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New Tour Series:  See China “Off Path”

This is an interview between Louie Yi, expedition specialist and President of Lotus Travel and Iris Culp, Director of Homeland Heritage Tour Programs.  “Listen in” as they discuss new tours offered in Winter 2009 & Summer 2010.

Iris:  I see that you are unveiling a whole new slate of tours for late 2009 and Summer 2010, calling to see China “off the beaten path.” Many of them are centered from Hubei province”. What’s with that?

Louie:  Well, some families like to return to China more than once, and other families would like to visit parts of China that are less “westernized”.  Comparing Hubei with most areas in China, this province has preserved much Chinese tradition and original culture.  I think it is good for our families to experience real Chinese culture in Hubei, which has such a long and rich history.

The tours centered in Hubei are ideal for seeing “regular” China, not only large cities. One is a Kung Fu focused tour. They offer lots of experiential “hands on” and cultural choices.  There is the option to stay in the home of a regular Chinese family visit “one-on-one”. Since my family lives in China now, we get to see firsthand these opportunities and know that many families like to experience “authentic” China.  We recently spent some time in Wuhan, Hubei and found it ideal to serve as “off the path” travel hub for our families.

Iris: But what about traveling to the other key sites in China? What about those? 

Louie: These tours still include highlights of Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou, so you get to experience both.  We find that since Hubei is a central province, it is ideal for visiting much of China.  It’s a spot with great rail and air systems.  Of course, train is less expensive than air travel, and the new express train, takes only 2 hrs to reach Hefei; 3 hours to Nanjing and 4.5 hours to Shanghai. Wuhan has several great universities and cultural programs and will be a centerpiece for several of our upcoming tours, including a language learning program for adults and kids.

Iris:  Language learning on a tour.  How will that work?  My kids currently know more Mandarin than I do—how do you organize us?

Louie:  That is not a problem.  It is coordinated through Wuhan University with a simple language test to determine what level of teaching each person best fits. Language learning is incorporated for a brief time each day and the tour guides reinforce what lessons were learned in the morning.  It is fun to learn; and doing it this way encourages you pick up the spoken language.  It helps to hear the words in context and spoken often.  

Iris:  What is the length of this language program? 

Louie: Most of our new language programs last approximately two weeks.  We can arrange extended programs for anyone interested in a longer term experience or more full immersion learning.  We are evaluating a month-long option for Summer 2010.  We guide you along the way.  No worries.


Iris: Well, what if a family has no children from Hubei province –what’s the attraction?  

Louie: The Three Gorges Dam is there and the chance to cruise the Yangtze River, which is an important highlight of China.  I and my wife took our three girls (2, 4, 6 years-old) for the Chongqing - Yichang Yangtze River Cruise. I took the same cruise 4 times previously before kids when I was a national guide in China; my wife took the same cruise before as well. Both of us feel this time we had more fun with kids on it. Each day there is opportunity to get out and explore the local culture.  The Yangtze River Dam is so huge that we call it China's Water Great Wall. While our girls are too little to understand such a great project, my wife and I appreciated all of it and plan to do the same cruise in another 5 years. It is worth the three days to do the Yangtze River Cruise!!   I’ll give you some of my photos of our recent trip. 

Iris:  You also mentioned homestay for this tour. What does that mean, really?  How does a group tour of families stay overnight in the home of a Chinese family?  How is there room for that?

Louie:  Our local host in Wuhan has arrangements with Chinese families who are interested in hosting foreign families for a visit.  Each visiting family is assigned to visit a selected local family and we pre-arrange all logistics.  Each visiting family has their own room(s) in the local family’s apartment and you will enjoy the home-cooked meals there.

Okay, gotta ask the question that comes to mind here!  Joe, my dear brother-in-law, who you met on our last trip, would want to know if there a western style toilet in a homestay.  Is there?

Louie:  Yes, this is an apartment home in Wuhan and you’re staying with an upper middle class family and getting a glimpse into their daily lives.  There is western style toilet, hot and cold water for showers and normal amenities.  You mainly get to experience a look at regular daily life for many Chinese citizens living in a city.

Iris: Is this homestay very different from the “serviced apartments” you provide as options in Guilin and Guangzhou.  What is the difference on that?

Louie:  Yes, the homestay is a different experience from serviced apartments.  In Guilin or Guangzhou apartments  (www.lotustours.net/promo/guilinApts/index.shtml)  adoptive families are staying on their own in a private, upscale apartment, similar to a 4 or 5 star hotel.  They have the option to have a nanny come in to cook for them and watch the children.  In the homestay experience it is like the opportunity to imagine life as if your family lived as a  middle class family in China.  You stay in the home of a middle class Chinese family. If a family has older children, such as ones in college, we can arrange a discussion with other college age students, to see and compare life differences at that age level. These tours are meant to provide insight into the authentic day to day experiences in China.

Iris:  Wow, I was there one year ago with my kids, but I’m ready to return again and explore some of these new tours!  Thanks for sharing.

Louie:  Well, come on over, anytime.    We’d love to see you, your family and Joe again!

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