How was your Explore Tour Leader?
Howard was a true gentleman, unfailingly polite and quiet spoken. We had a series of local guides in Beijing, Harbin and Hong Kong. They were all very good but sometimes Howard found it difficult to let them just get on with it. He was so keen that we should have the complete picture. Howard was our local guide in Xian, his home town. He was very efficient at ordering food in restaurants and handling payments. He was also very efficient in getting us through crowds. If we had a local guide Howard was at the back making sure nobody got lost and if we didn't have a local guide (as at the Hong Kong festivities), Howard went in front. Fortunately he was tall and that helped.
What tips would you give to someone else booking this tour?
Be prepared for the cold. It was cold in Beijing and it snowed on two mornings we were there. Conditions underfoot could be quite slippery, especially at the Olympic Village where there was fresh snow over ice in places. In Harbin It was very cold, many layers required, and also good head, hand and feet protection. I used ice grips on my boots and they were quite effective where it was just slippery but where the roads and pavements were as smooth as glass (which was frequently) they didn't help at all. The best thing is probably to do as the locals do and adopt a kind of soft shoe shuffle.
Do you have anything else to add?
The included sightseeing was all good as were most of the optionals. I was a bit disappointed with Hong Kong but that's a reflection of how it's changed, not the tour. Even if you don't think it's your kind of thing I definitely recommend the Kung Fu show in Beijing. I've been in Beijing and Xian before but appreciated them much more this time round. The train journey from Beijing to Harbin was very comfortable but very hot and the internal flights efficient. Howard said we wouldn't like the hard beds in the hotels but I found them perfectly acceptable. The breakfast in mainland China could be a bit strange at times but nobody starved. Overall I would not hesitate to recommend this tour. It was busy, varied and interesting. We could have done with more time in Xian though.