Fourth trip to China

For our fourth trip to China, in October ’03, we selected areas of the country that had UNESCO World Heritage Sites that we had either read or heard about for many years. Our new destinations would be Shanghai, Tunxi, Huang Shan, Chengdu, Leishan, Zigong, Dazu, Chongqing and Suzhou. How to journey to these destinations over three weeks was left to the five travel companies I sent my proposed itinerary to with the hope they would develop a memorable trip for us.

We ended up using Mark Huang at Access China Tours, Inc. (522 Seventh St., Ste. 380, New Westminster, British Columbia, V3M 5T5 Canada; phone 800/788-1399 or visit, who was able to describe in detail the many exciting and unique sites we would see as we moved by car and plane through China. Mark grew up in China and knew about areas that the four other travel companies missed recommending for us.

We left New York’s JFK airport and flew into Shanghai to visit the unique and modern new Shanghai Museum of Art. We had been to Shanghai in 1982 and on this visit, from our window at the lovely and historic Peace Hotel, were quite thrilled to see the modern skyscrapers’ roofs lit up at night like a fairy-tale city.

From Shanghai we flew to Tunxi and planned to travel by car to hike on parts of Huang Shan Mountain. Mark suggested visiting “old areas,” such as Yixian, Hongcun, Xidi and Shexian, on the way to the mountain. China is preserving older communities, and the government is helping citizens continue to live in their original dwellings and earn a good living from visitors. A lot of interesting crafts and art can be found there.

Huang Shan, or Yellow Mountain, is considered by many people to be the most beautiful mountain in China with its gnarled pine trees and exquisite scenic outlooks, not to mention its historic culture.

It was disappointing to discover that hiking trails there were very long “stairways to heaven,” mostly with no railings. It was very difficult and, even though we have hiked in the U.S., we found these staircases to be extremely steep. It was possible to hire two people to carry us up the stairs on chairs, but that would not be our way to enjoy this mountain. The views we did see were spectacular.

We flew to Chengdu and stayed in the modern Minshan Hotel in the heart of the busy city. There is a lot to see in Chengdu, including the Panda Breeding Center, Baoguang Monastery and an interesting antique market.

We traveled north of Chengdu to the Sanxingdui Museum in Guanghan, which had unusual archeological exhibits.

We arrived in Leishan by car and then were transferred to a large boat to get a close view of the Grand Buddha — colossal at about 232 feet high. This magnificent statue is hewn from the cliff behind it and overlooks the Dadu and Min rivers. It is very much worth the visit.

Not far from Leishan we visited Emei Mountain, one of China’s four sacred mountains, and explored one of the beautiful monasteries at this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

On the way to Chongqing we detoured through Zigong and were fortunate to visit a dinosaur museum that is built over a working archaeological site. Scientists are still extracting and cleaning bones from this land. Quite an exciting exhibit!

Finally we arrived in Dazu to see a beautiful and historical grotto of carvings and statues set in a memorable park-like setting.

After flying back to Shanghai, we traveled to Suzhou by car to visit the Suzhou Gardens. Since we have been gardeners for many years, we decided to go to the gardens by ourselves, without guides. The many gardens we saw in five days were magnificent. We also loved walking around the city.

Suzhou’s Nan Yuan Guesthouse is in the best shopping area and also allows easy access to many gardens. However, the rooms were not well attended and we had to see three rooms before finding one we liked. We decided to stay there, but we ate our lunches and dinners at the Bamboo Hotel a few blocks away.

We attended a unique evening of entertainment at the Master of the Nets Garden and highly recommend it.

We departed China thrilled with all the wonderful adventures we had had. All the Access China tour guides were intelligent, fluent in English, kind and helpful. We each paid $2,960 for all hotels (and enjoyed all with the exception of Nan Yuan Guesthouse), breakfasts, most lunches, internal airfares and domestic airport tax, air-conditioned car, driver, transfers, admissions and private guided tours.

We flew on Northwest Airlines since they offered a very good airfare. Mark Huang at Access China Tours helped us have a memorable fourth trip back to China.

Little Neck, NY