|Subject: Re: Considering China|
1. I have used Explore Worldwide, if that is the tour group you are referring to. They are good. Small groups, travel close to the ground, free time to bum around on your own, reasonable prices, and interesting companions. Budget accommodations but clean and comfy and a focus toward really understanding the culture. Another group, and the one I used in my second China trip, was Imaginative Traveler ( http://www.Imaginative-traveller.com), also a british group and very similiar to Explore. Yangtse cruise was fun -- everyone Chinese but eight of us: 3 US, 3 fFrench and 2 Germans. Flew once and used the overnight train twice - one was a local, approaching Indian train standards and the other, an express from Shanghai to Beijing was a joy - best train I've ever been on.
2. First time I went to China was at least ten years ago, did it more or less independently with help from a Beijing travel person, Russ Zhou - dhtravel@ public3bta.net.cn (close space after @ sign). Sometimes you have to send a message several times for it to get through. He can arrange whatever itinerary you'd like including the obligatory Yangtse cruise. With both trips, went to difference portions of the Great Wall, neither of them the usual tourist approach.
Best, jo in Sunnyvale, No CA