China trip: overall thoughts / summary

Previous China trip posts: Shanghai, Hangzhou, Huangshan, Kunshan, Xi’an, Beijing.

This is just a summary post with some overall thoughts on our recent trip to China. The above posts have details about each area.
I really, greatly enjoyed this trip to China. It was a fascinating exposure to a small piece of a great culture. So much history, so many people, so much to learn. I would definitely like to go back and learn more.
I enjoyed the food. It’s not the same as Chinese food in America, and that’s OK. I like them both. The spices were bolder, more fat was used, more parts of more animals, and I like all of that. It’s probably not quite as healthy, but I’m not sure, and I don’t mind anyways.
The guides were all over the place. Alex in Shanghai and Bruce in Beijing were great: excellent English, friendly, flexible, just great guides. The guides in the smaller cities, especially Huangshan, but also Xi’an and Hangzhou, were not as good. Their English was bad, they had an agenda in terms of selling us stuff, and they were annoying. The city size to guide quality correlation is probably not a coincedence.
The locals were uniformly nice, friendly, and interested to chat. That was nice.
The hotels were also across a broad range. The Swissotel Kunshan was excellent, most of the others pretty good, and one or two just not that good. The western chains seemed like the most consistently good hotels.
Traffic was bad in the big cities, and OK in the smaller ones. Add a bunch of time to your plans in Beijing and Shanghai if you’re traveling by car.
The subway, where available, was very good. So were trains above ground. We had a good experience with both of those. Reasonable prices, too.
Shopping is good. There are plenty of good stores at all range of prices. Plan and expect to neogitiate, whether you’re Chinese (local) or not. It can be fun if you’re in the mood. The key is that you must be willing to walk away.
The country is huge. Duh, I know 😉 It just takes time to travel from city to city, region to region. This is expected, not a surprise, and not horrible.
Internal / domestic flights are packed. The planes we had were OK quality, nothing to write home about. But the took off and landed safely on time, we got our bags, and so I can’t complain much.
The sights were mostly as advertised. The Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Template of Heaven, those are amazing. Gotta see them. The terracotta warriors, West Lake, Shanghai skyline, not bad.
The group we went with was awesome. Every single person was cool, and it was a lot of fun. Much joking around.
A special note on Chinese t-shirts: those are funny! Many contain English expressions that are so broken, or so strange, that you can’t help but laugh out loud.
Overall, this was one of our best trips. It wasn’t particularly relaxing, but it was educational and enlightening. It’s highly recommended.