We wanted to see the legendary Three Gorges before they are flooded by the massive dam, scheduled to be completed next year. So it was now (2002) or never!
We went on a tour with a New York company called . We were generally satisfied with them, but did have some complaints, see Choosing A China Tour for details.
The tour included what was supposed to be a five night cruise up the Yangtze, from Wuhan to Chongqing, with Victoria Cruises. We lost a night due to the closure of a diversion channel, but fortunately did not miss any of the main sights.
SurprisesWesternized. The parts of China we saw (including an unscheduled stop in Yinchuan, near Inner Mongolia) were extremely Westernized and just as comercialized as anything in the States. The only sign that we were in a Communist country was, literally, a sign in our Beijing hotel stating that the hotel was owned by The Peninsula Group and The People's Liberation Army of China.
Tourists. China was full of tourists, especially American tourists, busloads of them, everywhere we went. It was like going to Disneyworld! (In the first ten months of 2002, for the first time ever, over one million tourists entered China from the U.S.A.)
Buying Opportunities. At every city we visited we were taken to local "factories" where we saw everything from silk carpets to cloisonne being made by hand and were then taken to enormous showrooms. It was hard not to appreciate and take advantage of the values available, especially since you'd just seen the incredible labor involved, but we wished we had known beforehand so we could have bugeted better - we're normally not big spenders on trips.
We assume the government is a part owner in the factories, and we later heard that all of the tour companies are required to visit them. Do the tour companies get kickbacks from our purchases? We wouldn't be a bit surprised.
Smog. The cities were very smoggy, due at least in part, we assume, to pollution from soft coal and autos. Beijing was particularly smoky, we could smell the smoke as soon as we hit the airport, and many pedestrians and cyclists wore nose masks. Shainghai was also disappointingly gray and smoggy.
Don't Go In November. The weather was foggy and rainy just about everywhere, and we rarely saw the sun. Xian was a nightmare, so foggy we encountered major delays flying in and out - we were told it's only like that in November.
Special luggage restrictions leaving Hong Kong. We'd taken our carryon luggage (one bag each) aboard our Northwest Airlines flight to China and on four Chinese airline flights within China without any problems whatsoever. So we were shocked when we were stopped going through security and told they were too large to take on board our flight home from Hong Kong. Special restrictions at the Hong Kong airport, they said, but Northwest could give us an exemption.
Northwest, after much pleading, finally did give us one exemption, but in spite of my desperate, close-to-tears begging (the carryons contained all of our valuables and gifts and could not be locked), refused to give us one for the second bag. Why, why, why? The plane was half-empty, and we saw a number of Chinese take similar bags through security with no problem. And why had neither Northwest or Pacific Delight alerted us to these special restrictions before we left home so we could have taken smaller carry-ons?