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WIT Agent Abroad: Nancy in China with Alexander & Roberts (with insider tips!)

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Today WIT Agent Nancy is heading out to China with Alexander & Roberts! We’re excited to see what she’ll uncover.

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What is Alexander & Roberts?

A&R organizes small-group tours with no more than 16 guests for those who want to explore at their own pace with a bit of company. These are culturally rich itineraries led by local, certified guides, exploring the heart of a country at a steady, comfortable pace.

Many of our agents have traveled with A&R in different locales and would love to discuss options with you. Call us at 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

For an itinerary in Japan with Alexander & Roberts, click here

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Highlights of the Middle Kingdom

Nancy’s upcoming 10-day itinerary combines land + river – covering Beijing, exploring the Wu Gorge and Three Gorges Dam aboard the Yangtze Explorer, Xi’an and Shanghai.

Among the highlights along the way:

  • Experience life as a city resident as you browse in a market for produce to bring to your hosts, a local Beijing family who will offer real personal insight into this rapidly evolving city.
  • Learn Tai Chi with a master as you join him for a private class at the Temple of Heaven.
  • A Xian resident shares his lifetime of experience as you explore with him through a city market filled with exotic fare.
  • + Sit down in one of Shanghai’s newly popular wine lounges and learn about China’s emerging taste for fine vintages… Enjoy a congenial luncheon and a glass of the house favorite.
  • + Includes 4 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Asia

Itinerary

BEIJING

With your expert guide, venture out into the mountains outside Juyong Pass to walk atop the breathtaking Great Wall. In Beijing, tour the grand palaces and pavilions of the Forbidden City.

You’ll start the day with a private Tai Chi lesson and learn about daily life in old China, then fly from Beijing to Yichang to board the Yangzi Explorer for a night in a balcony stateroom.

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YANGTZE EXPLORER

The leisurely cruise charts an upstream course along the Yangtze. Visit the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydropower dam. The ship journeys up Shennong Stream, where you might catch glimpses of sampan boats poled by Tujia boatmen and the elusive Golden Hair Monkey.

Explore Fengdu ‘s New City and take part in lectures and hands-on workshops in Chinese calligraphy, traditional brush painting, Mahjong and the art of dumpling making.

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XI’AN

Fly from Chongqing to Xi’an to admire China’s ancient capital for 13 centuries, its bustling Muslim market, and the world-famous terracotta army.

SHANGHAI

Lastly, fly to Shanghai for a tour of the lovely Yu Yuan Garden and a world-famous Shanghai acrobat show.

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HONG KONG EXTENSION – 4-Day POST TOUR

Experience facets of Hong Kong which few visitors ever glimpse. We include your flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong, 3 nights at the 5-star Kowloon Shangri-La, daily breakfast, lunch at Jimmy’s Kitchen and our exclusive Be a Hong Kong Insider full-day tour.

Insider Tips on Travel to China

PLUS: Nancy’s got the scoop on insider tips from A&R! Some tips for traveling with A&R in China:

  • Joining in with tai chi? Pack some looser, clothes, perhaps layers. Barefoot is acceptable.
  • There is no tailor onboard the Explorer ship, so ask your tour escort early in Beijing in case you need some clothes repair.
  • Doing some independent wandering during free time from your hotel? Always get the hotel’s business card, written in Chinese, to show a taxi driver when you need to find your way back.
  • If you take USD cash to exchange, bring nothing bigger than $50 bills and in pristine condition. Best to bring mostly smaller bills.  Keep exchange receipts and don’t over-exchange so that you return home with local currency.
  • Silk scarves are very popular. You will be asked if you want “real” or “almost real”. If you don’t ask or are not asked, you will be directed to the least expensive ones, which are the fakes. Best deals for real silk scarves and also wool shawls is in Beijing. Ask your tour escort where to find the best!
  • A&R selects hotels partially for those that have money exchange ability. Some hotels don’t even charge A+R passengers to exchange money. 
  • Always ask the escort for their opinion on how much local currency you may need/want over the next few days.
  • Have a shopping list and ask your first guide for the best places to obtain the items during your itinerary. Follow his recommendations. They are spot on.

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Filed under Alexander + Roberts, Asia, China

Explore China with Wild China

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Wild China is an exceptional travel company that offers amazing trips of a lifetime in China and southeast Asia. Over the years, Wild China has received numerous awards, including NatGeo’s 50 Tours of a Lifetime and Travel + Leisure’s Trips of a Lifetime. It has also been named one of NatGeo’s Best Adventure Travel Companies (On Earth).

Wild China was conceived by founder and Yunnan local Mei Zhang during a 56km pilgrimage in the Himalayas. During her grueling hike, she had no guide, lodgings or transport. Her challenges inspired her to pioneer a service for other travelers to enjoy China’s stunning cultural and natural landmarks with expertise and comfort.

For those exploring China for the first time, their escorted itineraries take guests to Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, and other familiar marks on the map. Experience China with an experience team of travel professionals, with just your family or in a small group of 12 like-minded individuals.

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For seasoned travelers, Wild China offers personalized adventures in unique locations, such as the rugged Xinjiang Province or the Tibetan Plateau. Their team of expert adventurers will take you on unforgettable journey through the rich landscape that is East Asia.

Trips are offered as private tours (fully flexible) or small group tours (with scheduled departures). They also lead education tours designed to empower young people to make a difference in local communities.

Upcoming Trips Include: 

4-Day Beijing’s Past & Future

5-Day Escape to Lhasa

10-Day Ancient Tea and Horse Road with adventurer Jeff Fuchs

13-Day Gastronomic Tour of China with food writer Fuchsia Dunlop

and many more!

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Call your agent at Wittravel to learn more about these awesome trips—503.224.0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

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Filed under Asia, Bhutan, China, India, Thailand, Tibet

On the Ground in China!

Considering a guided trip to China but can’t visualize your day to day? Step into our On the Ground with WIT Agent Barb Baumer. Barb traveled to China in March 2013 with one of our favorite small group tour organizers, General Tours.

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We stayed at the Sofitel in Beijing, a very nice hotel in a good location, not too far from Tiananmen Square. In the morning we had a walking tour of the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven. In the afternoon we visited we visited the Great Wall. There are now two locations most frequented by visitors, General Tours goes to this newer location called Ju Yong Guan, as it is less crowded with visitors.

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After one day in Beijing, we flew to Xian for an experience unique to General Tours—GT partners up with the Antiquity museum and allowed us to examine and handle ancient artifacts thousands of years old, all of which have been recently excavated from archaeological sites all across China.

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We also visited the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xian. It’s an amazing place, much larger than I expected. IT’s hard to comprehend the enormity of the area and the amount of artifacts that have been uncovered. They are still working to rebuild many broken statues!DSC01028

We then flew to Chongqing to start our Yangtze River Cruise on the Yangtze Explorer. This ship has large rooms, all with balconies and lots of storage space, very substantial buffets for breakfast and lunch, with multiple a la carte choices for dinner. We stopped at the village Fengdu and sailed through the Three Gorges.

In Shanghai we spent time walking along the Bund and Pudong. General Tours took us to a small silk factory where we were educated on the production of silk fabric. We also spent time at the Shanghai Museum, which has great collections of Chinese artifacts, sculptures, paintings and ceramics from many different eras.

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We also were set up for a private guided trip to Suzhou, Portland’s Sister City—the city has so many gardens—it was early spring and things were just starting to bloom. We took a high speed train and met a guide in Hangzhou, a beautiful city on a lake surrounded by green hills. We visited a Buddhist temple in the hills and a tea farm—a nice respite from the bustling Shanghai.

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WIT Agent Barb would love to share with you more of her firsthand tips from China! Call Barb at 503-224-0180 for more information on China and/or General Tours.

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WIT Agent Barb heads over to China!

This week WIT Agent Barbara is heading out to the land of Dragons and Emperors! She is traveling with General Tours in China!

General Tours is renowned for its small group tours, with a maximum of 16 passengers that can book. Founded in 1947, GT is one of America’s oldest tour companies and has been lauded by Frommer’s, Travle + Leisure, and the New York Times. The tours are fully escorted, and each includes private transportation, insightful tour guides, entrance fees, most meals, internal flights and taxes. Remember agent Linda’s terrific trip to Colombia last summer? It was organized by General Tours!

Escorted by GT’s sales manager Judy Ruffini, Barb will be venturing through some major highlights of China—Beijing, Xian, the Three Gorges, and Shanghai. Here’s a sneak peek to her itinerary:

March 18-19 – Beijing. With her guide and compatriots, Barb will check out the age-old city of Beijing. She’ll explore the historic Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall, and the inner courtyards of the Forbidden City. Her accommodations are pre-arranged at the Sofitel Wanda—a 5-star hotel with Sino-French influences. Centrally located with easy access to the city square, the hotel also features 4 restaurants, ballroom, and spa.

March 20-21 – Xi’an. Next, Barb will head to China’s elusive ancient capital, Xi’an. She will come face to face with the terra cotta army and learn about dance and music of the T’ang Dynasty via a live performance. She and her group will overnight at the Hilton Hotel Xian, a contemporary hotel located downtown with décor inspired by T’ang Dynasty artwork.

March 22 – Fengdu. Barb will explore the “Ghost City” of Fengdu and its lovely, historic temples.

March 23-24 – The Mighty Three Gorges and Shennong Stream. Barb and the rest of the GT gang will hop on a river boat up the Yangtze and take in the scenery of the coastline and mountain peaks. She’ll visit the mighty Three Gorges Dam and learn about its ecological and economic impacts.

March 25 – Shanghai. Finally, Barb will land in Shanghai, where she has the day to explore this cosmopolitan city and its fascinating Bazaar, tranquil Yu Yuan Garden, and hip Tianzifang district. Her accommodations are located in the center of Shanghai, opposite the People’s Square. The 5-star Le Meridien Hotel has luxurious rooms that are equipped with wall to wall windows, 42” plasma TVs, 10 restaurants, and views of the Bund, river, or Shanghai’s skyline.

Call Wittravel to discuss whether GT is right for you. We can advise you of your travel options, make reservations and shape the perfect itinerary for your preferences! We put our clients first and work hard to ensure you have a terrific trip.

Extend your trip with an add-on in Japan or South Korea! Want to splurge for a night or two? Think about the new Club Med’s resort in Guilin! For reservations or general information, give us a call.

And that’s not all! General Tours always seems to have sales and offers going on:

–         Pay in Full 2013: Save $600 or more per couple on any of our 2013 Small Group, Private Tours or Small Ship journeys when you pay-in-full at time of booking by August 30, 2013.

–         Family and Friends: Pay in Full and refer a friend or family member and save even more on your booking. Save $50 per person when 3 guests go, save $100 more per person with 4, $150 more per person with 5, $200 more per person with 6+!

WIT Agents Linda, Christina, Pam and Wailana have all been to China. Linda recently traveled to Colombia on a small group itinerary with General Tours. Call us for more details! 800.821.0401 or email info@wittravel.com.

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Filed under Asia, China, General Tours, Our Travel Agents, SALES, Vendors, Where in the World is the WIT Agent?

Where in the World is the WIT Agent? — Suzhou, China

This week Pam is taking the train to Suzhou to sightsee before starting her Viking River Cruise tour.

Suzhou is Shanghai’s little sister – lying about 115 km (71 mi) from the bustling metropolis. Coincidentally, she is also the sister city of Portland, OR, WIT’s hometown!

Pam is sure to enjoy this peaceful and beautiful town, for centuries nourished by the Grand Canal and as many as 60 gorgeous gardens, many of whom have been recognized on the World Heritage List. The charm of Suzhou is certainly its natural gifts and beauty—dubbed the “Oriental Venice.” Its old style architecture also adds a lingering feel of history and mystique.

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It’s a great destination for souvenir shopping—away from the hawks in Shanghai, offering a wealth of wares from teas, silks, embroidery, freshwater pearls, sandalwood fans, musical instruments, jade, lanterns and the characteristically sweeping smoking pipes. Expect to have your haggle skills once again challenged. For a special treat, pick up a snuff bottle—tiny, elaborately painted glass bottles that once contained tobacco. Head to the Taoist Temple of Xuanmiao (Mysterious Sublimity) in the old city, where a collection of great local vendors sits just outside the walls.

For a real treat, don’t miss the Humble Administrator’s Garden (and the opera performance hall) or Suzhou Museum, constructed by renowned architect I.M. Pei, best known for his design of the Louvre glass pyramid.

How to Get There: Suzhou is reachable by bus, but most favorably by train—a high-speed train runs frequently from Shanghai and Beijing to any one of four stations around town. Tickets must be purchased at an international ticketing office, available in most large stations. On arrival, expect to wait a while for a taxi—Suzhou is currently in the process of building an underground metro system—but in the meantime, taxis are rare and difficult to track down.


Interested in touring the canal city of Suzhou or any of her neighboring sisters? Email info@wittravel.com or call us at 503.224.0180.

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Where in the World is the WIT Agent? — Shanghai, China

For the next two weeks or so, our agent Pam will be in China! She’ll explore Shanghai and Beijing on her own, and then join Viking River Cruises for an inside look at Xian, Chongqing, Suzhou, the Yangtze River and much more. Check in as the Wittravel blog follows her on her adventure!

First on her stop is glamorous, fast-paced, international hub and cherry-on-the-world Shanghai. Where is she headed, you ask? Check out Wittravel’s Top Things to See/Try in Shanghai:

To the traveler familiar with anything Chinese, the first thing he or she may notice is how different Shanghai is from the rest of China. With its own distinct food, dialect, lifestyle and pace—Shanghai is a prime example of the international metropolis.

photo by Bernt Rostad

Here are WIT’s top things to see and do in Shanghai:

1)      Yu Yuan Garden

Constructed in the late 16th century by the Ming Dynasty, the magical and peaceful Yu Yuan Garden lies on the northeast of the Old City.  Encasing more than 20,000 square meters, the garden is surprisingly tranquil in spite of the tourists that cluster there during peak seasons. Don’t miss this organic maze of stepping stones, koi ponds, ancient trees, souvenir shops, historical courtyards, and the towering, porous Exquisite Jade Rock.

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2)      Nanjing Lu

The Nanjing Lu is one of the world’s busiest shopping streets, and definitely worth an hour or two’s perambulation. It’s a mecca of food, museums, markets, and shops that stretches from The Bund to Hongqiao. Stop here for souvenirs or just to purvey the streets brimming with silk weavers, jade vendors, and fast food chains.

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3)      Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe

One of the most popular and beloved attractions in Shanghai is the Acrobatics Troupe. Though frequently on tour all across the world, there is no better and no more fortuitous venue to see them than their hometown. The troupe breathtaking display of daring feats showcasing marvelous physical technique, stunts, balance and strength. And in case you should happen to be in the city during their world tour, there are also plenty of other magnificent troupes that provide daily wonders. Check out the available venues including Bai Yu Lan Theatre, Shanghai Cloud Peak Theater, Shanghai Circus World, and others.

4)      The Bund

Chock full of historical architecture and memorabilia, The Bund is the citywide term for the western riverfront region of Puxi. It is the site of a major business district, stunning Art Deco building and various international neighborhoods left over from the construction boom at the turn of the 20th century that brought over major European influences.

 The Bund — by Bernt Rostad

5)      The Maglev

Shanghai’s magnetic-levitation train was built by German-owned Siemens as the first commercial, high-speed magnetic levitation line in the world. It connects the international airport to the city center, reaching 430 km/hr (267 mi/hr) and taking less than eight minutes. A star mascot in a city run on speed and cross-cultural efficiency.

6)      Shanghai Food

The Shanghaiese are not wrong when they tell you that they have a cuisine unique to the city alone. Full of delicious sauces, salted meats and fried dishes, the culinary traditions are definitely attractions not to be missed. Try thick Shanghai fried chow mein, stinky tofu, gingery 1000 year eggs, or soup dumplings (Xiaolong Bao), a delicious snack of dough wrapped around juicy pork and succulent broth.

For a true dining experience, visit one of Shanghai’s many acclaimed Hot Pot restaurants. The minute you sit down, you’ll receive a menu chock full of veggies, proteins, broths, and other options galore—tick away at your choices, and your meal will promptly appear. A small individual pot all to yourself, and small dishes of everything from stacks of mushrooms to strips of meat, all fighting for their place on your decently sized but inevitably insufficient table.

7) Dongtai Road

A haven for Chinese vintage memorabilia and antiques, curiosity shops and bookshops, Dongtai Road is one of the largest flea markets in Shanghai. Though most of the items are in fact replicas, it’s almost worth trying your skills out in haggling for the best in replica figurines, Mao kitsch, jade, propaganda posters, teapots and tons more. Come here for the elderly Mahjong square-offs, for the hustle and bustle and Cantonese murmur, and for the weirdest finds of trinkets and ersatz memorabilia.

Of course it’s near impossible to have a complete list of ALL the attractions and activities in Shanghai! Stay tuned for Wednesday, when Pam heads to the city’s quieter neighbor, Suzhou.

Interested in touring the gorgeous city of Shanghai or any of her neighboring sisters? Email info@wittravel.com or call us at 503.224.0180.

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Filed under Asia, China, Cruises, Viking Cruises, Where in the World is the WIT Agent?