Group Tour to China

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Contiki China Adventure Tour Review

Well, my Contiki days are over now but after traveling with 8 Contiki Tours (Italian Espresso, Eastern Mediterranean Cruise, Greece & Italy, Middle Europe, Spanish Spree, Big Indochina, Thai Island Hopper, and China Adventure, whew!), I feel confident saying that the China Adventure is the very best Contiki has to offer. I loved all my experiences, but this one was especially top notch.

Why? See all the very best of China in one trip, go on and off the beaten path, stay in four-star hotels, and make great friends – all with excellent local guides and the best Tour Manager ever: Luke!

Luke was very knowledgable, professional, fun, and just an all around good guy with lots of positive energy. He made a point to take us away from the crowd at the Great Wall so we felt we had it all to ourselves (a priceless “wow moment”) and also took us to some other places, like a local art district, that don’t attract many tourists.

The trip was action packed with all the sites you want to see: forbidden city, Great Wall, terra-cotta warriors, etc., and even though the group demographic was slightly older and better traveled than you’ll find on a European Contiki tour, there was still plenty of opportunity to explore the Shanghai and Hong Kong night life.

You will even get the chance to relax a bit with a leisurely bike ride along the Xian city wall, a Chinese acrobatic performance, a bamboo raft ride and some spa treatments in Yangzhou. All the optionals were well worth it!

I don’t usually like going to the super touristy shopping areas. I did, however, do a lot more shopping than usual and got some really great items – like my silk comforter that I can’t live without & my pearls that I’m wearing right now! I shipped everything home from Hong Kong to make for easier travel.

Three out of the five hotels were WAY nicer than the standard Contiki tour and much better than my budget usually allows, so this was a special treat – oh, and the breakfast spreads were out of this world, especially in Hong Kong!

I value the friendships I formed on this trip, and I even got to visit a few friends in other world travel excursions.

In sum, just do it!

~ LiAnn

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Tour Review: G Adventures, Australia in Style

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This 21 day trip started in Sydney, travelled up the east coast to Byron Bay, Whitsunday Islands, Cairns, and Port Douglas, then moved on to the Outback traveling through Alice Springs, Uluru, Coober Pedy, Port Augusta, Adelaide, Grampians National Park, Warrnambool, and Melbourne. That’s a whole lot to see in three weeks, but it’s a perfect introduction to Australia, and I felt like I got the most out of my experience.

I thought this trip was fantastic. It included quite a few fun activities like surfing lessons, yachting, and hiking through national parks, and there were a few really great optional activities like snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef and star gazing in the Outback. I highly recommend all these activities. We also got to see koalas, kangaroos, and emus.

Activity level: although this trip has a physical grading of 2, some days were much more like a 3 (hiking, snorkeling, surfing, sailing) – so keep that in mind – I loved it, but if you don’t want a lot of activity, this may not be the trip for you.

Trip Specifics: Our CEO, Nick, was great. He was knowledgeable, down to earth, fun, organized, and helpful. The hotels were fantastic, especially on the east coast portion. There were more motels in the Outback portion, but that’s to be expected, as the areas are less populated. There were also many included meals that were quite good. This is a “comfort” level trip and you really do feel the added cushiness compared to the “standard” level tours.

There were only 6 of us on the east coast portion and 8 in the Outback. Most travelers were in there 20s and 30s and were from Canada, US, England, and Ireland. It was a really great group that got along well.

My only complaint is that there was too much driving time in the Outback. Driving is really the only way it’s possible to go to all the places we visited, but it was a lot. If I could design my own trip, I would have flown from Uluru to Adelaide and skipped the odd opal mining town of
Coober Pedy – sure, it was interesting in a “been there, done that” sort of way, but for me, it wasn’t worth the drive to get there. The Outback is exactly as you would imagine – vast semi-arid brush, simple roadhouses and motels, but well worth seeing – I just could have spent a little less time checking it out 🙂

Overall, this was an amazing trip. I absolutely loved Australia and the scenery changed so much from region to region, that you really do have to spend a significant amount of time there to see it all. From the big cities of Sydney and Melbourne, to the laid back beach town of Byron Bay, to the breathtaking views in the Red Center, the wine country in Claire Valley, and the unbelievable Great Ocean Road – this is a scenic trip like no other!

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The Thai Islands provided a great beach break in the middle of globe trekking. I spend my days kayaking and snorkeling through beautiful waters. I pet a tiger, rode and elephant, and saw a famously Thailand lady boy show! It was amazing!

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G Adventures Delhi to Kathmandu

G Adventures has basic, standard, and comfort level tours. This was a standard tour.

I really enjoyed this trip, but it was hard travel during the India portion – 118F/45C degrees, dirty and chaotic cities, Delhi belly, and the bumpiest, craziest van and tuk-tuk rides of my life (even though I’ve traveled extensively through Asia). Yet, there was something really great and memorable about each city: the temples and Red Fort in Old Delhi, the markets and amber palace in Jaipur, the Taj Mahal in Agra, a hindu blessing in Orchha, and the ceremonies on the Ganges in Varanasi. I’m glad I experienced all of that even though I do not have a desire to return.

On the other hand, I absolutely loved Nepal! It was still hot and more humid than India, but it was bearable. Chitwan National Park and Pokhara were beautiful and full of really wonderful outdoors activities: jeep safari, jungle walk, canoe, boat, hike, etc. I would definitely go back to Nepal.

Tour manager: our tour manager was good. He was especially funny when teaching us how to bollywood dance! My only complaint is that in the beginning, he did not set the expectation that we would go long periods with out an opportunity for food. It was common to go 8-9 hours without a proper meal. I am not the type to fill up on cookies and chips (ok, I do love the Pringles), so this was difficult. I would strongly recommend to G Adventures to break for lunch in between the Amber Palace and City Palace in Jaipur. 5-6 hours in the oven like outdoors without a break is too much. I didn’t get to enjoy the second palace at all.

After a few days, I started buying bananas for the long trips and I also had a box of Larabars (all natural fruit and nut bars) that I wouldn’t have survived comfortably without! So bring some substantial trail mix type food!

Length of stay: If you can arrive a day early to explore Delhi and leave a day later to explore Kathmandu, I would highly recommend it. We hired a private city guide in Old Delhi upon arrival and it was well worth it! The private guide was helpful and enjoyable because it would have been difficult to navigate Delhi on our own, and we got a good history of the places we visited without the inconvenience of a large tour group. Also, If I had stayed an extra day (or left in the evening) at the end in Kathmandu, I would have been able to take a plane ride around Mount Everest.

Accommodations: the hotels were basic, but perfectly adequate. Delhi and Kathmandu were a bit dingy but clean – and the rest were really good with comfortable beds (a few roaches and spiders, but that’s to be expected).

Remember, this is a budget tour that’s relatively inexpensive for 14 nights of accommodations. Each place had a restaurant with a decent selection. The staff was incredibly friendly at most places. This is the only tour I’ve ever taken where breakfast was not included, so keep that in mind. Still, the hotels had breakfast for no more than 4-5 USD/person.

Packing advice: bring antibiotics, pepto/Imodium, and electrolytes for the Delhi belly – I’d say 80-90% chance you will need it. Also, visit a travel clinic before departure to get malaria pills and vaccinations. Bring sunscreen, deet, and Lysol for your shoes and make sure you have a bag to separate your shoes from your clothes in your luggage. you sort of have to embrace the germs – you can’t avoid them! Also, bring a universal adapter – different settings worked at different hotels – it wasn’t consistent.

A carry-on size roller bag is ok, but a backpack is better. I only had a few times when it was awkward to have a roller bag – getting on and off the overnight train and getting to the hotel in Kathmandu – but not a big deal – I did have to have someone carry my bag up the stairs at the train station in Varanasi.

Tour demographics: This trip of 15 travelers was a very mixed group with an age range of early 20’s to early 60’s. It was mostly female, which is typical for tours, but there were three males. Countries represented: England, America, and Denmark. Everyone was friendly and got along well. We all had a really good time together!

Overall: We had a wonderful, although exhausting, experience. What I really like about G Adventures is that you have the convenience of a tour with a guide, accommodations, safety and companionship in the group, and mishaps taken care of for you, but it doesn’t have a typical touristy feel to it – no tourist traps or hokey “authentic experiences” forced on you!

I would not recommend this as a first trip to Asia – try Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam first! But if you are an adventure seeker and interested in culture, customs, and world religions – and don’t mind sacrificing some comfort to have an immersed experience on a budget – then this trip is for you!

Tour Review: G Adventures Southern Discovery (or Southern Explorer Part 1)

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This trip could be done individually as the Southern Discovery or together with Southern Highlights as the Southern Explorer. Each part runs from Saturday to Saturday, so it’s designed well for Americans who can only take a week off from work at a time.

I was on the Southern Explorer, but I decided to split my review since we had a different tour manager and new travel mates for each part.

My Travel Style

First, in reading a review from me, you should know that I’m picky about pretty much everything except for accommodations. I can sleep just about anywhere, so long as it’s fairly clean and safe and doesn’t have too many bugs (this probably stems from my earlier hosteling days), but I still appreciate a nice vs. dingy hotel.

Also, I travel with tours mostly for the convenience, social interaction, and safety as a solo female traveller. However, I strongly dislike the super touristy things that often accompany a guided trip, such as glass blowing demonstrations and “authentic experiences” that are staged for tourists. It is essential for me to be able to wander freely and immerse into the true culture of a place. Trips that don’t allow for that are not for me.

Included Activities

G Adventures was a very good resource for my style of travel. The scheduled activities we did as a group included visiting a vineyard and a small ski resort on a volcano, and a beautiful lake crossing from Chile to Argentina.

The only touristy optional activity I did was a tango lesson followed by a dinner performance, and as far as these types of events go, it was actually a really nice experience. The venue was small, the performance was good (a little weird at times with flashing lights and airplane sound effects, but eh), and overall it was fun to learn a few tango steps from Alejandro 🙂

Since I am a really picky eater, but also like to experience local dining, I liked that there were no included dinners on this trip and that most hotels were located within walking distance to dining options.

Ease of Travel

This was my first trip with G Adventures. It is considered their “comfort” tour (pretty much meaning better accommodations and easier travel) and had a low physical grade. I can say, as someone who has physical restrictions, that it was perfectly fine for me, and if you wanted more physical activities, there were plenty of opportunities to hike, cycle, kayak, etc. Also, I didn’t have any problems bringing a roller luggage bag instead of a backpack (most people had roller bags).

Demographics

There were 16 travelers on this tour (the max allowed), which was a really nice size group – not so big that it slows you down or you feel like cattle, and not so small that you don’t have enough people to talk to.

The majority of the group consisted of single female travelers in their 30s. There were two couples and one solo male traveler. One of the couples was recently retired, and they fit in well with the group of thirty-somethings. I think if you are an active and engaging retiree (like my folks), you’d probably enjoy G Adventures more than the typical retiree tours.

Santiago to Northern Patagonia

I didn’t experience much of Santiago, but our visit to the vineyard was very nice. The winery owner gave an engaging, informative, and entertaining presentation, followed by a tasting in a cute little rustic room overlooking the vineyard.

If you get to Santiago and are disappointed in the quality and location of the hotel, don’t fret! It was pretty dingy and the morning coffee was not drinkable (at least the breakfast was edible). However, Santiago was no indication of what lay ahead.

The next stop in Puerto Varas made up for it. Our hotel there was fantastic! The view of the lake and volcano were amazing and visible from the room, lobby, and restaurant. It rained a bit, which is to be expected in this region. At least we had amazing weather for our volcano exploration!

Bariloche was equally beautiful and the hotel, although situated outside of town, was very nice. Taxis into town were easy to arrange, and the 20-30 minute walk was exceptionally scenic.

The tour ends with only one night in Buenos Aires. I would recommend spending an extra night in Buenos Aires at the end of the trip so that you have a full day to explore the city.

Tour Manager

Our tour manager, Viviana was great! She is from Argentina, so it was nice to have her local perspective. She was very easy going, always helpful and available, and organized suggested activities and meals if we wanted to do things as a group.

Language: Although it’s not critical, you will have a much easier time if you can speak a little Spanish in restaurants, taxis, and at hotel reception. If your Spanish is rusty (like mine), brush up a bit for those three scenarios or stick close to someone who’s Spanish skills are better than yours!

Vegetarians: I eat a mostly vegetarian/pescetarian diet. This was slightly challenging since most options included beef, but there was usually at least one veggie option on each menu. The staple vegetariano selection was a sandwich with lettuce, tomato, avocado, and cheese or you could get pasta dishes at better restaurants. There were vegetarian restaurants in most cities too – even Bariloche.

Also, to experience the local dishes, many restaurants had veggie empanadas. If you eat fish, you’ll have no problem in most cities.

Overall: I’m sure you can tell that I really enjoyed this trip. I met great people, saw an incredibly beautiful region, and even got to relax a bit more than the typical tour would allow. Try to go when the weather is supposed to be clear, and you will have an amazing experience!