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Club Med in China! Review of Club Med Guilin

In 2013 Club Med opened up a new resort in mainland China.  Located in Guilin, southern China, this Club Med is set amongst a backdrop of mountains, the Li River and rice terraces (their other property being the mountainous Yabuli in the province of Heilongjiang).  Our intrepid reviewer Claire and her family put the resort through its paces:

Club Med Guilin - sculpture

Where did you go? We went to the new Club Med Guilin, in Guanxi Province, China.

Who went?  Our party was 4 adults and 2 toddlers (23 months and 2.5 years).

When did you go?  We went for a long weekend- Friday to Tuesday.  At the time the only direct flights (Dragonair) from Hong Kong to Guilin were Tuesdays and Fridays, but I understand that from April 1st 2014 they fly every day.

How was the weather?  Sadly, we didn’t have great weather.  We specifically went to Guilin for the spectacular scenery, which apparently inspired the landscape for Avatar!  During our stay we had thick fog every day, on-off drizzle and proper rain one afternoon.  This was disappointing, but the weather is always a gamble with any holiday!  As a result, we were unable to see the legendary scenery in all its glory, but we could tell that it would have been breath-taking had it been clearer.  However, even with the fog, the surroundings were beautiful.

Club Med Guilin - lake

What was the package?  We took the Club Med package, which included flights, transfers, rooms and the famed “all-inclusive” food and drink.  At the time, they were offering 40% off so it was a great deal.

Visa process?  We arranged our own visas at the China visa office in Wanchai, Hong Kong.  It took 3 days to process and was very easy.  I would advise people to make sure you have all the paperwork in order- download the form and make sure you take your original HKID as well as any relevant paperwork (Club Med confirmation letter etc) to avoid any complications.

How was the flight?  The flight times really worked for us- we took off just before 2pm and so the kids slept the whole flight, and we were able to feed them at the airport at their normal lunchtime before we left.  The flight was delayed by 30 minutes, but that was fine.  The flight was only 1 hour and 5 minutes so it was super easy.  On the way back we didn’t have to leave the hotel until after lunch, and the kids slept in the coach on the way to the airport.  We took off at 4.15pm and were back at home in HK eating dinner by 7pm.  Ideal.

How did you get to the hotel? We were extremely insistent that both the kids had proper car seats for the transfer, even though it was only a 45 minute journey.  Club Med said that car seats were not a legal obligation in China, but I said we wouldn’t travel unless they guaranteed them.  We were delighted to be met at the airport by a Club Med rep who escorted us to a private minivan with brand new car seats for the kids.  The rest of the guests travelled by coach.  On the way back we travelled with all the other guests in the coach, but they fitted the same car seats and it worked absolutely fine.

Did you request any baby things in advance?  We requested cots for the kids (which also looked brand new) and they came with a cute Disney pillow and duvet set which were a big hit.  The 2.5 year old ended up sleeping on the enormous chaise longue in the end, but the 23 month old was very comfortable in the cot they provided.  I brought a ‘Snooze Shade for Cots’ with me and put it over the top (fitted perfectly) so we could read etc without disturbing him, but the curtains had excellent black outs and he would have slept fine regardless.  Without us asking, they also provided baby baths (no baths in the rooms, but fantastic showers) and also a potty seat for the toilet, which I thought was a thoughtful touch.  They also provided a baby food/bottle warmer and UHT milk cartons for the kids.  The bottles of water were always replenished and there were loads of water dispensers to refill the bottles when you were out and about.

What did you think of the room?  We asked for interconnecting “courtyard” rooms with balconies.  This was great because the sliding doors opened up straight onto the courtyard so the kids could run out and we could have the doors open if we liked.  The interconnecting function was brilliant as the 2 kids could come and go as they pleased in and out of each other’s rooms, which they loved.  It meant we could always help each other out and it was much more sociable.  The kids could bath together and have bedtime stories together, so the accommodation had more of a “villa” feel to it.  The quality of the room was excellent.  The beds were huge and super comfortable.  The bed linen and pillows were great, and the ceilings were high so it felt really spacious.  It had everything you’d expect from a 5* hotel room- really couldn’t fault it.  Only small thing was that it was a little bit warm when we first arrived and they don’t have air-con at that time of year, but they gave us a very effective free-standing fan as soon as we raised the issue which did the job perfectly.

How were the facilities?  The resort has 47 hectares of private grounds, within a national park.  It is renowned as Asia’s leading contemporary art centre and has more than 100 modern sculptures by leading local, and international artists for guests to enjoy.  

Club Med Guilin - elephant

The grounds themselves are so expansive that you can spend a whole day just wandering around looking at all the sculptures and following the paths- it would be wonderful for families with older kids who love the outdoors.  With toddlers, it was often easier to jump on one of their golf buggy shuttles that take you around the resort. 

Club Med Guilin - Grass

The grounds are very buggy friendly and ideal if you’re a runner and miss running outdoors along paths- we wished we weren’t so lazy sometimes as we watched people jogging!  There are so many outdoor activities to do- archery, golf, biking, and tennis to name a few… even a trapeze!  We put the kids in the hiking backpacks and went off on a cycling tour, which they thought was brilliant.  Being Club Med, of course you had to be accompanied by a “GO” (staff member), which we thought was a bit annoying at first, but they are fun and the kids loved them.  The men also went on a mountain bike tour outside the resort through some local villages, which they really enjoyed.  The bikes were good quality with plenty of gears- I had no problem despite not having sat on a bike for a least 20 years! 

Club Med Guilin - Cycling

The biking would be especially good for slightly older kids who are confident and adventurous.  My husband used the gym a couple of times which he said was well equipped, and you could participate in cardio programs and other such things if that’s what you’re into!  Us girls attended classes in yoga, tai chi, zumba and aerobics- all of a high standard with knowledgeable teachers.  There was even a daily pole-dancing class in their specially equipped studio… sadly, we didn’t have time for that one!  The outdoor pools were closed for the low season, but the indoor pool was excellent and we had it all to ourselves.

Club Med Guilin - Indoor Pool

They provide inflatables, water wings and life jackets which the kids loved playing with- especially the whistles!  The baby pool is an excellent depth, and there are loads of daybeds and loungers for those who aren’t swimming to read and relax on.  In the coming months, the 2 outdoor pools will open which look great- one of them even has a beach in front of it.  Our kids had fun playing in the sand with their wellies and winter jackets on!

Club Med Guilin - kids park

Kids Club? Of course one of the main reasons people choose a Club Med holiday is for the kids club.  The “Petit Club” is supposed to be for kids between 2-3 years old, but they were kind enough to let my 23 month old join too.  The staff are sweet and love kids, and there are so many activities for them.  I felt comfortable leaving the kids in their care while we had the morning to ourselves to do some adult activities and classes.  The kids club “compound” is a really good facility and there is plenty to keep them occupied- including a fun water park which they loved splashing with their wellies in. 

During our stay, there were 2 members of staff to each child.  They had a fantastic bouncy castle and they did a cute “Mini Picasso” class where the kids wore adorable overalls and berets and pinted on easels!!

Club Med Guilin - Easels

They give out cute prizes for “best jumper” or “cutest smile” with little certificates… all the kids got something and it was very sweet.  There was also lots of free play and our two liked the chequers board and playing mini golf! 

Club Med Guilin - chess

They made a huge fuss if any of the kids had a birthday and threw a ridiculous party for them… with a cotton candy machine and a private chef!  It was mad!  These ladies also run “pajama club” where they look after the kids while the adults have dinner.  In our case, on the last night we asked one of them to sit with the kids in our room once they’d gone to sleep so we could have an adult evening.  As we had interconnecting rooms, we only required one lady.

How was the food?  I was anxious about the food because I am a fussy eater and I worried about eating buffet every meal for days on end.  I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food, for the most part.  Being a French company, they did the bread selection particularly well which is very unusual for this kind of resort.  They also always had perfect brie on the cheese board which I didn’t expect in rural China!  Naturally, it is difficult to cater for so many people and to keep the menu varied from day to day, but I think they did a good job under the circumstances.  It was very international- at every meal there was a station for Chinese, Japanese, Korean and European tastes.  There was always fresh fruit and salads, and you were really spoilt for choice.  A couple of evenings a week they have a Mongolian BBQ, which was fun and a nice change.  Honestly, by the 4th day of all-you-can-eat buffet I was starting to get a bit tired of the breath of choice, and I started to see a bit of repetition… but overall it was better than I expected.  If you didn’t fancy buffet, there was a noodle bar near our room that served noodles all day (and night) long… and I understand there was an a la carte restaurant, but it wasn’t open in low season. 

The kids enjoyed the food because there was so much variety- they got given a tray when they arrived in the dining room with lots of different coloured sections and they could fill them with all sorts of goodies.  They provided kids cutlery and high chairs or booster seats.  They also had curly straws for their drinks, which were a big hit!  The menfolk were happy with the free flow beer, and also reported that the house red wine was perfectly drinkable (Cab Sav)- albeit ice cold- and the bottle was left on the table so they could top up at their leisure.  I thought it was excellent that we could take a takeaway for the kids if we wanted to.  For example, one evening they were knackered and we couldn’t be bothered to go through the rigmarole of the whole buffet thing with the kids, so we just went and chose what we wanted and they gave it to us in takeaway containers to take back to the room where the kids had their dinner in front of a movie and then went to bed! Easy peasy!

How were the staff?  Once we’d got comfortable with the over-enthusiastic Club Med-style approach, we found the majority of the staff (GO’s) to be excellent.  They are a very international bunch- lots of French, Spanish, American, Canadian, South Africans as well as the local staff.  Some of the local staff struggled with the language, but there was always someone to help.  They always greeted us by name and always engaged with the kids.  I was impressed.

Did you leave the resort?  Before we arrived we had big plans to go exploring as we were visiting specifically to see the legendary scenery.  However, since the weather was so grim our enthusiasm dampened somewhat.  We had hoped to visit the famed Longji rice paddy fields, but we were told that these were a 3 hour car journey away and we didn’t fancy a 6 hour round trip with 2 toddlers when the weather wouldn’t have made it worth it anyway.  We also considered the popular bamboo raft trip down the Li River, but this was a 2 hour ride on a tiny raft and we didn’t think the kids would sit still and the whole point was for the views which we obviously weren’t going to get.  We eventually settled on a private tour (didn’t fancy the mass coach trip) to a nearby viewpoint, which was a hike of 450 steps up a mountain.  It wasn’t too bad and the kids were in the hiking backpacks- the walk itself was about 20 minutes.  I’m sure the view would have been spectacular, but the omnipresent fog made it a little disappointing. 

Club Med Guilin - hiking

On a clear day it would have been quite a sight- no doubt about it.  On that trip we also stopped off in Yangshuo town, which was buzzy and a fun change from the resort- it was good to see a bit of local flavor.  With the half-day tour we could leave after lunch and be back for dinner, which pleased the menfolk as we didn’t have to pay “double” for any of the meals!

What stood out for you?  The actual setting is really stunning and there’s so much space for the kids to run around.  Living in HK, it was a real pleasure to have so much green and not to see any other buildings.  The pine forest smelled like Europe and the wet grass and mist was all very nostalgic.  It was very quiet and safe, and you always felt relaxed with the kids as it was so family orientated.

Any negatives? Not necessarily a negative, but I would say that 90% of the guests are Mainland Chinese and a lot of the stuff is done with them in mind.  I was worried about the smoking, but it was so quiet that it wasn’t a problem at all.  During our stay, the hotel was at 20% occupancy but apparently from next month it will be 100% occupancy until the end of the year.  With that in mind, this review is based on LOW SEASON experience and high season may be different- I can imagine there will be positives and negatives with both seasons.  Due to it being low season, there were several facilities that weren’t available such as boating on the lake, the 2 outdoor pools, the a la carte restaurant, only 4 holes open on the golf course etc.  Being a very new resort, there were inevitable teething problems, but I think they will be ironed out over the coming months.  They are very open to feedback and improvement and seemed very grateful for all the suggestions we made.  If you’re not familiar with the Club Med “format” (we were not) then you’d do well to brace yourself!  It took us a couple of days to get used to the relentlessly cheerful GO’s who want to engage with you at every possible opportunity- high fives and cheering galore!  They ask to sit down and join you at every meal, and try and persuade you to come and join their particular activities, or watch their shows.  Personally, I found this quite irritating and I think we probably got a reputation for being miserable Brits as we’d never let any of them join us at mealtimes, despite their perseverance!  Once you’ve got your head around this behavior, you just have to admire them for being so passionate about their job and their ability to keep their “game face” on at all times… even when they’re sitting at dinner with 4 old Mainland ladies who don’t speak a word of English! They are great ambassadors for the brand.

Would you go back?  I would love to go back if I could guarantee the weather- I felt we really missed out on the scenery, but we were unlucky.  It could just have easily been blue skies at this time of year and the temperature was lovely.  It is SUCH an easy hop from HK- short flight, convenient flight times, no time difference and minimum transfer time- makes an excellent long weekend option for those with limited holiday.  I don’t know what the dynamic would be like with the hotel at 100% occupancy, and all that entails- look forward to the reviews of friends going over Easter!  I think, ideally, I would like to return when the kids are older so we can all get the most out of the fantastic facilities they have on offer.

Top tips? If you want children’s car seats be VERY firm and make sure you double check a few days before your holiday to be certain they’ve noted your request.  The driving is generally appalling (and quite frightening) so it is worth it!  Make the most of all the activities on offer- try something you wouldn’t usually do! We did archery and tai chi and really enjoyed it!

In regards to the GO’s wanting to sit down at mealtimes, be clear if you don’t want them to sit with you- it’s your holiday!  We just politely said that we’d prefer that the kids weren’t disturbed while they were eating.  They were desperate to sit with us and get some Western banter, but we had to be selfish and do what was best for our families.  If you don’t mind that kind of thing then go for it- they were all nice people from interesting places! 

In conclusion, I’d say Club Med Guilin is an excellent choice for a quick hop to a stunning rural setting, and ideal for families who love the outdoors.

Club Med Guilin - Kids

2 comments

  1. Simona

    Hello I saw on the ClubMed Guilin website that there is a high risk of malaria in the area. Did you have to take any medicine?

    1. Nicola

      Hi Simona, I didn’t take when I was there

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