I’ve recently returned from a 12 day tour of China with TripADeal. When people hear this the first question they ask is ‘what was TripADeal like?’. So I thought it must be a question many people are asking so best I put my thoughts on line.
I knew a little about the TripADeal phenomenon as I have been following the company founder’s wife on Instagram for a few years now. @Jetsetmama and her adorable brood of gorgeous kids is quite engaging and having followed her for a the very least 5 years, I feel like I kind of know them all! Her husband Rich pretty much started TripADeal from home soon after they arrived back in Australia from Bali after their Balinese Guesthouse burnt to the ground without being insured. See I listen to you @Jetsetmama!
TripADeal has grown from strength to strength and so has family! Claire is English and is pregnant with her fourth, no doubt will be another hippie, natural home birth surrounded by Atlas, Sochi and Zephyr eagerly awaiting the arrival of their new sibling!
Anyway I digress! Back to TripADeal.
TripADeal 12 day China Highlights Tour
I did the 2 or 1, 12 day China Highlights tour visiting Suzhou, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Zhengzhou, Xian and Beijing. You can read my Ultimate guide to visiting Beijing, it details all available options for visiting the Great Wall of China and whats different about them. If you are heading to Shanghai, I’ve got you covered there as well with our Shanghai with kids, the Ultimate Guide.
This trip was AU$1000 per person twin share but we upgraded to include a visit to Xian to see the Terracotta Warriors. The Xian side trip cost an extra AU$500, so we paid AU$1500 each . Both my friend and I said why would you go to China and not upgrade to see the Terracotta Warriors, its like going to London and not seeing Buckingham Palace!
That price included flights from Melbourne via Sydney to Shanghai returning to Melbourne from Beijing also via Sydney with Qantas. Everyone on the tour was on the flight from Sydney and we were pretty much sitting around each other. Lesson number 1, don’t annoy the person in front or behind you on your way over because its highly likely you will spend the next 12 days with them!
What’s included in the China Highlights TripADeal tour
I’m going to tell you what is included in the cost of the tour. There were a number of things that were not included which I will cover further down:
- Return flights with Qantas;
- All hotels for the duration of the tour;
- Breakfast each morning;
- High speed train transfers;
- Bus and driver;
- Tour guide.
All the specified tours outlined in the itinerary were included in the price. This included at least one activity every day and included the main attractions such as the following places:
- Great Wall of China;
- Beijing Zoo;
- Tiananmen Square;
- Forbidden City tour;
- Pearl factory;
- Jade factory;
- Terracotta Warriors;
- Henan Museum;
- Erqi Tower climb;
- Meijiawu Tea Village;
- West Lake boat ride;
- Lingering Garden – UNNESCO World Heritage Site;
- Wuzhen Floating village;
- Silk factory;
- Shanghai The Bund visit;
- Shanghai Museum.
Optional Tours offered by TripADeal
You can choose to do all or none of the optional tours. Optional tours are not included in the original price and you pay as you go on the tour. We paid using local currency although you can use Australian dollars if that’s what you have with you.
I thought the optional tours were quite good and we did most of them however there were 2 that we decided to give a miss. What you have to consider if you don’t do the optional tour is what will you do instead. Now if the only option was sitting in the hotel, well the optional tour was definitely a better option don’t you think?
One down side of the TripADeal tour are the hotel locations. They were often well out of town and while there was food options around there was little to see and do. This is another factor in choosing whether you will participate in the optional tours. There is no pressure to participate from tour guides but they will talk up the tours and that is very normal for a tour guide with every company I have ever travelled with.
Following are the optional activities and where they were located:
- Chinese Acrobatic Show – The Intersection of Time – we did this show and we had great seats and the program was excellent. The performers are very talented and have obviously been practising their trade wear for many years, I highly recommend doing this optional tour;
- Shanghai Half Day City Tour – we did this tour and I loved it. We saw so much more of Shanghai than we would have, had we not done this. The tour included extra time at the Bund, lunch at the French Quarter, Yu Garden then a few hours shopping at the Yuyuan Garden Malls. The malls were a highlight for me, not only did we get some free time shopping for souvenirs but the old Chinese architecture was amazing to see;
- Night cruise on the Huangpu River – another highlight of the tour, we got on the boat at 6.45pm, the tour guide told us the best place to stand on the roof top deck to capture the best photos. The lights of Shanghai Pudong city come on at 7pm, our boat was in the perfect spot to view the lights and I captured the video of the lights come on. I definitely recommending doing both the city tour and the river cruise;
- Maglev Train Experience – The maglev (magnetic levitation) train goes from Shanghai city out to the new airport at Pudong. Traveling at 431kms per hour the maglev train does the 30 kilometre trip in 8 minutes! We didn’t do this tour as we have travelled on the Shinkansen in Japan that does 430kms & we visited the Maglev Museum instead. The others that did do it said it was fantastic though & well worth doing.
- Shaolin Kung Fu Temple Full Day Tour – we did this optional tour and while I was a bit skeptical at first, I actually really liked it. Kung Fu is synonymous with China and Shaolin Temple is one of the most highly regarded Kung Fu schools in China. It was amazing to see the current students do a Kung Fu performance in the onsite theatre. This is the only reason for going to Zhengzhou, if you don’t do this optional tour you’ll be spending the day at the hotel in an industrial city that has no main attractions to visit. The people that didn’t do this optional tour did some shopping and visited the hotel day spa. I highly recommend doing this optional tour.
- Terracotta Warriors – this is a pre-booked optional tour and let me tell you, if you don’t do this optional tour you are crazy! You can’t upgrade to include this once you have arrived in China so make sure you just include it from the start. The Terracotta Warriors were an absolute highlight of my whole trip to China. I can’t for the life of me understand why you would go to China and not see this, it would be like visiting Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tour! If you don’t do this you get to spend an extra day in Zhengzhou and its no secret Zhengzhou was my least favourite place.
- The Golden Mask Dynasty Musical – a large scale dramatic musical set in ancient China, the show is broken down into 8 different sections and has been running for 10 years. Acts range from acrobatics, to dance, singing, martial arts and more. We didn’t do this show and I’m kind of sad we didn’t because those who did said they really enjoyed it and it was pretty spectacular. On this day we took a taxi to Silk St shopping and that was nice to have some free time to ourselves as we had very little free time as we did most of the optional tours;
- Hutong Tour with Dinner – the Hutong means narrow street and this is where you’ll see the old China, the way it use to be before the population boom and the introduction of high rise housing. The Chinese Government has kept some of the Hutong and the canals with their gorgeous traditional bridges just the way it was for tourist and locals to visit. We did a rickshaw tour of the Hutong and stopped and had dinner at a local home. The Hutong homes don’t have toilets and they share their bathrooms just like in holiday parks. We did this tour and I highly recommend it, it was definitely a highlight of Beijing.
Accommodation on our TripADeal Tour
I have found that many people have been asking about our accommodation on our tour. The standard of accommodation was very good, mostly 4 star with a couple of Faulty Towers type hotels that looked good from the outside but just didn’t hit the mark on the inside. Overall the standard of hotels was sufficient.
The only issue I have with the accommodation is the location! Now I would prefer to pay a little bit extra and have a hotel in the best area as this would mean you can get out and do your own thing a little bit more in the evening. The hotels were rather isolated and had few facilities that we were interested in. We did find places to eat and generally at reasonable prices and we also found the hotel restaurants to be of a reasonable standard and price.
All hotels had wifi, some better than others but overall they were good. Obviously you are very restricted in what you can access on your smartphones in China but that is easily fixed by using a VPN. Download one of the many options in the app store and then you can access all your social media platforms using the VPN. I signed up to ExpressVPN and utilised the 7 days free option, I then downloaded the Betterment -best VPN proxy for another 7 days free access.
Food Options on the TripADeal Tour
Breakfast was provided every morning, a buffet breakfast at each hotel. They were pretty much of the same standard and were all pretty good with plenty of options both western and asian style food.
Most other meals were not provided however we were always taken somewhere that we could purchase food. You can eat really cheaply if you want to or you could find a restaurant close by the hotel. my friend and I called our trip the dumpling tour of China! We pretty much had dumplings every day and in every city. Many of the group went looking for a Peking Duck restaurant when we were in Beijing but we didn’t go that night, some group members were foodies and went looking for local restaurants at the every city. We were often happy with dumplings at the hotel restaurant and a local beer!
When we weren’t eating in the touristy areas we could get dumplings and a beer each for under AU$10. This meant we were happy to have a blow out every now and then like when we had lunch in the Shanghai French Quarter, my hamburger was AU$20 and a craft beer was AU$15. However, generally if you ate local food was generally on the very cheap side.
Tipping on a TripADeal Tour
Now this is a bit of a sore point for me. The tipping requirements are clearly set out in the terms and conditions of the tour. Basically it is AU$12 per person each day. TripADeal breaks it down for you into sections relating to each tour guide. I had mine in a ziplock bag with the exact amount for each section of the tour.
Don’t be an arse and refuse to pay your tips in any circumstances!
This is not an optional tip, it is part of the conditions of travel, do not become an ugly traveller and be seen arguing with a tour guide over AU$12. I’m not going to go into details but we had to deal with some very ugly behaviour and its down right embarrassing.
If you can’t afford $12 for your tips, you shouldn’t be travelling. Also these very cheap tours are great for us that really appreciate travelling but it also opens the door for some people that maybe really shouldn’t leave Australia. Comments like ‘Why don’t they have an English speaking person at this restaurant’ is not really in the spirit of travelling and if that’s the case, I suggest you book a trip to New Zealand and not a foreign speaking country. Enough said!
There is also a $150 tourist tax charge that will need to be paid while in country. The $150 is per travel couple ($75 each) and the reason for it was quite grey. It is in the terms and conditions of travel and needs to be paid in Australian dollars. We forgot about this charge, I had it confused with the compulsory tips. There were others on the bus that had Australian dollars spare so we bought some off them. Apparently you could have paid local currency however I recommend being organised and have the money ready to go.
Tips on visiting China for the first timer
China blew me away, it was nothing like what I expected it to be like, it was 10 times better. I feel that China is poorly represented in the media here in Australia and while the language barrier is difficult, the Chinese are very welcoming and are very happy to show off their lovely country.
Bartering – barter hard, its a national sport and they love it. In my experience when they give you a price slash it by 95% then barter a little. If they get upset with you, you know you have come close to a decent price. If they are jovial and happy they have got a price they are happy with. Barter till they get upset then go up a little from that.
Toilets – most toilets will be squat toilets and you will need to take your own toilet paper. I took small travel packets which are $1.20 for 8 packets in Aldi. Most toilets are exceptionally clean, there will usually be a disabled toilet that will be western, the queue is usually long for it though. All hotels have western toilets.
Traffic – traffic is a nightmare but it seems to work, they have a very big problem with road users using mobile phones will driving. Our bus had an accident on the first day, involving another two cars, we were told the first driver was on him mobile phone. There are many expensive cars on the road in China, they are moving towards electric cars and there are many Teslas there.
Scams – like all countries there is a certain amount of scams, we got scammed by a taxi driver, we paid AU$80 for a taxi ride that should have cost $5. Not cool, but it happens. I knew it was happening at the time but didn’t know how to fix it, we put it down to experience.
Government Stores – all the tours will visit the silk, tea, pearl and jade factories its part of tour groups being allowed to enter China, suck it up and don’t whinge, remember the gem factories in Thailand? Same thing. They are very overpriced and bartering is welcome. Don’t be afraid to put a stupid price out there, they love the game. We bought silk scarf and pearl earrings and while I’m certain I paid more than a local would, I’m still happy with my purchases.
Packing – make sure you have plenty of room in your suitcase to bring home your shopping. I’m not a big shopper and still had to sit on my case to zip it up to come home. I’m also a light packer and my case on the way over was only 10kgs. The shopping can be very cheap if you barter well. You’ll definitely find some ‘great quality knock offs’ and I love the oriental tea cups and prints and things.
Beijing Zoo – Beijing Zoo is a zoo of old, there is a great enclosure for the giant pandas, their national icon, but the rest of the zoo is all concrete and at times confronting. I would prefer to pay a bit extra and fly up to Chengdu to see the giant pandas in an ethically responsible conservation centre than in a sub standard zoo. TripADeal gods can you please make that part of the tour? I understand that will bump the price up a bit but I think it would be a better tour or at least another optional extra like Xian.
ATM’s – ATM’s are widely available, I had a travel card from my home bank which I pre-loaded with Chinese currency, I had no issues withdrawing money from various banks ATM’s. I even used my normal EFTPOS card when I ran out of money on my travel card. However my friend had issues at a lot of different machines and her card being accepted was pretty much hit and miss. A week after we got home, her bank contacted her and advised that her travel card had been compromised in China and it had been cancelled. No explanation was given and she has new cards in the mail.
What did I honestly think of TripADeal
Being a family of 5 we are normally very independent travellers and I do all of the research and bookings myself. I thought I would struggle with the lack of control but I’m pleased to report that I was pretty happy to kick back and let someone else look after it for once.
It’s a fast pace tour and you’ll need a decent level of fitness as there is quite a bit of walking involved in some places. I like fast paced as I like to see as much as I can and any down time means I’m missing out on something. We had a pretty good bunch of Aussies and we really did have a good time with them.
I had a few things that niggled at me, things like the day we went to the Great Wall of China, one of the biggest highlights of the trip and we were only allocated 2 hours there. Our bus was late that morning due to a traffic accident, no big deal that happens but they took us to a jade factory first then to the Great Wall and back to the same jade factory for lunch.
I would have thought it was a better idea to go straight out to the Great Wall as we got there in the late morning and it was already pushing 36 degrees. If we went earlier it would have been cooler and we would have had a better chance of getting further up the wall. We could have then gone back and done the jade factory and had lunch in the same stop.
Zhengzhou we spent 2 nights, its an industrial city with absolutely nothing to do. I would prefer they tweak the itinerary and give us 2 nights in Xian instead. We had a great central hotel in Xian and there is plenty to see that we didn’t get a chance as we were there pretty much only one afternoon and evening. The afternoon is the busiest time at the Terracotta Warriors and we got there in the thick of it.
I would have preferred to have visited the Terracotta Warriors in the morning and had less crowds and more time to wander at leisure. I would loved to have gone back into pit 1 again as this is the best viewing spot for the Warriors.
I can’t fault the tour guides, they were fantastic and all but 1 had great English. They all had varying amount of experience with being a tour guide. Big shout out to Thomas in Shanghai with 26 yrs tour guide experience, Bryan in Beijing with 28 yrs experience, Jesse in Xian with 11 yrs experience and Sean is doing a great job in Zhengzhou with only 18 months experience. Sean was faced with some pretty average behaviour and he handled himself very well considering.
All in all I highly recommend TripADeal but I can’t stress enough, don’t expect the bells and whistles when you are paying these prices. If you want the bells and whistles pay for it. TripADeal’s mission is ‘To make travel dreams come true’ and I think they are definitely delivering on that. While their core belief is ‘Travel is an experience that should be enjoyed by everyone and we’re proud to make it an affordable option for all’, I’m not certain that everyone should travel…..!
Last of all, TripADeal is excellent value and I can hardly fault them, I would happily recommend them and I would certainly travel with them again.
Anyone what to go to Bhutan?
Disclaimer – this is not a sponsored post in any form, this is my opinion after my experience. TripADeal please feel free to throw me a free tour to review for you, Bhutan maybe..!
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