In Nov/Dec 2018 I traveled with a friend of mine to Yunnan province, China, for two weeks. We travel together regularly all over the world. However, this time, because of the language barrier, we have decided to have a guide. Looking back we both are sure that this was a very good idea. Without a guide who speaks Chinese and knows the local culture our experience would be considerably limited. We consider ourselves to be very lucky that we have chosen Zouba Tours.
1) Most importantly, our guide was very well read in Chinese history and culture; his understanding of nuances of traditional Chinese religions was truly impressive. He was able to share his knowledge not as a set of dry data but as a skilled storyteller. In addition, he was not afraid, unlike I’m sure many Chinese guides, to share his opinion on the present political situation and economic development.
2) Frank, Zouba’s founder, was happy to plan our trip from scratch to satisfy our requests: except for some key historical and cultural monuments, which we considered a must, we wanted to travel off the beaten track, but at the same time to stay in reasonably clean hotels; to take our lunches/dinners at restaurants frequented by local people, and to include several days of hiking. Frank was willing to exchange a battery of detailed e-mails while fine tuning our program. He came over to guide us in person for the hiking portion and he turned out to be in excellent physical shape to be enjoying hiking like us. He was willing to include additional hike to our program any time.
3) If we asked to stay at a place longer or leave earlier than planned, there was great flexibility and we could improvise in a way which was based on the best possible options on the ground. The company has clearly built up very excellent relations with the local purveyors, and every request was handled smoothly and with excellent communication. Our guide took his job of a guide as a 24-hour occupation and stayed with us in the evening to show us the most popular Chinese card game “BEAT THE LANDLORD” and to chat with us about any aspect of China over a beer or two, to discuss in detail the next day program, to look for alternatives to satisfy our preferences.
4) The tour activities were personal and opened for us many doors closed to the local life. This way we gained experience you cannot get in the center of Peking or Shanghai. For example, we have visited a small town near the western Yunnanese town of Tengchong, where our guide knocked at a gate in a narrow street and took us to visit a local tofu maker, a carpenter, and a duo playing local historic instruments just for themselves – they could not have been playing just for tourists as we were the only one and nobody knew we were coming. A market in the street provided unforgettable experience. We have seen and tasted fruits, vegetables, dishes we had no idea they exist. People were offering fresh larvae taken in front of us out of wasp nest, a part of ant hill to be put on salad to add a sour taste. Without our guide’s attention to detail, we would not have a slightest idea what 90% of all that stuff was. We have also seen a “dentist” providing his services right in the street on a rundown wooden chair (for obvious reasons no photos allowed), and a lady casually taking an IV while people were passing by.
5) Food is very high on Zouba’s priority list. Thanks to this, we had chance to taste many local delicacies one most likely does not get anywhere else in the world. Stops were made frequently to stock up on exotic fresh fruit or durable pastry for our hiking tours. We paid a lump sum in advance but literally never on this trip was there any hesitation to share with us the best quality food, and to go to best restaurants. Dire warning, do not take your meals as (spicy) hot as Frank does!
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