Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Chinese Bus Tour of Bath and Stonehenge

This is not the first Chinese bus tour I've reviewed, strangely enough. The Beijing Hub of Tourist Dispatch Tour (Great Wall with shopping) was quite a trip but I want to here write about a Chinese bus tour in the UK, which is a different kettle of fish entirely. Unlike in China where I ended up on that tour because it was the only one with that precise route, here in the UK there are plenty of English language operators offering Bath & Stonehenge day trips from London. As a result of this, these tours are run exclusively for Chinese tourists and it was not possible for me to just show up and buy a ticket. I still wanted to get their take on Bath so what I did was compile this post by interviewing someone who had been on one of these tours, observing the tourists as an outsider and then writing it up as a first person account. 

There are a few Chinese operators to chose from, Omega Travel run coaches daily to Bath and Stonehenge and Wang Dynasty do the same but in a minibus which is nicer because it is less crowded and almost the same price. We had to meet at 8.30AM next to Euston Station in London and from there the bus fought its way out of the city through the rush hour traffic. The driver, was from the mainland (China) but has been living in the UK for 10 years. He doubled as the guideFirst stop was Bath and it was fast and furious stuff. The group spilled out of the minibus at The Royal Crescent and we got a short history of the city from the driver and the chance to take some pictures. Within 10 minutes the coach was off again, parked below a mall (Southgate) and we were led up to the Roman Baths where there was another brief commentary on the history but everyone was more keen just to see it for themselves. See it, and then take selfies in front of it!

The really organised people in the group, like this family from Shanxi, brought their own tripod and made more dignified holiday photographs. It's really all about getting some good shots that you can put on Weibo or Wechat (Chinese social media), though these cameras are far more high end than really needed for that. While the Roman Baths were interesting to hear about, they are not so special to look at from the outside so it was the Abbey that everyone wanted to get their picture taken in front of.

This uncle just went around filming everything, he didn't stop. I am glad I wasn't with him because he kept telling his wife and his daughter, a student at Kings, where to stand and when to smile, like he was some sort of big film director. He also took a lot shots of the locals like these old English people. They give authenticity to the place: these are the type of Westerners who you never see in China, not even in Shanghai or Beijing.

With lunchtime approaching, the guide set out our options. Unlike some tours which have negotiated a group rate with a local Chinese restaurant, this one let us go off and chose our own lunch. The man on the right had come prepared with some instant noodles which he had brought over from China and a large thermos flask of hot water to pour over them. There way nothing was left to chance: he don't have to deal with over-priced restaurants that served bad food and he didn't have the problem of ordering it in English either. 

The guide told us that there was only one hour for lunch and for any shopping we wanted to do in Bath before the bus left. He then advised us not to eat in the Western restaurants because they take too long to serve you. He gave us directions to some Chinese places as, in any case, some of us have a 'Chinese stomach' which is to say we don't like foreign food. Thai or Vietnamese places are OK, as they are basically Chinese, but that's the limit.

We ended up at Hong Kong Bistro next to the bus station. It's a little bit different as it is a Cantonese place with a British twist but one of the staff there spoke pretty good Mandarin, even if she did have a funny accent. I ordered king prawn fried noodle and it turned out to be not bad at all for a noodle bar in the UK 

After lunch everyone got back on the bus and we were driving again, now on to Stonehenge. I talked a bit more to the other people on the bus, who were mostly either studying here in the UK or else they were family member visiting students. There was one girl sitting next to me who, when we drove past a Tesco would say, "Oh look, a Tesco, I really like their meat and dairy," and then she kept on saying it again and again, "Oh a Tesco," or just, "Tesco." She was obsessed by the place. 

Stonehenge was a bit of an anti-climax, the stones are so much smaller than the photos make them appear and you cannot get up close to them. Our guide didn't say anything about the place, he just brought us our tickets and the audio guides. He then waited on the minibus while we walked around listening to the commentary and taking some pictures.

To get to and from the stones we took a ride in one of the little wagons and the family from Hefei were there too. Their youngest girl was very cute and talked to everybody in the carriage, even to the Westerners who couldn't understand a word she said. We had a quick look around the visitor centre but it was pretty boring and went back to the minibus. It took quite a while getting back into London; we arrived and it was already 6 and yes, we passed many more Tescos on the way.  


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