Manuel Mascarenhas talks to Debbie Marshall from Silver Travel Advisor about Wendy Wu, celebrity tour guides, real Chinese food, and why China is a perfect destination for Sliver Travellers.
There really is a Wendy Wu! How and when did she first start the company?
‘Who is Wendy Wu?’ is a question I’m frequently asked! Born in Tibet and growing up in China, Wendy is a lady passionate about sharing this magical part of the world with as many people as possible. It was this passion that drove her to set up her own company in Australia in 1998, taking tour groups to China. The popularity of the tours and success of the company lead to the opening of a UK office in 2004 and in the US last year. She has not looked back since, having expanded the programme to include enchanting Indochina and captivating India.
What would you recommend to someone visiting China for the first time. Anything that absolutely must be seen?
A visit to China holds so many amazing sightseeing opportunities, it’s incredibly hard to choose just one but the Terracotta Warriors in Xian are truly awe-inspiring. To see this incredible Army, which was created over 2,000 years ago, is an unforgettable experience and there is more to see each day.
What would you say are the biggest differences between China and the UK that a first time visitor might be surprised about?
On my trips to China, I have always found the local people very welcoming and friendly. There is a humility and generosity of spirit amongst the Chinese people that makes you feel at home. Another difference that people may find surprising is the sheer size of the cities and the general busyness. From my first visit, it was unexpectedly clean and orderly. Both Beijing and Shanghai have populations of 20 million people or more.
What about food? Is Chinese food in the UK similar to that actually in China?
Food in China is generally quite different to the Chinese food found in the UK. It tends to be either simpler dishes made with very fresh, local ingredients or more traditional, regional recipes that we don’t tend to come across very easily here. On our tours, we try to incorporate local flavours and dishes, for example, Peking Duck in Beijing, famous ‘Across the Bridge’ noodles in Kunming and traditional Shui Jao dumplings in Xian. The cuisine varies markedly by province.
I know that you are expanding beyond China. Which are your new destinations?
It is a very exciting time for Wendy Wu Tours, as we are have just recently launched our first India, Sri Lanka and Nepal brochure, offering five fully inclusive group tours and three private tours. We are also offering two group tours to Thailand for the first time. There has already been a lot of interest in our new destinations for 2012! Don’t forget, we already have a well established programme of 13 exciting group tours to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
Why do you think that Wendy Wu tours will appeal to Silver Travellers?
I believe that Wendy Wu Tours will appeal to Silver Travellers as we offer authentic experiences to an exciting programme of destinations in Asia. Our fully inclusive, guided tours mean that everything is taken care of so that you can sit back, relax and enjoy an amazing experience, in the hands of a real expert. The feedback from our customers show that they also really enjoy the socialability of our group tours and many end up making life-long friends as a result! For couples, families and groups who are looking for greater flexibility and independence, we offer a range of private touring options with a choice of upgradable options. We are fully bonded with ABTA, AITO, ATOL and IATA, which means that your holiday with Wendy Wu Tours is 100% financially secure.
Your tour leaders and guides are well-known for their experience and local knowledge, but I understand that you also have some celebrity guides?
We had the pleasure of running a group tour to China lead by John Craven OBE. ‘China Revisited’ was a 17-day tour and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the wonders of China in the company of John Craven. John filmed in China 25 years ago, so it was a unique chance to join him on his re-visit and find out about the changes he witnesses over the course of the trip. Everyone on the tour had a fantastic time and a really special experience!
But our pride and joy are our National and Local guides. The former stay with the group 24/7, they have tremendous local insight and knowledge, fluent English speakers and above all, they are very caring and considerate.
Where is your favourite destination? And is there anywhere you would to visit in the future?
I was in the fortunate position of visiting the stunning Nine Villages Valley (Jiuzhaigou National Park) in the Sichuan Province recently. The Valley offers breath-takingly beautiful, alpine scenery and is home to many protected species. Nine Villages Valley is one of my favourite places in China. For me, albeit slightly further afield, but a perfect Lakes and Mountains holiday!
The Grand Buddha in Leshan is a sight that I would love to see. It’s the world’s largest stone-carved Buddhist statue, which has been carved into the side of Lingyun Mountain, dating back to the 7th century. I would follow this with a visit to the Chengdu Panda Reserve. There are only a few thousand of these adorable creatures left in the world and the Panda Reserve is a good opportunity to see them being reared in surroundings reminiscent to their natural habitat.
What is your top tip for guests taking an escorted tour in China?
Keep an open mind and simply enjoy everything this wonderful destination has to offer. The very nature of our programme allows you to savour the cultural and natural historical delights of this vast and diverse country. The truly fully inclusive pricing and superb guiding will make It an experience to treasure!
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Wendy Wu Tours.