Sharon Ní Chuilibin with Denis Noel of New Ross ARA
The seeds of a great adventure were first sown at the over 50’s show in Cork in March 2016 as Denis Noel and his wife got chatting at the Travel Cheaper - Wendy Wu stall. Back in New Ross, Co. Wexford, the dreams of exploring this faraway land were cultivated as the Wendy Wu team came to share a talk and slide show with the New Ross ARA members. The possibility was there - what would it be like to travel to China? “Eight members of New Ross ARA said they would be up for it” says Denis, “and so we progressed from there.”
Hearing that if they could get an even larger group they could get a better deal, Denis advertised the trip throughout the South-East Region via Kelly Dundaven the South East Region development officer. In all, the group grew to 27 eager explorers ready to make the long journey to China. Members ranged in age from 60 to 75 years of age. The 27 were composed of 18 from New Ross, 5 from Carlow, 2 more from Waterford and 2 from Bree.
Journey of a lifetime
Setting off on the 18th of November, the group left Dublin at 12.55, arriving at Dubai airport at 00.25 on November 19th. To cover the final distance to China, the group joined a second flight to Shanghai departing at 03.10 on the 19th November and arriving at their destination at 15.05. About 1.5 hours later, they had arrived at their hotel by coach.
“Not having ever done a long-haul flight I thought this would be quite daunting but it proved to be an enjoyable experience,” says Denis. “We flew with Emirates Dublin to Dubai about 7.5 hours and then Dubai to Shanghai about 7.45 hours both flights were good and we were well looked after.”
What followed was a twelve-day tour of China, an action-packed itinerary which saw the group travel from Shanghai to Guilin city, take a river cruise, visit the Teracotta soldiers and the famous Great Wall of China. The group travelled in great comfort throughout their time in China. In Denis’s experience, the hotels were all very good and included breakfast, staying mostly at 4/5 star hotels throughout the trip.
“I think you need to be adventurous and also in reasonable health to do this trip as it is quite an intensive Itinerary” Denis admits. There were some very memorable highlights:
” I think the highlights had to be a trip on the Maglev magnetic train. It travels at 431 Kl/h and we did 32k in about 7.5 minutes. Zhujiajiao water town is the Chinese version of Venice. A boat trip on the Li River from Guilin to Yangshuo lasted 4.5 hours featuring fantastic scenery along the way. It was a mind-blowing experience seeing the teracotta warriors in Xian. Tiananmen Square & the Forbidden City were other highlights, and of course the Great Wall. These are the must do and see places.”
Life in China
And what was their impression of China? “I think the size of China and the amount of people and vehicles came as quite a surprise. From what our guide told us, most elderly people tended to be looked after by families although there were a few retirement homes.”
I asked Denis about their dining experiences in China, did they encounter any problems there? “The food was all Chinese but different to what the Chinese restaurants & takeaways are in Ireland. We were informed at the original talk that western food could be provided if required, but no one asked for it” he said. “There was nothing served that would cause anyone to be concerned as the menus were chosen by our guides to suit us rather than some of the more obscure Chinese dishes which Chinese people would eat. All of the meals were good and there were variations in each area we visited. “
China is a country of around 1.35 billion, roughly 20 percent of the world's population. It is estimated that there are as many people in the People’s Republic of China as there are in North and South America, and Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, combined!
More people speak Mandarin, a Chinese Dialect, as their first language than any other language in the world. Did they have any trouble communicating during their trip?
How did they cope with the language difference?
“We did not have any problems with the language as we had a National Guide with us who travelled with us from the 1st day to the last day” says Denis. “He was very good and looked after our party really well. We also had local guides with us in each region. So, we had 2 guides with us for all of our tours. The guides saw to everything from sorting out our tickets into places and internal travel throughout the whole trip. They also saw to any problems or questions people had.”
“The trip to China was quite intensive but I think we were all aware of that before we set off as we had 2 meetings with the tour operators before we went.”
Value for money
“It was definitely cost effective to go as a large group as we got a very good package deal. Also, the tour operators took care of everything including sorting out our Visas for China.
I don't think that I would like to visit China just on my own with my wife, I think it would be quite a daunting and stressful trip” says Denis.
“We all had a very good time and have made friends with people from other ARA's and I think we all intend keeping in touch we are thinking of getting together sometime next year to show all photos taken on trip, and inviting other members of our respective ARA's along to see the photos.”
If anyone would be interested to make such a trip for themselves, the Company is Travel Cheaper, 35 Princes Street, Cork. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Their website is www.travelcheaper.ie. They are the agents for Wendy Wu Tours, the tour operators in China.