The BEST GROUPON of my Life – Group Trip to China Hotel Info and Questions

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I bought a Groupon for my trip to China months and months ago. It’s somewhere I’ve wanted to go since I was a kid (I think I was inspired by some Sesame Street Big Bird in China movie).

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Anyway. When the Groupon email popped up for the deal I jumped on it because it covered flight from LAX, hotels, several meals and a tour guide to take us to the highlights. I am NOT a fan of guided tours when traveling because I like to explore and do my own thing. I have never taken a group tour for this reason.

But, I didn’t know how to speak one word of Mandarin and knew I couldn’t try to even read the signs (unlike European countries where a language translation book could help you out of a jam) so I was totally open to a group tour to China.

And I’m so so glad I did it. This was a trip of a lifetime and the whole time I kept telling myself, “I’m in CHINA!!!”.

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Before buying a Groupon trip I would suggest checking the tour operator’s website. Checking TripAdvisor for reviews of the tour / hotels / companies involved. Also, check flight and hotel rates to make sure it’s actually a good deal!

This tour was a complete package that included flight, hotels, most meals and a tour guide with bus/flight included to each location. It was through ChinaTour.com. I am pretty sure it was the Splendid China trip.

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Beijing – we stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton in Beijing. It was a nice hotel, with an even nicer gym. Great customer service. Location was good, 5 minute walk to a big mall and the subway.

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We ordered room service the night we got there (one of the few times dinner wasn’t included) because we were exhausted after landing at 5am and exploring the Beijing zoo and Olympic stadium. It was great! That pumpkin is stuffed with flavorful mushrooms and the actual pumpkin was steamed well and delicious too.

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The gym also had an amazing pool and great locker rooms! The one bad thing is most of the gyms didn’t open until 6:30am or later. I actually managed to get this hotel to open early for me, but none of the others did. Four stars!!!

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While in Beijing we explored the Summer Palace, Forbidden City, Great Wall of China and Snack Street. You can read those posts here:

China Pandas and the Olympic Stadium

Snack Street

Walking on the Great Wall of China

All the Tea in China

From Beijing we flew to Shanghai!

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Scenes from my Shanghai run

Exploring Shanghai

The next hotel was the Grand Metro Park in Jiangsu.

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traveling to shanghai travel blog post

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Our group was sightseeing, eating or traveling all day long. When we met the lobby each morning it was between 8am and 8:30am. We wouldn’t get back until after 8pm every night and we were tired. So, I uploaded one blog post of the days events and relaxed as much as possible before the next day’s adventure!

All the hotels offered wifi, but it wasn’t always the best. It was free in the lobby of all the hotels we stayed at. There was a paid option in the rooms, but it wasn’t very strong and would go in and out so I stopped buying it.

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This was another night we had off on our own. We didn’t speak any Chinese and outside of Shanghai that was really difficult. Most restaurants had pictures on their menu, some had English as well. But communicating with taxi drivers was very very difficult.

Tip: Make sure you have the name of the location you want to go and your hotel in the local language (which varies in different parts of the country). Our taxi driver did not recognize the English name of our hotel (we didn’t  expect him to but dropped the card along the way). SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Breakfast at every hotel was AMAZING! I am a big breakfast lover, so this was a highlight for me. Every hotel had the breakfast buffet included with our tour. There were “Western” and “Chinese” options for breakfast.

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The next hotel was the Crowne Plaza Hangzhou.

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Tip: Check the weather at each location you will be visiting before leaving. Beijing and Shanghai are far apart with different weather!

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The tour bus… was great. It probably fit 40 people and there were 26 on our tour. Plus everyone was very cool! We made friends with everyone super fast since you’re on the bus with them, hanging out all day and all the lunches and dinners together were ‘family style’.

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We stayed at the Renaissance in Shanghai. There are two Renaissance locations in Shanghai – make sure you get to the correct one!

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Running in China

I only ran outside once in China and that was in Shanghai. (I didn’t have time outside of that.)

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Luckily, our Shanghai hotel was the perfect location to run since it was near Central Park. This was the only location I saw other people (local Chinese) walking for exercise. There was also one other runner! Many people were also doing Tai Chi in the park (I saw a lot of Tai Chi in Beijing too). running in china

Before running in China you should check the air quality. This is the air quality index for Beijing.

I felt completely safe in Beijing and Shanghai and would have been fine running outside there by myself if I had the time and air was good. Unfortunately, the circumstances didn’t allow that. But, the air quality was really bad in Beijing toward the end of the trip.

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Questions about China from you

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Q: How was it using Groupon? Was the trip as advertised? Would you recommend it?

A: It was super easy to use the Groupon. I had to call the company to let them know I bought it (versus doing it online) and from there it was easy interaction via email.

The trip was as advertised and I feel like the tour guides went above and beyond to share info and make sure everyone was accounted for and okay.

I would definitely recommend it.

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Q: Even if you recommend a tour group, do you think you would have been fine traveling without one? Like just you and the husband

A: For anywhere in Central America or South America or France/Spain/UK, Yes. But, the language barrier would have been difficult to overcome without the tour group. It would not have been impossible, but we wouldn’t have been able to see as much because it would have taken a lot longer to get places and communicate. I think it’s super safe, that’s not the issue at all. It just would have been frustrating and time consuming if you don’t speak a work of the language.

(I’ve traveled through Costa Rica, Panama, Paris and more without a guide.)

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Q: What should I eat in China? How do you keep it safe in terms of eating?

A: I heard and read NOT to eat uncooked vegetables or fruit that is grown in the ground for safety reasons. I’m not a doctor or scientist so I just tried to follow that advice rather than question it. I wasn’t super religious about it, I did have a few bites of lettuce at one restaurant and something else I can’t remember I’m sure.

Our tour guide didn’t suggest we eat the weird food at the Beijing snack street, but I wanted to experience it so I chose to eat a silk worm and squid.

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I LOVE Chinese food. LOVE. So I really enjoyed all the meals. I tried everything at first and then gravitated toward my favorites. Toward the end of the trip others in the group were ‘sick of’ Chinese food and even got Pizza Hut at one point. Not me. I loved every meal.

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There were two vegetarians on the trip. Since we were eating family style and not ordering (there were a bunch of different dishes the restaurants would bring out) they would point out the vegetarian dishes to us. It would NOT be easy to be a vegetarian on this trip. That was really surprising to me. More on this later because it deserves it’s own post.

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Question: Do you have any questions about the food in China?

Comments

  1. says

    What fun! I feel like that about Italy/Greece and Australia – I can’t really say why I want to visit so much but I so so so want to go since forevers.

    That food looks great! How does authentic food in China compare to restaurants (the more authentic ones)? Way better or different?

    That really surprises me that being veg would be hard, interested to hear about that as well.

  2. says

    Awesome recap! My cousin lives in China and I know he loooooves it (I think he’s in Shanghai?). I’d be super nervous to visit because of the language barrier so I think a tour would be a great idea. Good for you taking advantage of the Groupon! PS I’m excited to hear about the non-vegetarian deal over there!

  3. says

    Awesome post and so informative!
    I definitely would have felt that the language barrier would have made it difficult for me to get around. I think I’d go with a tour group if I ever visited China.

  4. says

    Great recap! This really confirmed my need to get a Groupon vacation!
    I would go with a tour group as well, I would have no idea what they are saying and would get so frustrated and I feel I would not enjoy my trip.
    Did the Chinese food taste like the Chinese food we have in the US?

  5. says

    I’m somewhat of a vegetarian (especially when I travel), so I’m so so nervous I will starve on my trip to China in April! My plan is to survive on rice and power bars on the trip. Looking forward to your post about this! Great recap! What a great trip!

  6. kathy v says

    I have a question about your group. Was there anyone who traveled solo (without a partner)? I love to travel but I don’t have anyone who wants to travel with me (due to finances or they are with child or married). I would be up for traveling solo if there were others who were doing the same thing? I like the idea of going with a tour group but I wouldn’t want to go off on my own.

    • says

      No, everyone with with a partner of some sort. You could buy it solo, but there was a ‘single supplement’ = it would cost extra. I do think this would have been a great option for someone solo though! Everyone was really nice and welcoming. You would have made friends fast too and not been alone!

    • Sherilyn says

      I went on a group tour to Peru this past summer and while it was mostly couples, there were a few single people. I think it’s a great option to see the world and don’t let anything hold you back.

  7. says

    We bought this exact tour package to go in April! I’m so glad to read your posts and hear how you liked it – it makes us feel so much more giddy for our own adventure!

  8. Ida says

    I would love to know how the food compares to US Chinese restaurants. I would also be curious to know if you learned anything about the food industry in China, like where they get all those items for snack street- and do locals eat any of that stuff.

  9. says

    Thanks for the review. China is definitely the place to go with an organized tour. I went there alone with a friend and I remember how difficult it was to just go places, because of the language barrier.

  10. Carmie says

    I loved your posts and this one so much! I was reminded of the “Big bird in China” movie while enjoying them!

  11. Laura P says

    Looks like a great vacation! Also seems like you got nice hotels, the rooms looked really spacious and modern. I should definitely check into these groupon deals! Thanks for the recap.

  12. Betsy says

    China has never been high on my list of places to go, but your posts are making me want to book a trip. I’m so glad you have a great time.

  13. says

    I think most gyms in Asia open between 6 and 6:30am – that’s the norm. On food and being vegan, yup, Chinese dishes tend to be meat or poultery or seafood heavy – believe it’s more like ” meats/poultry/seafood” are more “expensive” and thereby “luxurious” as opposed to veg. It’s probably a culture thing.

  14. Carla says

    Chinese food is great! Chinese people don’t really eat raw vegetables, and the only time in the past four months of being in China that I got sick was after eating a salad at a western restaurant. If you eat raw veg here it needs to be washed in a vinegar or hydrogen peroxide solution. It’s great that you did a tour. China is amazing, but it can be frustrating and dirty. If you have a limited amount of time, it’s great to by-pass all of that.

  15. Kelsie says

    It’s funny that you think that being a vegetarian would be hard there! I lived in Beijing for two years and had 3 vegetarian friends. There was never an issue, ever when we ate out or for their grocery shopping… Tons of tofu options, hearty veg dishes, veg dumplings etc etc!

  16. Annette says

    I love Chinese food too and everything looked so yummy and fresh. You may have covered it, but what are you eating on that stick? It looks like giant beetles (not down with the bugs on snack street).

  17. says

    My friend & I did a group trip like this one years ago in Italy & it was so much fun! We were 20 years younger than the other tourists on the bus, but it made it really fun. I really enjoyed your recap & pcs of China. I spent a lot of time there 2 years ago for work. I never got to see Shanghai though. One of my regrets…

  18. says

    If I had gone on this trip I think I would have come back as a super Skinny Minnie. I’m not brave with trying new foods, especially if I don’t know what’s in it or can’t identify it.

  19. says

    I have Celiac’s so I’d be worried about the options (or lack of). I had similar concerns when I went to Italy last summer but quickly learned the Italian word for it and it was no problem…do you think this would have been a huge issue?

  20. SamanthaK says

    It was fun to see/read all about your China trip. I don’t think it is someplace I would be willing to ever go, but it was still fun to ‘travel’ along with you. Thanks for sharing all about it!

    A little random, but was there a curtain or blinds on for that window that goes from the hotel room to the bathroom?? It, for the most part, would probably be ok if it was you and your significant other in the room, but if it was a friend, it would be a little odd.

  21. says

    I don’t understand their toilet system. I know this is not food related but how do they work. I read you got used to them but splashing and ya know mess? Just an odd curiosity. I feel like you would need a She-wee

  22. says

    I traveled through Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia by myself and most the people actually spoke some English. It was fairly easy to navigate the language barrier I thought! I’ve heard that China is more difficult though.

  23. says

    The last Groupon I bought was for a pedicure. I didn’t even know they had Groupons for trips to China, that is awesome! I thoroughly enjoyed reading all about your travels and will definitely be looking closely at any Groupons that come my way for any cool opportunities like this! Thanks for all the info!!

  24. Nikki says

    I just read The China Study, so I’m surprised by your observation that it would be difficult to be a vegetarian on the trip. I’ll be interested to read your post about that one! Do you think they were catering to tourists?

  25. says

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I am never sure what to think of Groupon travel deals, but checking out the group online through Trip Advisor is a great idea.

    Also, I thought I was the only person who had ever seen Big Bird in China! Did you see Big Bird in Japan as well? Loved those movies!

  26. april says

    my mom and i went on the same exact trip to china in late november/early december, except we booked our trip through a travelzoo special. it was AMAZING and definitely the trip of a lifetime. we had a blast and i would love to explore more of asia (i have my sights set on thailand now!). i loved reading your china posts because it helped me relive my trip! :)

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