Yin and Yang on the Yangtze
A Senior Adventure in the “People’s Republic of Steps”
After many years of traveling outside of the United States, my husband Don and I, now in our 70s, decided that if we were ever going to see China, 2007 was the year to do so.
First of all, we wanted to avoid visiting China during the year of the Olympics, 2008, and secondly, with my knees slowly failing and Don having some problems with plantar fasciitis, we didn’t know what the future boded for our ability to handle long plane rides, extended walking and step climbing.
We accepted the fact that we would face some physically challenging situations — China has no laws like the Americans with Disability Act. But the possibility of never seeing China outweighed the deterrents. We began to research ways to make the trip as safe and stress-free as possible and still see the sites we have always wanted to see. Since there are many websites on the Internet that describe in detail the places that we visited, this article will primarily focus on how two seniors handled the Yin and Yang of a strenuous China adventure .
Minimizing Stress, Maximizing comfort
As American tourists, we could choose from a large selection of China tours, including many run by Chinese companies. The tours vary in price and duration. The travel industry rates these tours as Budget, First Class, Deluxe and Luxury. Regardless of their rating, tours lasting approximately the same number of days will almost all cover the same cities and visit the same major sites. These tourist cities and major sites are Beijing, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and the Great Wall; Xi’an, the Terracotta Warriors; Chongqing, Yangtze River cruise through the Three Gorges; Shanghai, the Shanghai Acrobatics Troupe and ancient Zhu Jia Jiao; Guilin, Li River Cruise; and Hong Kong, Victoria Peak and sampan rides in Aberdeen Harbor. A few tours also include Tibet.
Choosing the best tour will depend on what's affordable, how much creature comfort consisting of hotel, food, as well as level of bathroom facilities you need in addition to what extra activities you would like included. Finally, how much free time is needed to explore on your own.
The well-regarded tours supply English speaking Chinese local guides to supplement the tour directors. If you have any disabilities or are just slowing down as you age, it's necessary to be concerned about the strenuousness of the trip and how to minimize safety risks.
Traveling business class may help you to rest and be more energized for the first few days of the tour. My legs and ankles start to swell on long plane rides, so being able to raise my legs is a great help. Since China, all in one time zone, is nine to twelve hours ahead of the mainland USA, getting a good night’s sleep can be a problem for the first few days of the tour. Another advantage of traveling business class or first class is that most airlines maintain special lounges in major airports for those booking these seats. The lounges have nice restrooms, free snacks and drinks, comfortable chairs with tables and lamps, and free television and Internet access. If you have a long layover between flights, then these are great places to relax and perhaps nap. On the planes themselves, free drinks (including alcoholic) are supplied in addition to snacks and gourmet meals served with china and silverware on linen placemats, personal sundries kits including socks, ear plugs and masks, and hot face cloths. For me, this pampering was a mini-vacation in itself.
Because of the long distances between the cities visited, plane rides in the Chinese interior are a must. Buses are used only in the cities or on short excursions to the countryside. All the tours use the same airline companies, but the better tour companies will use newer, cleaner, more modern buses than the budget companies. The Yangtze riverboats vary in the rooms, food and services offered. Some are geared more to the Chinese than to Westerners.