Mingalarbar (Hello) Asia from Avalon Myanmar

I just returned from a fabulous trip to Myanmar with Avalon River Cruise. What an unbelievable country and the people are so friendly. If you say Mingalarbar (min-ga-la-ba) (hello), you won’t believe the smiles that you will receive. We also learned and used Kye zu bar (jeh-zu-ba) (thank you) and Ya bal tal (Yah-bah-day) (you’re welcome). Just learning this much made a big difference to the people on the ship and those on the streets.

We began our journey with two nights in Yangon. It is a very busy city, with lots going on, but very safe. We walked around on our own and ate street food, which was great. They have markets there and one was just around the corner from our hotel, the Sule Shangri-la. The market had everything and you could bargain with them on the price. Many people spoke at least some English, so it was easy to communicate. From there, we flew to Bagan to begin our river cruise on the Irrawaddy River. In Bagan there are over 2000 stupas and pagodas. We even visited the stupas to see the sunrise and set over them which were really great. The Avalon Myanmar is a beautiful ship and the staff is very friendly and helpful. It has 36 cabins; however, we only had 25 people on our trip. The ship has wooden floors; hand carved wooden panels surround the dining room and original paintings. It was very welcoming.

As we traveled north, we had daily excursions to see cities, visit villages, and visit a school and a nunnery. These excursions were all included in the trip and were very enjoyable. There was so much to see and we felt very comfortable traveling around the country. We even went to an elephant camp and nursery. The elephants are no longer used to harvest teak trees and pull them out of the forest. Now they give a demonstration on how it was done and they give rides on the elephants. The elephants are well cared for by their mahouts and there is also a veterinarian on site to take care of them. If the vet sees an elephant standing on all four legs instead of only on three, he knows that the elephant is sick. We were able to feed the babies bananas and watched the mahouts take the elephants into the river for their twice daily baths. It was a great experience.

I would highly recommend this trip. The Avalon Myanmar is built for the Irrawaddy River and it travels all the way from Bagan to Bhamo, whereas the other ships only go as far as Mandalay. You lose out on a lot of the country and villages along the way.

This was an outstanding trip! Please contact me if you would like to hear more.

Avalon River Cruise Asia Avalon River Cruise Asia Avalon River Cruise Asia Avalon River Cruise Asia Avalon River Cruise Asia

Following the Amazing Race

Thailand is one of our favorite destinations too!  Let’s take a DETOUR and look at Land or Sea….
Here is a fantastic Southeast Asia cruise we have found, with a sale price for December 1, 2015 departure
Cruise for 10 nights, in a mini-suite for $2199 per person (plus port taxes and fees)  Airfare not included
(prices subject to change)

Sapphire_10Day_SouthEast_Asia_015_R1_CA

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Season 26 of the Amazing Race is going strong.  We watch with growing anticipation every week to see what’s coming next!  We enjoy seeing where the contestants get to visit next, and what they make them eat or do.  It’s so exciting!!

Because this week included the visit to Phuket, this week’s tour we have put together includes touring all around Thailand, with a lovely 3 night stop in Phuket.

This tour is an extraordinary journey, discovering ancient traditions, tranquil temples and authentic cuisine.

Amazing Race Siem Reap

Siem Reap

Amazing Race Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai

Here is a glimpse at this tour:
Tour starts from $3459 per person, plus round trip airfare from the U.S.Print
Day 1
– Arrival.  Welcome to Bangkok, Thailand, Thailand’s capital city!!
Day 2 – Today’s sightseeing starts with a BOAT RIDE through the klongs, Bangkok’s canals, to see family homes, temples, and the way of life that gives this city the nickname “Venice of the East.” Stop at Wat Arun, the TEMPLE OF THE DAWN, whose 260-foot-tall spire has become identified with Bangkok. Continue on to the GRAND PALACE, comprised of the Funeral Palace, the Reception Palace, the Throne Hall, the Coronation Hall, the Royal Guest House, and the TEMPLE OF THE EMERALD BUDDHA. Last stop is at the TEMPLE OF THE RECLINING BUDDHA, the oldest and largest Buddhist temple in Bangkok. It houses more than 1,000 Buddha images, including the 49-foot-high and 151-foot long massive Reclining Buddha. This evening, enjoy a special THAI WELCOME DINNER featuring traditional cuisine and dancers performing stories from classical Thai literature. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 3 – Today is at your leisure to explore Bangkok. Perhaps join an optional tour to the Jim Thompson House and silk shop or enjoy a dinner cruise aboard a luxurious teak barge along the Chao Phraya River. Your Tour Director will have plenty of recommendations. (Breakfast)
Day 4 – This morning, travel to  DAMNOEN SADUAK FLOATING MARKET. This colorful market provides an interesting glimpse into local life. Take a longtail BOAT RIDE through the canals filled with small, flat boats expertly paddled by mature ladies who are ready to stop and bargain at a moment’s notice. Later, fly to Chiang Rai. (Breakfast, Dinner)
Day 5 – Today, climb narrow mountain roads with stunning views and visit several villages en route to DOI MAE SALONG, a settlement founded by Kuomintang soldiers who fled China in 1949. Continue to MAE SAI, a market town on the Myanmar border, then drive to the renowned GOLDEN TRIANGLE, where the Ruak and mighty Mekong Rivers meet. Enjoy views over Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand, and consider an optional boat trip on the Mekong River. Next, visit the HALL OF OPIUM, built to educate people on the history of opium in the area and to help combat illegal drugs. En route back to Chiang Rai, stop in CHIANG SAEN, where you can still see evidence of the original 13th-century city. Tonight, take a TRISHAW RIDE and WALKING TOUR through the local NIGHT BAZAAR. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 6 – This morning you have some free time in Chiang Rai before taking a BOAT RIDE on the Kok River. Then, drive to visit several HILL TRIBE VILLAGES. The AKHA are known for gorgeous headdresses decorated with silver coins and the LAHU are skilled hunters and masters of herbal medicine. Continue on to a KAREN VILLAGE, home to the PADAUNG LONG-NECKED WOMEN. Early in life, brass rings are placed on the necks and legs of the village girls. As they age and mature, additional rings are added, creating the visual illusion of stretching their necks.You will also visit the LISU, who like to settle high in the mountains. (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
Day 7 – A short drive this morning brings you to Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city. For lunch, participate in a THAI COOKING CLASS, where you will learn how to make several local dishes. The afternoon is at your leisure. After a long day, enjoy a TRADITIONAL THAI MASSAGE at your hotel. (Breakfast, Lunch)
Day 8 – Rise early this morning to witness and participate in the ALMSGIVING CEREMONY, a very special Thai custom. Each morning before dawn, Buddhist monks don their distinctive saffron-colored robes and walk along the streets, carrying alms bowls and receiving boiled rice and condiment donations. Personally present alms to the monks, and you will receive their blessings! After breakfast in the hotel, drive up a winding mountain road to visit the WHITE HMONG PEOPLE, another of northern Thailand’s unique hill tribes. Here you will witness life in the village and visit a local school (if in session). Then, visit the temple of WAT PHRA THAT DOI SUTHEP, which offers a spectacular view of Chiang Mai and the surrounding valley. (Breakfast, Lunch)
NOTE: You will travel on rough dirt roads in a utility pick-up truck to visit the White Hmong people.
Day 9 – This morning, visit an ORCHID FARM and an ELEPHANT CAMP. Here you will see skilled mahouts show how elephants have worked for centuries and you will RIDE AN ELEPHANT through the jungle. For the more adventurous, perhaps join the optional float trip on handmade bamboo rafts. You have time this afternoon for independent exploration. Tonight, join your traveling companions for a KHANTOKE DINNER & SHOW, featuring local cuisine and traditional music and dance celebrating the Lanna Kingdom, which ruled northern Thailand from the 13th to the 18th centuries. (Breakfast, Dinner)
Day 10 – Today, fly via Bangkok to Siem Reap, your base for exploring the temples of Angkor. (Breakfast)
Day 11 – This morning, start your sightseeing of the TEMPLES OF ANGKOR. Constructed between the 9th and 13th centuries, the temples were built around the Khmer interpretations of Indian religious and political beliefs that ultimately evolved from Hinduism to Buddhism. The complex architectural grandeur of the Angkor temples is arguably unmatched among ancient ruins anywhere in the world. First, visit the best preserved and most famous of all the temples, ANGKOR WAT, honoring the Hindu god Vishnu. Featuring five trademark towers and stunning bas reliefs, it has become a symbol of Cambodia. Next stop is ANGKOR THOM to see the BAYON TEMPLE. One of the few Buddhist temples in Angkor, it features some 200 striking faces carved in 54 towers and impressive bas reliefs. The rest of the afternoon is at leisure. This evening, witness one of the world’s most amazing experiences: sunset at Angkor Wat! (Breakfast, Lunch)
Day 12 – Today, continue your sightseeing of the Angkor temples. Visit BANTEAY SREI, a unique temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva that was built on a small scale from red sandstone, which can be carved like wood. Unlike the other temples, TA PROHM has been left relatively untouched. Surrounded by jungle, tree roots grow over and through the ruin walls, and you will experience the temple with the same wonder as the early explorers who discovered it. This afternoon, enjoy a CRUISE on Tonle Sap (Great Lake), where you will see a floating village and get a glimpse of life on the water. This evening is at your leisure to explore charming Siem Reap. (Breakfast, Lunch)
Day 13 – Today, fly via Bangkok to Phuket. The rest of the day is at leisure. (Breakfast)
Day 14 – This morning, a sightseeing tour takes you around Phuket Island. Visit PHUKET TOWN with its Malacca-style houses and bustling markets before stopping to admire one of Phuket’s most famous temples. The remainder of the day is at your leisure. (Breakfast)
Day 15 – Today, enjoy a full day at your leisure to explore Phuket, enjoy beach activities, or simply relax. (Breakfast)
Day 16 – Today, fly to Bangkok. The rest of the day is at leisure. (Breakfast)
Day 17 – Your tour ends with breakfast this morning. (Breakfast)

 

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Season 26 of the Amazing Race is underway and the contestants are racing through Japan. They flew from Los Angeles to Tokyo and will be continuing on to Nagano for the second leg of the race. I put together a tour to Japan that includes Tokyo and Nagano ending in Kyoto. The package price for 2 people is $5758.00 so great price!

I found roundtrip air from Minneapolis to Tokyo on March 22 and departing Kyoto on April 3 for $1204.40 per person on Delta/All Nippon.

 

 

Tokyo

Tokyo

Day 1 we arrive in Tokyo. Day 2 and 3 we do a walking tour of eclectic modern Tokyo from the hub of Shinjuku to Shibuya through Yoyogi Park and Harajuku.

Day 4 we journey to the Japanese Alps and Nagano and visit the historic Zenkoji Temple.

Day 5 we discover the Jigokudani Monkey Park and watch Japanese snow monkeys bathe in natural hot springs.

 

Days 6 and 7 we continue to the alpine market town of Takayama, known as “Little Kyoto” to experience a traditional folk village, sake breweries and craft shops.

 

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle

 Days 8 and 9 we get a glimpse of old Japan as we travel to Kurashiki, a picturesque town in central Japan which has retained much of its old world charm. A bike ride through the Kibi Plains takes us through rice fields  and ancient burial grounds.

Days 10 and 11 we are the traditional heart of Japan, Kyoto, with opportunities to walk through temples, teahouses, shrines and shops. We may even spot a real-life geisha.

 Day 12 we depart for home from Kyoto maybe not with a million dollars but with lasting memories of this beautiful country!

 

 

Kyoto

Kyoto

Tokyo and Kyoto—the modern and imperial capitals of Japan, respectively—represent the perfect merger of the ancient and the contemporary. On this trip, you’ll thoroughly explore both and everything in between, from traditional villages and miles of rice fields to ancient temples and the stunning vistas of the Japanese Alps. Snow monkeys, geishas, the teeming pedestrian scrambles of Tokyo’s Shibuya district and the impossibly friendly staff of your traditional ryokan are just a few of the locals you’ll meet and never forget.

What’s Included

  • Modern Tokyo walking tour
  • Zenkoji Temple visit (Nagano)
  • Jigokudani Monkey Park visit (Matsumoto)
  • Matsumoto Castle visit
  • Kibi Plains bike ride (outside Kurashiki)
  • Japan Rail (JR) pass (7-day)
  • All transport between destinations and to/from included activities
  • 1 Breakfast, 1 dinner. (Allow USD400-500 for meals not included.)
  • Bus, bullet train, local train, bicycle.
  • Chief Experience Officer (CEO) throughout.
  • Small group experience; Max 15, avg 12
  • Hotels and traditional guesthouses/onsens (11 nts)

Day 1 Beijing afternoon Summer Palace

Viking River Cruise included the morning tour to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. They wisely offered the Summer Palace as a reasonably priced optional tour.

We opted to participate in the optional afternoon tour.

 

 

 

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Beijing Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City & Summer Palace

Our first day in Beijing was rather overcast but thankfully NO rain to spoil our day. Our group (hereon referred to as Jack’s Group) started our morning by motorcoach to Tiananmen Square where Jack guided our walking tour through Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.
A few important points…we were all provided with Whisper Sets to use during our tour. Once you have taken a guided walking tour with a whisper set you will know why it is the “only way to go”. We were transported by motorcoaches with a considerable number of extra seats. The driver dropped us off and picked us up as close to every venue as was possible.

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Day 2 April 20 Beijing – Great Wall and Ming Tombs

Our very smart guide Jack recommended that we start out early on our drive to the GREAT WALL. He is a wise man as it was a Sunday which meant an increase in the number of locals visiting this awesome sight. I had made a visit to the Great Wall in 1996. The infrastucture at the Badalang entrance has greatly improved.

50 kilometers (31 miles) northwest from Beijing City, at the foot of Tianshou Mountain,

is the Ming Tombs Scenic Area, where lie the mausoleums of thirteen emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644).

 

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Kerry Hotel Beijing

Viking River Cruise did well booking our group into the Kerry Hotel Beijing. The Kerry is bright and shiny. The restaurant is very good. The lobby bar which offers inside and outside seating had a noticably youthful clientele. The view from our room of a very modern Beijing was superb.

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China Bound

I am certainly looking forward to my travels in China with my husband and good friends.

We will be traveling “in style” from April 18 – April 30 with Viking River Cruises.  Our journey begins in Beijing.  From Beijing, it’s on to Xian home of the famous teracotta warriors and then on to a five night Yangtze River cruise.  Our Viking River Cruise-Tour will end with a couple of days in Shanghai.

Our trip will culminate with 4 nights in the less traveled area of Lijiang in the Southwestern province of Yunnan, China..

The Amazing Experience of China

We explored so much while traveling to China on our Imperial China Viking River cruise. The sites were amazing, I wanted to share some of the highlights of our trip.

Shanghai
You will want to visit the Bund in the evening to see all of the lights and walk on the walkway along the Huang River.  From the Bund you can see the Oriental Pearl TV Tower which is Shanghai’s most recognized landmark. You will also want to visit the Wu Gardens which is very beautiful and tranquil.  This five-acre garden consists of six sections separated by boundary walls: Grand Rockery, Ten Thousand-Flower Pavilion, Hall of Heralding Spring, Hall of Jade Magnificence, Inner Garden and Lotus Pool.

The Shanghai Museum has a collection of over 120,000 pieces, including bronze, ceramics, calligraphy, furniture, jades, ancient coins, paintings, seals, sculptures, minority art and foreign art. The masks and clothing were extremely interesting.  You could spend a long time visiting all of the rooms and looking at the displays.

 

Wuhan
We visited the Wuhan Museum.  The Chime Bells Exhibition Hall contains two parts: the Exhibition Hall and the Music Hall. In the Exhibition Hall, you can see many cultural relics that have been unearthed from the tomb of Yi, such as the exquisite bronze vessel known as ‘Crane Standing on the Antler’, ancient halberds, triangle-shaped swords called Shu, and the bamboo slips that were used for writing on in ancient times. The most famous treasure is the Chime Bells, which is the largest bronze musical instrument ever discovered. With a set of bells of different sizes, it can play various tones of the musical scale.  Musicians wearing ancient clothes play a replica of the Chime Bells twice daily.  Being a bell ringer myself, this was very fascinating performance of beautiful, ancient music.

 

Three River Gorges
The three river gorges are the Dragon, Misty and Emerald Gorges.  It is a beautiful area which you visit on a smaller boat than the river cruise ship.  The sites were spectacular and you saw hanging coffins up high in the Misty Gorge.  The higher up the person was buried, the more important that person was.  We saw a Buddhist temple along the rock walls with a walkway along the rocks for about a mile.   The children that live out in the rural areas take the river taxi to the main towns where they attending boarding school during the week.  They need to walk 1-2 hours from their village to the water’s edge to take the river taxi on Sunday afternoon and returned on Friday afternoon.

 

Shibaozhai Pagoda
The pagoda was built against a rock, so only three walls were man-made. To reach the pagoda, you walk through the town and across a swinging bridge.  The first thing you notice about this pagoda is that its windows are round, which signifies heaven.  The temple walls are painted in red with very colorful decorations.  The Chinese believe in odd numbers being the most significant.  To reach heaven and the temples at the top, you must climb the 99 steps.  There are paintings and statues to look at along the way.  When the dam was completed on the Yangtze River, they were afraid that the temple would flood, so they built a retaining wall so that they do not have to worry about moving the temple.

 

Chongqing Zoo
It was a treat to visit the Chongqing Zoo and see the Giant Panda’s.  There were eight adult pandas and a one year old panda.  Panda feeding time is between 8:30 AM – 10:30 AM, which is the best time to see them. The panda is the symbol of China and a national treasure.  There are also the red pandas and many other animals at the zoo as well as an Art School.

Note: Currently, if you take the Viking River cruise from Shanghai to Beijing you visit the zoo in Chongqing to visit the pandas.  If you take the Viking River cruise  from Beijing to Shanghai you visit a family in Beijing but do not see the pandas.

 

Xian
We visited the unbelievable Terra Cotta (which means baked clay) Warriors which were built during the Chin Dynasty.  The average height of the warriors was 5’ 7”, they are approximately 2000 years old and there are about 8000 warriors.  The warriors were made in two separate sections.  The head and neck were made separately from the body and then slipped into the body section.  After the warriors were made, they air dried them and then they fired them for five days.  There was one complete kneeling archer found, the cross bow was wooden but had disintegrated.  The building originally had a brick floor, with dirt walls and a wooden roof which was destroyed when the Chin Dynasty was attacked and it was burned.  There are three buildings with sections for the army, women, acrobats, lacquer work, jade and bronze.  The emperor’s tomb is two miles away from the warriors.  The whole area is 56 square meters and only part of it is excavated.  They are leaving it for future generations where they hope they will have better technology.  When these warriors were discovered, they were completely painted, but when they were exposed to the air, the paint faded immediately.

 

Beijing
There are many sites to see in Beijing….

The Great Wall
We went to the Badaling section of the Great Wall, which is the best preserved and most picturesque.  Each kingdom had its own section of wall for protection against invasion. The emperor of the Chin Dynasty had the sections of the wall connected totaling 4,000 miles which took about ten years.  There was also an outer wall in northern Mongolia, but it was not kept up.  They had five soldiers per watch tower in the important sections.

 

The Sacred Way – the road leading to heaven
The road to the Emperor tomb was lined with stone statues, 12 human figures (including the general, civil officials and meritorious officials) and 24 animals which are lion, camel, elephant, xiezhi (a mythological unicorn), qilin (one of the four “divine animals, the other three are dragon, phoenix and tortoise), and horse. There are 4 of each of these animals: two standing and two squatting and are supposed to change guard at midnight. Lion symbolizes awesome solemnity because of their ferocity. Camel and elephant are meant to suggest the vastness of the territory controlled by the court, because they are dependable transport in desert and tropics. Xiezhi was put there to keep evil spirits away, because it was believed to possess the sixth sense to tell right and wrong. If two men fight, a xiezhi would gore the wicked one. Qilin, an auspicious symbol, was placed on two sides. Horse, as the emperor’s mount, is absolutely indispensable.

 

Tiananmen Square
You can see the two remaining towers which used to be around Beijing.  Then you go through security (being with the Viking River Cruise group, we did not have to go through security) and walk to the square.  It is a huge area with the Monument to the People’s Heroes, Mao Zedong Mausoleum, the National Museum of China and Great Hall of the People.

 

Forbidden City – Winter Palace
I was amazed how large the Forbidden City was.  There was the outer pavilion, the middle pavilion and the inner pavilion before you reached the wall to go into the area where the emperor lived.  There were the male lion which was playing with a ball and the female lion which plays with the cub to protect the entrance.  The emperor was carried in a chair and the people carrying him would walk up the stair and he was suspended over the center area which had carvings of a dragon.  You could see the area where the emperor’s bedroom was and where the concubine’s bedrooms were.  On the edges of the buildings, the roofs curve upwards to allow more light into the building.  The number of carved animals, mythical and real, the more important that building was.

 

Summer Palace
The Summer Palace was eleven miles from the Winter Palace and the emperor, his wife and the concubines would go here to stay from May through September.  There is the long hall, half mile long, with paintings all along the way on the beams and ceiling.  Then we saw the marble ship where the emperor used to sit and look at the lake.  It was a very beautiful and peaceful area.

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Imperial China with Viking River Cruise November 16 – 29, 2012

My daughter and I had the opportunity to explore China with Viking – neither one of us had ever been to China, we loved it! The first thing we noticed, oddly enough, was just how clean China is. Isn’t it odd, we have a preconceived perception of things and they turn out so different?  We noted that there were always people sweeping and cleaning up and found out that China as a whole made a concerted effort when they were awarded the 2008 Olympics to clean things up and keep them clean – they are doing a great job.

This was my second Viking River Cruise and my daughter’s first…what can I say about Viking, it was an awesome trip! Our Viking River Cruise was outstanding, right from the start, they do an unbelievable job to make the trip seamless. So what makes traveling with Viking so amazing? Well, so many things….let me cover a few.

First you only handle your own bags when you arrive in Beijing and come out of customs but after that….you never handle them again until you fly home from Beijing.  Everything in between…Viking takes care of. Bags are handled and even on the inter-China flights we only handled our carry-on bags – what a pleasure.

Next, a Viking tour guide is with  you all the way! From Shanghai to Beijing, Viking guides are their to take care of any questions you may have or concerns along the way.  Our guide, Francis, was funny, personable and very knowledgeable.  Also, Viking makes sure to bring on a local guide in the different cities to give wonderful insight on that city.  I love that Viking gives each traveler a headset called a Vox so that we could hear our tour guide(s) without having to crowd around them, this is so much nicer than the old way of crowding around your guide and trying to hear what they are saying. I was thrilled that not only did our tour guides show us around, they provided us with great information and then gave us free time to explore on our own, allowing time for shopping and exploring on our own.

While traveling with Viking, for the land parts, they put you in nice hotels, but the best part…the ship…we traveled on the Viking Emerald. Good food on board and the ship and staff as a whole are great.  Our dining personnel, Maggie and Eddie, were so efficient – after the first night they knew our names and what we liked to drink.  The entire staff was very friendly and helpful, they made you feel welcome and at home.  They were on hand to see you off the ship for shore excursions and again when we returned.  All of the tours were included except for two – the Tang Dynasty dinner show in Xian and the Peking Duck Dinner and Opera in Beijing.  Both shows were well worth going to even though the clients have to pay for them.  Both of these optional tours as well as the other tours, added to the whole China experience. It’s an active trip with lots of walking, it would be a challenge if you were in a wheelchair, but many parts could be done…just not all of it.

This was definitely a trip of a lifetime! Seeing China…the cities…amazing. The schools that Viking sponsors and the countryside breathtaking. And I’ll never forget the giant pandas, the Terra Cotta Warriors and the Great Wall….unbelievable.

I would highly recommend this trip…if I could do it over, the only thing I would change…I would spend some extra days in the China…before and/or after the trip!

I met a wonderful travel writer from the UK while on my trip, Jeannine Williamson, here is a link to her thoughts on this amazing cruise. http://www.ivillage.co.uk/a-viking-cruise-through-modern-china/156493

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