Hotel & Travel Agency Reviews
Grand Soluxe International Hotel, Xian: We stayed here for 4 nights in September 2019.
1) The rooms and bathrooms are very clean.
2) The front desk staff were very helpful and courteous.
3) Breakfast buffet is excellent in taste and spread. There were plenty of vegetarian choices.
4) The tariff was quite reasonable.
5) Wifi was free and the speed and connectivity was great.
6) The place is very quite at night and the sleep quality is good.
7) Location has plus and minus. The plus is that it is reasonably close to the station. You can take the automated escalators from the station and the hotel is within a couple of minutes walk from the top of the escalators.
1) The bad part about location is that the city centre is a bit far away. It is still walk-able. A 15 to 20 minute walk will bring you to the Campo from here.
2) The room size was a bit small. Bathroom was spacious.
- Holiday Inn Express Beijing Temple Of Heaven: We stayed here for 5 nights in September 2019.
1) Standard Holiday Inn Express hotel with a good amenities, clean premises etc.
2) There is a dedicated concierge to help with travel needs. They helped book all our day trips. Check-in/check-out is 24 hours and process is very smooth.
3) The rooms and bathrooms are very clean and comfortable.
4) The tariff is cheap for the quality of accommodation.
5) The location is both good and bad. The good part is it is a short walking distance to the Temple of Heaven. Some smattering of restaurants and shops can be found around the hotel.
6) The wifi is free and the connectivity is good.
7) The staff is courteous and helpful and spoke very good English.
8) The place is very quiet at night and the sleep quality is good.
9) They have a coin laundry with an excellent dryer and you can trust the cloths to come out dry enough to pack them right away.
10) The breakfast is excellent in spread and taste and there are plenty of vegetarian choices. Breakfast starts early as well - available from 6:30 am.
1) The bad part of location is that it is far away from the closest Metro Station and all sights (apart from the Temple of Heaven) is far to get to.
2) The rooms were on the smaller side.
3) The carpets in the room looked a bit tired.
- DIY China Travel
We used China DIY Travel to book our train tickets. First was a return ticket to Huashan from Xian and second was a one-way ticket to Beijing from Xian with a 8 hour break in Luoyang. Our itinerary wasn't straightforward. Yet, there was no problem communicating our needs and getting the booking complete.
Someone responds within a few hours of posting the booking request and they take down several options. The communication was smooth and trouble free. The tickets were booked as per our requests. There was no error in the booking and we had no trouble whatsoever during our travels.
The payment is hassle free (provided you have a PayPal account).
On the day of your booking please do check your mails regularly. In case they don't get the choice you had wanted, you would need to respond soon for the alternatives they present.
- High Speed Trains are excellent. They are clean, comfortable, on time etc. There are couple of issues with them, however. First is that you cannot book them unless you have a pay in RMB and have a Chinese mobile number. We used DIY China Travel for our bookings. Their service is excellent. Note that tickets get sold out a month in advance. So plan accordingly. Second problem is that the High Speed stations are not the ones that are close to the city centre. So make sure you budget time (and money) to get to and from the train station to the city centre.
- Long distance taxis (round trip with waiting at the attraction) are easy to arrange at very short notice. If booked through hotel lobby, they are very safe and reliable. They are a bit pricey - about 2 to 3 times that we would pay for a similar distance travel in India.
- Xian to Famen Temple: 1000 RMB for round trip with 2 hours wait at the temple.
- Beijing to Mutianyu Great Wall plus Ming Tombs: 900 RMB for round trip.
- Beijing to Chengde: 1500 RMB for the round trip.
- Beijing to Eastern Qing Tombs: 1300 RMB for the round trip.
- Luoyang to Shaolin to White Horse Temple to Longmen: 500 RMB for the round trip
- Foreign Mastercard/Visa Credit Cards don't work anywhere. The only place we could use them was in International Terminal and in Holiday Inn. Everywhere else, we needed cash. We could use our Indian (international) Debit Cards in the ATM to withdraw money.
- WiFi was available in all restaurants, hotels and tourist offices. The problem is that most websites are blocked - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp to name a few. But all of these worked with our international AirTel SIM card (with international roaming). We also had VPN - ExpressVPN and Nord VPN. Both their service were patchy. There was only a 33% chance it could connect and the connection dropped frequently (say, every 15 minutes or so). In the middle, ExpressVPN stopped working completely and I had to download a patch to get it to work again. I would say VPN is clunky and not guaranteed to work. Using international SIM and roaming seemed like the easiest solution to breach the Great Firewall. Of course, with the international roaming, you have to restrict yourself to low usage. Using it to watch Netflix would blow a hole through your savings.
- Vegetarian food is not a problem. Every place had at least one vegetarian dish, at the very minimum. They can also prepare the meat dishes and not put in the meat or put in Tofu instead. All this assumed know minimum amount of Chinese to convey your dietary needs. Otherwise, you point to a picture that looks vegetarian and hope for the best. We found the food to be on the spicier side. Yoghurt drinks are plenty and widely available. We recommend taking that after every meal to keep your system happy.
- You can probably manage without Chinese in Beijing. Most restaurants waiters and hotel front desk speak enough English for you to get by. Taxi drivers don't speak any English. But you can get around it by pointing to the Chinese names of the places printed in your guide book. Long distance taxi drivers in Beijing spoke good English. Outside of Beijing, you are truly lost without a smattering knowledge of Chinese. No one spoke Chinese in Xian, Chengde or Luoyang. I don't think you can get around there with just English.
- Shaanxi History Museum - Must See: It is one of the greatest museums in China. The art collection is simply mind blowing. It is hard to get the tickets. You need to book in advance which has its own challenges. 3 hours.
- Big Goose Pagoda - Must See: It is close to the Shaanxi History Museum. The Pagoda is a stride-stopper. 1 hour should be sufficient as long as the queue to the top isn't long.
- City Wall - Must See: It is the best preserved Ming era wall in the world. You can walk all around it or get in one place and get off another. Just note down all exit points when you get on the wall. There are plenty of toilet facilities on the wall.
- Bell Tower, Drum Tower & The Great Mosque - Must See: These are all close to each other and can be combined easily. You can cover all 3 in about 2 to 3 hours.
- Small Goose Pagoda plus the Xian Museum - Should See: The Pagoda is a smaller version of the big one and the museum is the smaller version of the Shaanxi History Museum. So if you have seen the other two and are short on time, you can skip these. An hour should be enough to cover both.
- Beilin Museum - Should See: It has some decent collection of giant stone sculptures if rooms after rooms of illegible text on stone is not your cup of tea. 30 minutes.
- Mausoleum of Emperor Jingdi - Should See: Compared to the Terracotta, this is a bit of a dampener. It is a bit hard to get to. If you are taking a taxi, you better as the driver to wait for you. It is not easy to find a ride back. The place is devoid of crowd and you get to climb down to the actual tomb. 1.5 hours including time to get to and from the city centre (on a taxi).
- Famen Temple - Must See: It is at least half a day excursion (assuming you have a private transport). The pagoda is impressive and the Tang era treasures are quite stunning.
- Army of Terracotta Warriors - Must See: Get here as early as possible to beat the crowd. Pit1 and the museum gets most crowded and get to those two first. The public bus 306 goes here directly from the main Xian Railway Station. The bus leaves every 10 minutes or so and cost 7 yuan per head (one way). It is about an hours drive each way.
- A 30 minute high speed train gets you here from Xian. You then need to catch a bus to the Visitor Centre. The bus continues on, so make sure you get down at the Visitor Centre if you want to take the Cable Car up. It is a very long queue to get into the Visitor Centre. They sell you entrance tickets plus (round trip) bus ticket to one of the two Cable Cars. If you are short on time, pick the Western one as that puts you higher up the mountain. You then need to buy tickets for the CC and then take the car up to the top. It took us close to 2 hours to get to the top from the train station. So budget that in your timings. It is quite a steep climb from the North peak. Budget about 4 to 5 hours for a North Peak to North Peak round trip.
- It is possible to cover all of Shaolin, White Horse and Longmen in a long day. It was a rush at the sights and it took us 9 hours to do it.
- Shaolin Temple - Must See: This is a must see mostly for the goosebumps. There is lots to see and do here including multi day hikes on the surrounding hills. Bare minimum scratch the surface trip would be to visit the main temple and the Pagoda Forest. That would take about 2 hours.
- White Horse Temple - Must See: It is a compact temple and can be covered in about an hour.
- Longmen Grottoes - Must See: Be prepared for a lot of walking. A full round trip would take a leisurely 4 hours. You can rush it in about 2 and a half.
- Temple of Heaven - Must See: One of the top sights in Beijing. Would take at least 2 hours to cover.
- Jingshan Park - Must See: The classic view looking into the Forbidden City is from here. 30 mins to hour if you just want to get to the view point. More if you want to walk around the park as well.
- Beihai Park - Must See: This is a very large park with lots of historic buildings. It is a lot of walking to cover them all. Budget 3 hours minimum to cover the highlights.
- Lama Temple - Must See: This is on everyone's itinerary. An hours should be sufficient to cover it.
- Confucius Temple - Must See: There aren't too many of these around the country. Most other temples you would visit are Buddhist. It is also close to the Lama Temple and only takes an additional 30 mins or so to knock it off the list.
- Bell and Drum Towers - Must See: They are impressive buildings in their own right. They offer the best view of Beijing skyline from their top. 30 mins should be sufficient to cover both.
- Summer Palace - Must See: A sprawling gardens with historic buildings. Would take about 2 to 3 hours to cover them all.
- Old Summer Palace - Must See: This is a very large park and the interesting stuff are all in the north-east corner. So please enter through that gate to avoid walking for ever. If you enter through the right gate, this park can be covered in 2 hours.
- Botanical Gardens - Should See: The gardens themselves are not great by world standards. But there is a Tang era temple which is most often closed.
- Mutianyu Great Wall - Must See: There are many sections open to public and each is an independent excursion. The most visited ones are Badaling and Mutianyu. We went to the latter as it is less crowded. It had all the classic views. We weren't disappointed.
- Ming Tombs - Must See: These can be combined either with Badaling or with Mutianyu. There are 3 tombs open to public. Changling is the one that is the most impressive to see. Dingling is the one that you are allowed to go to the underground chamber. If you can see only one, it is a toss up. Please do try to fix in the Sacred Way. It is fantastic. The Wall plus the Ming Tombs would make it a day long (8 to 9 hour) excursion.
- Eastern Qing Tombs - Must See: They are fantastic and gets far less tourists than the Ming Tombs. Ming Tombs are covered in forest and are difficult to photograph. Qing Tombs are a delight to capture. Yuling, Jingling, Dingling and Xiaoling are the must-sees. It is an easy 6 to 8 hour excursion from Beijing.
- Mountain Resort - Must See: This was Qing Royalty's summer resort. Another sprawling gardens. In about 2 to 3 hours, you can hit the highlights: Palace, Tower of Mist & Rain, Pagoda.
- Eight Outer Temples - Must See: Of the eight, 3 are a must-sees: Puning, Putuo Zongcheng and the Xumi Fushou. It would take 2 to 3 hours to cover these 3 temples. Putuo Zongcheng is the largest and takes most of the time.