It all started here...

It all started here...

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sinorama China Tour Day 15 China-USA

Sinorama China Tour--Scenic Landscapes, Rural Villages 10 Days+5-night Yangtze River Cruise, November 10 to November 24, 2015

Day 15 --Yichang-Wuhan-Shanghai-Vancouver-Los Angeles- November 24, 2015

The end of the tour came too soon! It was time for us to take the long journey home. As I mentioned on the previous post, all the passengers had to disembark the boat before 8AM on our last day. Different groups departed at different time depending on their flight schedule. Everyone received a plastic bag with their 'breakfast' packed for the long drive to the airport. There was an apple, a container of yogurt, a hard-boiled egg, and a roll. Not much, but something to hold us through until we can get food at our next destination. Now I can't recall the time we left the boat, probably sometime around 6AM. 

Meeting at the dining room one last time.

This morning, just like the first day when we arrived Shanghai, we were told to ride with Bus #2 because we were all on the same flight schedule. It took a little over four hours for us to get from the port of Yichang to the airport in Wuhan. We kept wondering why the Gold 8 would not sail to Wuhan instead, saving the time and money to transport all the groups with buses between the two cities for such great distance. Four hours is a long drive and our bus made one stop in between for restroom break. Most people took the chance to catch up with their sleep on the bus. It was raining the whole time and it was very cold, even inside the bus. We had to ask the driver to turn the heater on, which he did. I was certainly not in the mood of taking photos but we arrived Wuhan airport safely and on time. Everything seems so blurry in my mind now about that morning. I will try as hard as I can to recall the days events.

After we arrived at Wuhan airport, we got our luggage from the bus and checked in to our flight. It was quite chaotic at check-in because the four counters opened were not ready for such a big group like us all at once. They told us to line up at three counters, then two counters only in order to make space for other passengers to get service. Then they decided to collect all our passports, and returned some of them with boarding passes, some without. It was just maddening! MiNan said she has never had that happened before. Finally, everything got straighten out and we all got our boarding passes. We bid farewell to MiNan before security check. She had to wait for the next group from the Gold 8. She probably spent her whole day there at the airport before flying back home to Beijing. Really, I would not want her job! 

Without any photos as reference, I can't be sure, but I think we had lunch on the plane from Wuhan to Shanghai. We had to collect our check-in luggage when we arrived Shanghai and then met up with Summer, the local guide from Shanghai, who was waiting for us at the exit of the domestic terminal. After she counted heads, we followed her for a short walk to the International terminal for our flight on Air Canada. Again, we had to check ourselves in which was fine. We also paid extra for the exit row online and picked row 31 also for our flight back. But having experienced the noise and traffic with people using the lavatory nearby, we decided that was not a good choice. The ground crew was nice enough to change our seats to row 8 as requested. She said the plane was pretty empty, we might even be able to get three seats across and get comfortable. So, there goes our wasted $100! Many people were able to lay flat with three seats across as we later found out. We had one empty seat next to ours but the armrests in exit rows are not movable so it didn't help. Anyway, our seats were comfortable enough for the long ride home.

We had over an hour before boarding after checking in and we had two lounge passes that will soon expire. We figured this will be a good day to use them so we headed over to the First Class Lounge near our boarding gate. 

Looking down from the lounge.

This lounge was just OK, not as comfortable as some other lounges we had been and food was very basic.

Cup of noodle that was quite good.

They had some hot food available but didn't look too good. Don't remember what these were.

They had pre-packaged sandwiches, pastries, salad, snacks, and many different kind of drinks.
They also started a noodle bar around 5PM, but by then we were ready to leave for the boarding area so we did not try their noodle.

Waiting to board our plane.

Row 8, right behind premium economy
This was much better than row 31. Less traffic and much quieter.

plenty of leg space and pockets for things

Leaving Shanghai at around 5:50PM.

First meal--chicken rice

2nd meal--breakfast of omlette and sausage

I slept for several hours on this flight and even missed snacks between meals. After breakfast we arrived Vancouver safely.

Going through US Immigration was a breeze before we connected to another flight back to Los Angeles.
One thing I regret was that for some reasons I accidentally touched a button on my camera which caused it to change the size of the exposures and did not realize it until getting home. This made all my photos so much blurrier than usual when I enlarged them for posting.

As far as our experience with Sinorama, we agree that in most part they delivered a well-planned itinerary and the price was definitely attractive. As I have said before, what I liked about this itinerary was that we did not have to get up extremely early most days and we had some free time in the afternoon either to relax a little in our room or choose to have other activities on our own. This made a difference when you are on the go every single day, especially at our age. This may not be true to other itineraries. 
Our tour leader worked extremely hard and she was with us throughout the trip to make sure everything worked out as planned. She was always on the phone, arranging things and she confirmed all our flights to adequately schedule our departures on the last day. Her English can be improved and I think she probably needs to refine her speech a little to eliminate the rigidness that made her sounded like a sergeant giving orders repeatedly. She is actually a fine person but probably because of the pressure, she rarely smile. I think if she pays attention to the above, people would have a totally different view of her. Like I've said, I would not want to be in her shoes.
Our tour leader and the local guides worked together very well to make sure everything goes smoothly for all. This was true for our big groups (with 34 on each bus) but I read that for smaller group there may not be a tour leader every step of the way.
All our local tour guides were great, courteous and responsive, much more friendlier and better quality than some of the guides we had on other Chinese tours.
Hotels we stayed at were usually the best in that city (besides Shanghai) and they could very well be 4-star at least. It was nice to end the day in a cozy, clean, and comfortable room. 
(One member in our group did have something grotesque in their room at one of the hotels when checking in and wanted me to report it to our tour leader which was handled later by the staff at the hotel. This was the only complaint that I am aware of.) 
Buffet breakfast at the hotels were usually the best meal of the day with plenty of choices.
Lunch and dinner on the land tour portion were table service, family style with monotonous dishes. Sweet and sour at every meal, and lots of vegetables. Some tables did not have enough food but we were fine because we were all women besides my husband.
Another plus for Sinorama tour was that everything was paid for, even gratuity and tips, on land and on the cruise. We did not have to worry about paying tips to the guides, bus drivers, servers, or cabin stewards unless you really wanted to tip extra.

Now the negatives. First, being an online agency (except for people in Canada), it was difficult to get information and direct answers from them. We have used another travel agency that operated similarly (American European Travel) and had a lot of problems pre-trip for a tour to Turkey. That was why we opted to have our own travel agent handled this booking for us, which worked out just fine.
Then customers have no say in choosing their flights and schedules. We were not notified about our flights until three weeks before the tour and ended up having to fly from L.A. to Vancouver to Shanghai and reverse on the way back. We were fortunate that we were able to go online, upgraded and chose our seats directly with Air Canada while others were not able to do so. Don't know exactly why but the packet from Sinorama stated that seat assignments cannot be changed until check-in. I am assuming it's because they book the cheapest seats available.
Just like most budget tours, Sinorama also had several shopping stops at different cities which took up a lot of time rather than sight seeing. I suppose they have to do that to get the support from participating businesses to subsidize their expenses. At least, we were not forced to buy and some of them can be very interesting.
If you don't mind the above negatives, I think Sinorama tour is a good choice for the price. For people who likes to do their own things and set their own schedules, Sinorama or any other tours, as a matter of fact, will not work for you. Will I go on another Sinorama tour? Definitely, if the price and the itinerary are attractive enough. How else could you go to a faraway land, visits sights, and have everything taken care of for you without spending your life-long savings? As long as you know what you are getting into ahead of time, and lower your expectation, you will be pleasantly surprised.
This conclude my 2015 Sinorama China Tour report! Thank you for reading!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Sinorama China Tour Day 14 Jingzhou

Sinorama China Tour--Scenic Landscapes, Rural Villages 10 Days+5-night Yangtze River Cruise, November 10 to November 24, 2015

Day 14 --Jingzhou Museum and Ancient City Wall- November 23, 2015

This was our last full day on this tour and we will be visiting the Ancient City Wall and Jingzhou Museum in the city of Jingzhou which is over an hour and a half drive from Yichang where the ship docked.

Jingzhou is a city in the province of Hubei. It has been an important transportation point for thousands of years and held strategic military position in Chinese history. Many historical stories and cultural references in China were based on the events happened in Jingzhou during the Three Kingdoms period.

Leaving Gold 8 behind for our day trip to Jingzhou.

Driving into the city after a long ride.

Internet Cafe

Getting closer to the city gate.

One of the local guides was explaining something about the walkway up the city wall. I was busy looking down and watching my steps on the slippery rocks instead of paying attention to what he was saying.

Some characters from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Tower of the City Gate

The moat

Ancient City Wall--not as big as the City Wall in Xian but still impressive.
This wall had been damaged and repaired many times. This one was built in the Qing Dynasty.

Outside the city wall.

Inside the city wall.

The residence of Zhang Zhu Zheng, a controversial government official in the Ming Dynasty. A political reformer who established the examination system for public service and set up the systems on tax collection. Loved and hated by many. His family members were persecuted even after his death. This residence is right next to the city wall.

Statues of important figures in the Three Kingdoms inside the tower.

Up to the top of the tower.

Our buses were parked along the street on the left.

After the Ancient City Wall, we came to this restaurant for lunch. The whole place was filled with people from different tours on Gold 8.

The wait staff were having problems serving that many people all at once. We had to practically yelled out to be served.

The 'running' banner welcoming Sinorama Tours.

Wow! Finally, half a chicken was served. 
Actually, they served an excellent meal here.

After lunch we came to the Jingzhou Museum to see the 2,000-year old male corpse.
The museum was actually closed that day but they agreed to open it just for Sinorama tours so only parts of the museum were opened. This main building was closed.


We entered here to see the corpse.

The silk and lacquer wares exhibits were inside this building.

Some items excavated from the grave with the corpse.

I will not post the picture of the corpse, it's just not very appealing. If interested, there is one on wikipedia.

Final photo while waiting for the rest of our group.

We came back to the cruise at around 5PM and it was dark and rainy. It was time to start packing our bags. We needed to get our check-in luggage out the door by 10PM that evening so they could deliver them to our buses throughout the night. Depending on our flight time, groups were scheduled to debark at different time the next morning, but all before 8AM.

After clearing our bills with the reception we went down for our final meal--the Captain's Farewell Dinner.

Dried tofu

smoked duck breast--as you can see, only one piece per person.



no more all-you-can-eat buffet

Group picture--Bus 1, table 1

Our servers, Bella and Bobo.

Table #3

Table #2

Fried Shrimps, tiny shrimps with thick batter.

One last sweet and sour dish.

Sweet rice roll, cute!

Dinner ended, not baked Alaska, but cakes for four passengers who were having their birthdays.

After dinner we bid farewell to our table-mates as we will be taking different buses to the airport tomorrow. 
We went back to our cabin, finished packing and had our check-in bags out the door by 10PM. 
Another early start tomorrow morning! We will need to take the four-hour drive from Yichang to Wuhan for our flight back to Shanghai. Those from the east coast will take a 7PM plane to Guangzhou the next day, then catch a flight back to New York. They will have a long wait at the Wuhan Airport. Most people from the L.A. area will fly to Beijing, where it had been snowing in the past couple of days, and take their flights back to L.A. from there, hopefully with no delays. We will join the Northern California/Vancouver group and take the flight to Shanghai for the 5:50 flight back to Vancouver.