Visiting Southeast Asia

Americans are increasingly interested in exploring Asia, according to the travel advisors at Travel Leaders Network. The region has become a magnet for travelers with a desire for adventure, for those who want a trip rich in experiences that combine history, culture and cuisine.

Here are some suggestions for what to see and where to go in three popular Southeast Asian destinations.

Indonesia. Most people associate Indonesia with luxurious Bali, or the capital city of Jakarta, and they offer lots of opportunities for exploration. But with 17,000 islands, there’s much more to see on a trip to the world’s fourth-largest country. The island of Sumatra is known for the beautiful Danau Toba, a large natural lake, as well as Mount Kerinci, Indonesia’s highest volcano. The island of Java, between Sumatra and Bali, is home to Jakarta as well as historic cities like Yogyakarta, where you can get a taste of Indonesian culture at ancient temples and palaces, and sample traditional food. East Indonesia is a paradise for nature lovers. Rugged Komodo Island, a land of red volcanic hills and forests, is where you’ll find the Komodo dragon, a species of lizard.

  

Thailand offers travelers everything from peaceful temples to gorgeous beaches to mountains made for hiking. Thai culture places great emphasis on politeness, and English is spoken widely, making the country a popular destination for Americans, especially honeymooners. At resort areas like Phuket and Koh Samui, you’ll find pristine beaches and blue water similar to the Caribbean. Koh Lanta is a less touristy destination with a number of upscale properties that cater to families. The city of Chiang Mai, in the northern part of the country, is a center of Thai culture, as well as a starting point for elephant treks. At the city’s night market you can rub elbows with the locals while shopping for handicrafts and sampling delicious Thai food.

No trip to Thailand would be complete without a stay in Bangkok. Check out one of the capital’s floating markets or a traditional Thai show with dinner. The city also has a fascinating museum that chronicles the history of World War II.

Singapore. Interest in visiting Singapore has soared since the bestselling novel and movie “Crazy Rich Asians.” Visit the food stalls at Singapore’s hawker centers, the heart of the island’s culinary scene. They’re a great way to enjoy a variety of tasty and inexpensive local specialties. Singapore’s top attractions include the Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown, said to contain one of the Buddha’s teeth, the colorful Sri Mariamman Temple and the Lion City Gardens by the Bay, with trees that light up at night. Singapore is also a family-friendly destination. Children will enjoy the S.E.A. Aquarium and the Adventure Waterpark, which features the first hydro-magnetic coaster in Asia.

  

A cruise is another way to see the region. Some cruises will include Singapore as part of a Southeast Asian voyage, with additional stops in Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam.

For help planning a trip to Southeast Asia, contact us.

Top Up and Coming Vacation Destinations

If you’re thinking about a different vacation experience beyond the usual destinations, consider some of the places that travel advisors have picked as the top up-and-coming international destinations.

Iceland is the top up-and-coming spot in Europe, according to the results of a survey of 1,000 North American travel advisors conducted by Travel Leaders Group as part of its annual trends survey. Peru topped the list for locations in Central and South America, with Thailand number one for Asia/Southeast Asia and Tahiti coming in at the top for the Pacific region.

For travelers who want to explore nature, Iceland offers a breathtaking landscape of mountains and glaciers, waterfalls and black-sand beaches. Enjoy a relaxing dip in the waters of the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa that’s just 40 minutes away from the lively capital of Reykjavik. Landmannalaugar National Park, in southern Iceland, is known for its hot springs and hiking trails. Take a tour from Reykjavik to see the northern lights, with September to April the optimal months for this dazzling nighttime display. Summertime, from April to September, is the best time for a whale-watching voyage off of Iceland’s coast.

Thailand draws travelers with its tropical beaches, ornate temples and ancient ruins. In Bangkok, the Wat Pho temple complex is known for its large collection of Buddhist images. You can spend all day browsing at the Chatuchak Weekend Market, with thousands of booths selling items from all over the country. The 18th-century Grand Palace complex, in the heart of the city, is a must for any first-time visitor. After a few days in Bangkok, head to one of Thailand’s beach resorts. Koh Samui, Thailand’s second-largest island, offers lots to do in addition to sunbathing. Walk through the night market at Fisherman’s Village, go snorkeling at the Ang Thong National Marine Park and take a cooking class at the Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts.

The South American country of Peru is a natural destination for travelers interested in ancient history. You’ll want to visit the spectacular ruins of Machu Picchu, a 15th-century citadel built by the Incas high in the Andes Mountains. In Lima, the capital, learn about Peru’s history by visiting Museo Larco, with its collection of pre-Columbian artifacts. Spend some time in the upscale Miraflores District, home to shops, bars and restaurants. Take a walk along the Parque del Amor, known for its colorful mosaics, flowers and gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean.

Tahiti is the largest island in French Polynesia, offering visitors both a relaxing beach vacation and plenty of water-based activities. You can relax and bask in the sunshine as well as enjoy swimming, snorkeling and surfing. Head to La Plage de Maui, on the island’s southern shore, for soft white-sand beaches and calm, clear water. Papeete, the capital, is a center for dining, nightlife and local crafts. Accommodations in Tahiti include overwater bungalows, with a staircase that will take you right to the ocean.

For help planning a trip to an up-and-coming destination, contact us.

Exciting Thailand

I spent three nights in Bangkok, where the traffic and noise are extreme.  We visited some temples including the Marble Temple and a gem factory where we were able to watch the craftsmen set gems in rings and necklaces.  The following day, we visited the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market which is a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Bangkok.  We traveled by boat through the market, which is a must! When we wanted to see something at one of the stalls, the driver would pull over so we could look at the item and begin bartering. Food was also sold from the boats that you could buy.  It was a fun experience. 

We then flew to Chiang Mai, a much smaller and quieter town.  Our guide met us and took us to our hotel, the Rati Lanna Resort and Spa.  It was a beautiful and very relaxing hotel – I would have loved to stay here for several days.  We visited five different temples here and saw what remained of the city wall.  The next morning, we traveled to the Elephant Sanctuary, a one-and-a-half-hour drive.  We fed the elephants bananas, interacted with them and took pictures.  Then the elephants went for their bath, where you threw water on them and then they were off to the mud baths.  It was a great experience.  

Thailand has a lot of different experiences to offer from the bustling city of Bangkok, to the quieter city of Chiang Mai and beautiful beaches in the south of the country.  There are so many things to see and do or do nothing at all.  Thailand is a very exciting place to visit.

                   

My Experience in India 

I just returned from a fantastic tour of India. During my tour I had the opportunity to visit Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.  The first thing that strikes you is the traffic and number of people.  They have four lanes of traffic, as a suggestion, but there are seven lanes with people, bicycles and motorcycles weaving between the traffic.  

We were able to visit New and Old Delhi and observe how the British influenced the look and feel of the country.  In Agra, we made a sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal … It was amazing!  The pictures make the place look unreal, but it is beautiful.  The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, for the tomb of this favorite wife and he was also buried there.  As the sun rose over the Taj it just simply lit up all of its surroundings.  We learned that the minarets that surround the tomb, actually lean outwards so that if they ever fell, they would not land on the mausoleum. There are inlaid marble designs at the Taj, which is still being made by descendants of the masters who did the original inlays.   

Fort Agra is where the emperor lived protected by his army. The palace is now open to the public now and the remainder of the grounds are occupied by the current army.  The palace has a view of the Taj Mahal and when the emperor was imprisoned there he was able to see the Taj daily.  

Following Agra, we were on to Jaipur.  We visited the Water Palace and rode elephants up to Amber Fort.  The fort was surrounded by a wall similar to the Great Wall of China.  

Everywhere we visited, the people were very friendly.  We visited shops that made and sold saris, camel hair rugs, jewelry and souvenirs.  It was a fabulous trip and our tour operator, Culture Holidays, did a fantastic job of showing us India.

                        

Two Days in Russia

Cruises are a popular way to discover the beauty and history of Europe’s Baltic Sea region.  I recently had the opportunity to cruise the Baltic Sea on Cunard’s luxurious Queen Elizabeth, visiting a variety of ports in seven countries during my two-week cruise.  By far, the highlight was the two full days we spent in St. Petersburg, Russia.

St. Petersburg was founded by Russian czar Peter the Great in 1703, and served as the capital of the Russian Empire until the Russian Revolution of 1917.  Built at the mouth of the Neva River, St. Petersburg is known as the Venice of the North because it is crisscrossed with rivers and canals, lending a maritime flavor to the city. 

The city boasts a rich heritage, with beautiful baroque palaces, stunning Orthodox cathedrals, and world class museums, such as the Hermitage.  Here are some of the key sites that any visitor must see:

  • The Peterhof Palace, Peter the Great’s stunning summer palace.  Located on a bluff overlooking the Baltic Sea, the Peterhof is Russia’s answer to Versailles.  Don’t miss the dozens of active fountains on the palace’s grounds, including the Grand Cascade and Samson Fountain, which features 64 interconnected fountains flowing down the side of a hill – with absolutely no pumps required for its operation
  • The Peter and Paul Fortress, containing the mausoleum of the Romanov dynasty, as well as a fascinating military museum.
  • The Hermitage art museum, founded by Catherine the Great, with an art collection rivaling the Louvre or Prado.
  • The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, a massive example of traditional Russian Orthodox church design, as well as St. Isaac’s Cathedral, with one of the largest domes in the world, coated with pure gold.
  • The Catherine Palace, located nearby, which features a reconstruction of the famed Amber Room, a large reception room covered completely in local amber. 

Russia can be a difficult country to visit independently, with the typical cost of a visa running over $300, but the visa requirement is waived for guests traveling on a cruise and taking an authorized shore excursion.  I chose to explore the city on a privately guided excursion, which offered me the opportunity to see more and avoid the long lines at major attractions.  As an added bonus, I had the opportunity to chat more with our driver and guide, and learned much more about what life is like for typical Russians.

St. Petersburg was a pleasant surprise for me, and I highly recommend a visit to anyone interested in learning more about history, discovering heritage, and experiencing a different culture when traveling.

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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