more than a few steps, being atop one of the world’s most famous historical monuments was a memorable experience. Then, Imperial Tours arranged a lovely surprise for us—lunch at the Green T. House. An hour from Beijing, the Green T. House provides an excellent escape from the city, and one I’ll consider for my clients.

Before leaving Beijing, we took a brief tour of the Summer Palace, had lunch at Aman and then drove to the airport for our flight to Xian. All internal flights were on China Eastern Airlines, and they were all on time.

 

The TerraCotta Warriors
The TerraCotta Warriors in Xian. Imperial’s Imperial Moments gives guests exclusive access to the site.

 

The highlight of our time in Xian was the Terracotta Warriors. Although I’ve read about the Warriors, experiencing this treasure in person took my breath away. Imperial Tours has expanded its portfolio of distinctive Imperial Moments with special access to a section of Pit #1 at the Terracotta Warriors site.

We stayed at the Sofitel Xian on Renmin Square, within the city walls. Post dinner, we were given a demonstration of how to make dumplings and noodles. It all looked so easy, until we tried it ourselves! Then we strolled through Huimin Jie Muslim Bazaar looking for handmade kites and souvenirs.

The next day, we left the big cities behind and traveled to Guilin. We stayed at the Hotel of Modern Art, a unique property built in a Sculpture Park. One of my favorite activities was drifting down a tributary of the Li River on a bamboo raft.

Our day in the country continued with a delicious lunch on the banks of the river and a stopover at our guide’s village—where the traditional (soybean grinding) and modern (large flat-screen TVs) seem to merge. We met the children at the local school, and paid our guide’s parents a visit in their house.

The final leg of our journey was Shanghai. Our home for the next three days was the Park Hyatt Shanghai in the Pudong area. The hotel occupies floors  79 to 93 of the Shanghai World Financial Center. What a view: Its rooms overlook the Huangpu River or the city.

Besides the fantastic shopping, we were treated to a tour-cum-lecture of colonial architecture of the city by a member of the Shanghai Historical Society. Before we set off on the excursion around the Lane Houses in the French Concession, our guide shared some of the city’s history and showed us the various areas on the map.

On return, inspired by the “Imperial Tour” of China, I’m already planning my next adventure! When you match a historically rich and intriguing country like China with the quality of service, knowledge and flexibility of Imperial Tours, the result, like mine, is going to be an unparalleled travel experience.

The best way to set up a tour with Imperial Tours is to contact Director of Sales & Marketing Margot Kong ([email protected]), who is based in San Francisco.

 

Cook With Locals in the Forbidden City
Cook With Locals in the Forbidden City, the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty.

 

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