*There is a wander lust in me … I’ll admit it.

I crave experiencing other cultures and devouring scenic landscapes. It was this restless desire that led me on a travel adventure in April of 2008 when I was between jobs in New York City.

I found myself on a trans-pacific wide body jetliner with a group of people I didn’t know crossing the International Dateline. We were headed to a culture drenched in ancient history and shrouded by mystery. We were on our way to China!

The host of my all-inclusive trip to the Far East was the Long Beach (California) Area  Chamber of Commerce, one of the best travel secrets around. My cost was $1600 plus airfare to Los Angeles, an amazing deal.

Our first stop was Beijing. When we landed at the Beijing Capital International Airport I was stunned. The newly constructed Terminal 3 was one of the most amazing structures I had ever seen. T3 was an expansion of the original Beijing airport in preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games. The huge airy interior was embellished by soaring vaulted ceilings dotted by triangular skylights and white slats arranged in intricate designs. It was a sensory explosion visually.

From the airport we took a deluxe bus on a highway through the countryside to the capitol city. I was fascinated. Where ever I looked there were colorful landscapes… they were everywhere you turned throughout the country.  Once we arrived in the city of Beijing the group was taken to Tian An Men Square and the Temple of Heaven. After seeing these iconic sites, we were transferred to our impressive 5 star hotel — Beijing International.

The trip included 5 and 4 star hotels, round trip airfare from LAX, 3 full meals daily, all fees to attractions, ground transportation and deluxe bus tours with an English speaking guide who not only provided background on the places we visited but gave a detailed history of China that was captivating. Our 9 day itinerary included Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou.

There were excursions from jade and silk factories to a green tea plantation for a tea tasting and discussion on green tea. I was awestruck walking along the phenomenal Great Wall of China built centuries ago, it was extraordinary. Other trip highlights were the majestic Forbidden City, the serene waters of Westlake and the lavish Yu Garden often noted as the inspiration for Chinese, Korean and Japanese gardeners around the globe.

The jewel of the trip was the ethereal Lingyin Temple, a Buddhist monastery thousands of years old, situated in a thickly wooded area of the Hangzhou mountains. Visitors strolled through a lush park of manicured gardens and magnificent pavilions. Buddhist monks moved among the crowds. Housed inside the Grand Hall of the Great Sage was a 65 foot Buddha layered in gold, the largest wooden statue in China and a breathtaking sight.

In November I’m following my travel GPS again to Tuscany Italy. My trip is already paid for. Prices are higher now since my China tour but the Chamber still offers great deals. They created an installment plan making it easy for anyone to travel.

Leanna Rodgers, the Trade Mission Tours Consultant for the Long Beach Area Chamber says, “the payment plan will have you paid-in-full for the tour by the final due date. You can also create your own payment schedule as long as the total tour is paid 90 days prior to departure.”

People across the country have taken these tours.

“Currently the Chamber is solidifying the 2012 line-up. Our goal is to be on the cutting edge of diversity covering a country destination on each continent,” Leanna explains. “We are also considering domestic tours within the U.S. promoting them as Made in America. We recognize the importance of stimulating local economies.”

To see where the Chamber is travelling next go to their website: www.lbchamber.com and click on Trade Mission Tours.

For more information about the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and the Trade Missions contact Leanna Rodgers by email: [email protected].

Dianne Quander is a writer and interior designer. She can be reached at [email protected].