My wife and I had been interested in China from a social, economic, and tourist perspective for many years, but did not visit due to concerns about the language barrier, governmental issues, and quality of services. We are in our 50s and 60s, and have extensively travelled, but none of our previous travels prepared us for the reality and wonderful experiences of China on our Viking River Cruise.
We began our journey in Shanghai, and arrived a few days early to see the city and surrounding areas. The Pu-dong Hilton's concierge arranged a car to retrieve us from the airport, checked us in at our room, and helped with other trips. The Hilton's people provided excellent service, and wonderful food and lodging.
Shanghai was a reality check for us, since it is such a major city with high-end shopping and modern buildings juxtaposed with the old Shanghai and Bund area. The architecture was beautiful in both areas and blended the old and new China. A new "Luxury" temple with huge wooden beams and precious metals was under construction in the middle of Shanghai, while the old temple was on a side street, albeit well visited and filled with the aroma of incense, and both well worth the trip. One thing we anticipated, and quickly realized, is that in many places including rural areas, bathrooms may not be to the same standard as the US, so it is worthwhile to have a supply of packaged wipes.
For transportation, we would ride a taxi or bus to reduce travel time for longer trips, and then walk for hours. We received cautions about watching for pick pockets, but did not experience any issues. We could move around the city for just a few dollars equivalent. Language was not an issue with transportation, except taxis, and concierge and door men handled this by giving us cards to provide instructions for the return trip to taxi drivers. Buses required coins to ride.
The Pu-dong area is a high-end part of Shanghai. Fashion appeared to be very important for women and to a lesser extent men.
We visited a high rise mega-mall filled with shoppers of all ages, but mostly female, laden with bags of their purchases from luxury stores. I just wanted a new set of sandals, and it was an easy purchase. I identified the style and multiple sales people (all young women) measured my feet, paid with a credit card, and then returned to the sales desk to retrieve my sandals. The sales people were very friendly, and we can truly say that everyone we met in China was friendly and helpful to us at all times.
We transferred to the Shanghai Shangri-La hotel to meet our Viking River Cruise tour group. Viking utilized excellent hotels throughout our journey, and the Shangri-La brand hotels we experienced in Shanghai, Guilin, and Hong Kong were the best. We applied for the Shangri-La loyalty program, since it allowed us to obtain cash at a lower cost than ATMs.
Be sure to take advantage of breakfast at the Shangri-La (especially Shanghai); it is a culinary adventure. In addition, meals were a fun event that provided an opportunity to meet new people and enjoy different foods. Most of the lunches and dinners on shore were served lazy susan (family style) while others were buffet style. This provided an excellent opportunity to taste the food, if not familiar, and eat more of what you like. Also, all meals were casual, so no suits or ties needed, although the Beijing Opera was smart casual.
At the first night meeting, we received an assignment with Francis Yang as our tour guide. Mr. Yang led the group that was going on to Guilin and Hong Kong after departing Beijing.
Mr. Yang took good care of us at all times and made our journey, easy, pleasant, and safe. Mr. Yang anticipated our needs, and was the best tour guide we have experienced in our travels. We still occasionally communicate via email. We will forever be "Francis Group" and move on with a wave of the raised Viking pennant.
We toured Shanghai as a group seeing silk and carpet factories, museums, acrobats, and more, and then flew to Wuhan to board the Viking Emerald to begin our journey on the Yangtze. Mr. Yang provided our airline tickets, handled all of the luggage arrangements, and escorted us through airport security with ease, and made sure everyone arrived in good shape. We learned about the Viking shopping guarantee for purchased items, and it was true because the merchant replaced an item at no cost after we received it in damaged condition.
The Viking Emerald was a modern and extremely clean ship. We had a stateroom with veranda that provided us with views ranging from tranquil scenery, cities, and factories, to an occasional hydrofoil streaming along the Yangtze. The veranda was a great place to take pictures, relax and enjoy the experience together.
The Viking Emerald crew was friendly, strived to learn our names and to deliver outstanding service. We utilized the on-board laundry, and were pleased with the service and low cost. There certainly is no need to over-pack for this trip.
There were many high points of our cruise on the Yangtze including visiting a museum. temple, and Viking-partnered elementary school, but going through and touring Three Gorges Dam was the highlight. To go though the dam was an awe inspiring experience, especially after having learned about its history and seeing relocated villages along the Yangtze.
Chongqing was our disembarkation city, and a city of 30 million people. The Viking Emerald tied up to a floating dock a couple hundred feet from shore. It was a wonderful experience to see local farmers hand-carrying produce and other foods to the ship for its return trip. The farmers also handled the ship's baggage and would carry a passenger, if desired.
We flew from Chongqing to Xian, where we saw the Terra Cotta Army and Pandas. There was still excavation and reconstruction of soldiers underway at the Terra Cotta Army site. The Pandas were great fun, and zoo a wonderful place for people of all ages.
We moved on to Beijing, visited the Great Wall and jade factory on one day, and then Tienanmen Square and Forbidden City the next day. The anticipation was high for our tour to the Great Wall because there initially was fog in the mountains that acted like a curtain, and then lifted later in the morning. To be on the Wall was like being at a festival with traditionally clothed bands marching and people helping one another to take pictures to remember their visits.
Tienanmen Square and Forbidden City were huge sites that displayed much about the history and culture of China. It was hot in June and this day required stamina and plenty of hydration to keep going.
We went to the Beijing Opera and to a restaurant specializing in Peking duck for dinner. Both were pleasant experiences, and the opera was much different than Western opera.
We moved on with another flight to Guilin, which was an area filled with magical landscapes of towering mountains, low river-lined valleys, and farms like in Chinese paintings. A day cruise along the river with lunch on-board ship gave a closeup experience that produced many great memories and pictures.
Our last stop was Hong Long, and there was plenty of free time. We toured the city on foot, and went to Macau for an afternoon. The trip to Macau on a fast ferry was an event itself, and it was interesting to see the island.
The only substantial delay we experienced during our entire trip was a half day with a return flight home from Hong Kong due to a medical emergency on the inbound US flight. Viking representatives helped us with options and escorted us to the airport. After a very hard working Delta Airlines representative finalized our arrangements, we checked our carry-on baggage at a secure storage locker and used this day to visit Lantau Island and a fishing village outside of Hong Kong to see dragon boat races. Everyone should hope for a delayed flight because the experience is priceless on Lantau with the 4-mile cable car ride to its peak.
Our Viking River Cruise tour was a a wonderful life experience, where we enjoyed ourselves and learned so much about other people, their country, culture, and history. All of the Viking team members we encountered delivered excellent service, and especially Francis Yang our tour guide. The Viking Emerald and all transportation were in top shape and extremely clean. We would highly recommend Viking River Cruises based upon our experience.