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1st trip to China-26 yr old females-package or tour independently-8 days

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Mar 11th, 2013, 08:39 PM
  #1
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1st trip to China-26 yr old females-package or tour independently-8 days

Thanks in advance for any of your responses. I'm hoping to plan a trip for later June-October to China. I'm gathering it's a lot to cover so it would be best to stay in the Beijing/Shanghai area for the amount of days I'm going (although I'd love to also see HK)? While being economical, I'm wondering if it would be best for us to take a packaged deal rather than book everything independently since we do not speak the language nor are familiar with the country. Has anyone heard of Chinaspree?

I'm looking for a close experience rather than something westernized but also where i know I'll be safe and won't deal with too much frustration over the language. Another one of my concerns is getting around independently...easy? Is there a better time in regards to holidays or weather? Hoping to land when it's on the warmer side. I'll try to think of questions more specific if helpful, but thanks again for any response.
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Mar 11th, 2013, 08:50 PM
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China, relative to most other places, is not particularly easy. If you're seasoned travelers it can still be a pain. Given the short time you have I'd suggest a tour. Not something I usually recommend but I don't recommend an 8 day trip either. So given the parameters I'd say tour. The good thing I can say about a tour is it will likely help you squeeze more into the time you have because of the prearranged transport and support.
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Mar 11th, 2013, 08:51 PM
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kja
 
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> ... best to stay in the Beijing/Shanghai area for the amount of days I'm going (although I'd love to also see HK)

With only 8 days, you might even want to consider visiting only Beijing. Many people visit Beijing and Xi'an in this time frame (although I would have found doing so WAY too rushed). I would not recommend trying to visit Beijing, Shanghai, AND Hong Kong in the same 8 day trip - that would be WAY to much to see in such a limited amount of time!

> I'm wondering if it would be best for us to take a packaged deal rather than book everything independently since we do not speak the language nor are familiar with the country.

What I've read suggests that packaged tours will cost MUCH more than visiting on your own. If you search this board, you will find that quite a few of us have had wonderful experiences visiting China independently and with at most a few words of Chinese.

You might find some helpful information in my trip report - just click on my name to find it.

Happy planning!
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Mar 11th, 2013, 09:06 PM
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"China, relative to most other places, is not particularly easy."

Nor is it particularly difficult, and Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an and HK are the easiest places in China. You need a good guidebook, with place names in Chinese characters (so you can show them to taxi drivers) and a phrase book with characters as well as pinyin. There are several TRs here, including kja's excellent one, from independent travelers. Doing a search on Chinaspree will introduce you to the (many) downsides of Chinese tour companies.

When you say 8 days, does that include arrival and departure? I usually count nights - two nights in a place gives you one full day. You could do Beijing and Xi'an, using the night train at least one way, but there's plenty to do in Beijing itself.

Remember to AVOID the National Day holiday in early October, which lasts a week and involves a great deal of travel by locals. But you will likely find it too hot in the summer.
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Mar 11th, 2013, 09:06 PM
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> a tour is it will likely help you squeeze more into the time you have because of the prearranged transport and support

Maybe, maybe not! Tours generally include unwanted stops at tourist traps, waiting for others, etc. And they proceed at their pace, not yours.

Seriously, I suspect that you will find Beijing surprisingly easy to visit on one's own without knowing Chinese. As a solo female traveler, I've definitely been to places that were more difficult (e.g., Moscow and St. Petersburg don't have English signage in their public transportation stations, whereas Beijing has English signage and English announcements.) Give some thought to going on your own!
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Mar 11th, 2013, 09:21 PM
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If you shop for a tour based on the sights that you particularly want to see you can choose a package that has them. If you take that same list and try to make your way to all of the places independently it's not as certain you'll succeed. That was more my point regarding the tours.

But if you don't have a checklist or are content to see as much as you can and not worry about the rest then I'd agree, go independently. But I too would advise you to confine your travels to a relatively few places given the time constraints.
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Mar 11th, 2013, 09:46 PM
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(thanks, thursdaysd! )
And you should look for thursdayd's report as well - it was a huge part of my inspiration!
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Mar 12th, 2013, 07:45 PM
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Go on your own - I can't think of a reason for a 26-year old who want to go on a packaged tour over doing independently. Don't be too greedy with what you want to see - you will see and experience enough regardless. And I agree with others - with 8 days, you should just visit two cities - Beijing and either Shanghai/Xian/Hong Kong. If you really want to push it, then Beijing + Shanghai/Xian, and then short stay in HK just to board your non-stop back to wherever you are.
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Mar 13th, 2013, 03:00 AM
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I have booked a trip with China Spree. I looked at many tour companies and did a "spread sheet" to compare. They came out on top with Gate 1 and a few others right in there. As to the time to go, we have friends that lived over there and were told that Oct.(after the national holiday) is the best time to go. China is making it harder to get visas now as you have to show your paid airline ticket and all the places you plan to stay. This happened after August last year. So that is another reason we choose to go on a tour. Also go to tripadvisor.com. It has a lot of information to help with your plans.
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Mar 13th, 2013, 04:59 AM
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Enjoy your shopping ops.....
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Mar 13th, 2013, 05:02 AM
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Go on your own. If you are staying big cities it is easy to do. Your hotel desk can write the names of places you want to see in characters, tell you about local transportation, or how the taxis work. In some places maybe hire a car and driver if you are heading out of the city. Hop on and hop off bus tours often help us get the lay of the land, and then we go back to see points of interest. Get a good guide book, do your homework. it is much better to govern your own time with out the " shopping" opportunities tour s force on you. We did 2 weeks last fall on our own. Bob wrote a trip report if you are interested.
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Mar 13th, 2013, 08:55 AM
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I am working on our own China trip and think you can easily do on your own. You could split two cities for your 8 days and still have time for a day trip out in both. For example in Beijing we are going with the China Culture Center for a day out to the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs. I am sure there are ways to do such day trips on your own too but we like to mix some "indpendent" days with some "organized" days.
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Mar 14th, 2013, 10:39 AM
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You absolutely can go on your own if you plan a little bit ahead of time. I traveled through Beijing, Xi'an and Shanghai just after I turned 26 in 2010.

I booked lodging online ahead of time so never had to worry about that. I might have spent a little bit more than I would have if I had walked up and tried to negotiate for lodging prices but I was also there in low season. If you're going in high season, I'd be nervous about not having lodging already figured out when I got there. Plus it's one less thing to dink with when you're there.

For the language issue, learn how to say please, thank you, excuse me, yes, no, and how much. Beyond that simply print out a piece of paper with the Chinese characters and English translation for the places you know you'd want to go. Point at where you want to go to a taxi driver and they'll either nod or wave you off. I used the metro a lot in Beijing and if you've ever used any metro in the world, it'll make sense in about 5 seconds (and I'm about 99% sure I remember signage in English).

Anything else you need and the hotel desk staff can write it down for you in the proper characters or you can look it up online and copy the characters or show your phone to someone. To order meals I simply pointed at what I wanted on the menu with a smile and most of the waitstaff had at least very basic English. If you were going to smaller areas then it might be an issue. In Beijing, Xi'an or Shanghai... you'll be fine traveling independently!

I got audio guides and used guidebooks for tours of places if I wanted to know more info and I LOVED being able to wander around at my own pace.

8 days... does that include travel time or is that 8 full days from the time you land until you depart? If that includes your travel time then you're actually closer to 5-6 days and should probably limit yourself to one city (I'd suggest Beijing). If you have 8 full days, split it 5 days in Beijing and 3 in Shanghai. Fly into one city and out of the other so you don't have to backtrack and waste time. I took the overnight trains from Beijing-Xi'an and from Xi'an to Shanghai. I don't know what the train time is between Beijing and Shanghai so you might be better to fly between the two if those are the two you choose. The trains were really easy to use and buy tickets for. I had someone at my hotel pick up a ticket for me in Beijing and I bought my own to go to Shanghai. I looked up the train times online and wrote down the departure and arrival times and the price for the ticket I wanted. I showed that to the ticket agent and got a big smile and the exact ticket I wanted.


If I can do it then you can do it! I never felt unsafe and people were extremely welcoming and friendly. I think that traveling alone meant that people were more willing to approach me than if I had been with a guide. I have a trip report posted that would give you tons of details on how I did various things if you want to use some of that for ideas.
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Mar 14th, 2013, 11:35 AM
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I tend to travel off the beaten path and my recommendation was colored by that fact. I am sometimes one of few westerners I see in a place where understandably almost noone speaks English. So I obviously bow to the advice given by the rest of the posters here if your plan is for the mainstream cities, which it seems to be. I can spend days on end with no one to talk to and don't mind, in the end get where I want to go. Traveling that way can take time and patience. You should do fine without a tour.
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Mar 14th, 2013, 01:07 PM
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"I am sometimes one of few westerners I see in a place where understandably almost noone speaks English."

Me too. I still managed fine.
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Mar 14th, 2013, 01:16 PM
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I also manage fine. Things just sometimes take longer. Like more convoluted means of transport than in urban areas.
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Mar 14th, 2013, 04:11 PM
  #17
kja
 
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> Things just sometimes take longer. Like more convoluted means of transport than in urban areas.

That sure rings true to me! I remain very glad that Fodorites convinced me to go on my own and to the places I wanted to see, no matter how close to or far from the beaten path.
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