2 week trip to China, need guide

Aug 21st, 2004, 05:33 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2004
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2 week trip to China, need guide

Hi! My husband and I will be going to China in November for 2 weeks. We already have airfare to Beijing. Though as a rule we prefer to travel independently, given the language and culture barriers, size of country, inability to drive, etc it seems preferable this time to use a guide. My understanding is that most of the easy-to-find guides will not result in a good China experience--you go to the shops who pay off guides for your business, eat bland unremarkable food at preselected restaurants, that sort of thing. The more reputable tours unfortunately need you to book airfare with them, or at least travel on their preappointed dates. We are not committed yet to a particular itinerary. Surely there is some way to find a tour company with small groups, flexible dates, somebody who will help arrange travel and hotels within China but will otherwise leave you free to roam? Hopefully? Any ideas? Thanks a million!
unbridled4 is offline  
Aug 21st, 2004, 05:45 PM
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You don't really need a guide, and the barriers are only there if you choose to build them. Inability to drive is neither here nor there since distances are vast.

However, there are quality operators who will make tailored itineraries on a ground-only basis. Or simply provide a reliable guide with good English who's experience as travelling around China. You pay, however, for what you get. Since the kick-backs aren't forthcoming you pay directly--but then you get true advice, proper restaurants, etc., so if you must have a guide this investment is worthwhile, as you obviously suspect.

I'd recommend American/British-run Beijing-based small-scale operator Imperial Tours as a starting point. See www.imperialtours.net.

Peter N-H
PeterN_H is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2004, 09:40 AM
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Hi, unbridle!

Could you supply a few more details?

Are you looking for someone just to make hotel, train, etc. arrangements but not act as tour guide?

Are you looking for someone just for Beijing? Or are you planning to cover a greater area? If so, which other cities are you planning to visit?

There is a difficulty here. If you are planning to have someone just get the transportation arrangements for you, say, from Point A to Point B, then someone at Point A has to buy those tickets for you. As an illustration, say, you want to go from Xian to Shanghai, it's best to have someone in Xian assist you, rather than in Beijing or some other city. This means that it's generally better to have someone available in each city that you plan to visit. The kind of travel agent who can arrange everything for you on a "Do It Yourself" Tour is not available for China - except for a BIG fee. I'm certain that if you go and search the web you will come across any number of big name (and little or no name!) travel outfits who will be willing to make these arrangements for you - for that aforementioned big fee.

I'm assuming that you do not want to have the usual travel tour experience ("bland unremarkable food")or to pay through the nose for a custom "Do It Yourself" Tour.

For hotels, you can make your own arrangements yourself beforehand through asiahotels.com. I recently met an Australian who had been living in Japan for many years and she told me that asiahotels worked very well for her. So, here's a recent testimonial on asiahotels. I've never used them because I never know how long I am going to be staying in any one place. Their rates are supposed to be very reasonable.

I'd be more concerned with you trying to make your own transportation arrangements and trying to save money at the same time.

Which leads back to the original question: in how many cities will you need a transportation agent? I know of one very good agency in Beijing, but believe that they are reliable only for transportation out of Beijing to another China destination. They do both air and train. Is this the kind of agency you are looking for?
easytraveler is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2004, 11:38 AM
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As has been pointed out on this site innumerable times, you cannot get good deals on Chinese hotels via soi-disant 'discount' hotel booking sites.

The better Sino-foreign joint-venture or foreign-managed hotels mostly guarantee to give the best prices obtainable on their own websites. If you find something lower elsewhere you quickly discover (if you check) that like is not being compared with like.

The Chinese-owned and Chinese-managed hotels put their published rates on their websites. Chinese know straight away to bargain for a discount. The only people to pay these prices are foreigners who know no better, and so the immense discount that some websites purport to offer are entirely illusory. They have no special arrangements, they have no allocation, and most hotels have never heard of them. They simply take the price you can get for yourself by asking, and add a fat profit for themselves. The China travel site which recently floated itself on a U.S. stock market earns 70% of its profits by taking you for a ride in this way.

Nor are bookings guaranteed to be there when you arrive, if someone else has shown up cash in hand beforehand, and you haven't paid in advance, as others have testified on this site in the past.

In short, if you want familiar brand-name hotels or the HK-based Asia luxury chains book directly over the web yourself through their own websites. If you want a Chinese hotel, wait until you get to China and just bargain on arrival.

For China, 'discount' hotel booking websites are to be avoided.

Peter N-H
PeterN_H is offline  
Sep 6th, 2004, 02:29 PM
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Hi, Easytraveler!

Hope you're still out there. You are absolutely right. We are looking to do a tour of a handful of cities--Beijing, Xian, Nanjing, all the typical touristy spots. So I've been finding either cookie-cutter "cattle car" tours or luxury vacations which, at $6,000 per person, I'm sure are very nice. Of course we are hoping we can tour China on less than a thousand dollars a day.

I understand that in Beijing or Shanghai you can easily find people who speak and understand English; but in other areas it's likely to be a problem. So without a guide, and no command of Mandarin or Cantonese etc etc, I'm worried. You can arrange air transportation and hotels yourself, sure. But once you get there--how easy is it, really, to get to the destinations (Subway/train maps written in inscrutable Chinese or Pinyin! Cabbies who don't know what you are asking!), enjoy the area once you get there, and reliably get yourself back to your own hotel? I once visited an extremely authentic little hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant in Chinatown NYC. By "authentic" I mean my friend & I were the only non-Asian in the place and the menu had no English translations and the waiter couldn't really speak English well enough to translate for us. We ordered by blindly pointing at the menu. The food was delicious and it was great fun...as a temporary adventure. I wouldn't want to do that for two weeks!

So it looks like we would want a guide, at least for our first time visit. I guess what we are after is a tour guide without a tour guide atmosphere! Probably we need to concentrate on a reputable agency that arranges land only tours for multiple cities and hopefully does small groups. I know it won't be super cheap, but that's ok.
unbridled4 is offline  
Sep 10th, 2004, 07:29 PM
Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 49
I was looking for the same type of trip you want to take and I was referred to Michelle Ling at an on-line travel agency called East-Tours.com. My husband and I are leaving for China in October ( and being escorted by Michelle's guides in China) , so I can't give you a personal recommendation yet, but I can tell you that so far Michelle has been a delight to work with and her prices are very reasonable compared to many tour operators. If you're interested, you can give her a call at: 1-866-402-4462 Ext. 81 and tell her sandi referred you. Good Luck!
sanshe is offline  
Sep 12th, 2004, 08:00 AM
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Try to stay away from those tours of China, I promise you they are more interested in selling you cheap art than providing you a once in a lifetime experience.

Traveling to China can be very cheap if you use Chinese tour operators that caters to Chinese vacationers. For example, a weekend excursion to Yellow Mountain (where Crouching Tiger was filmed) was $49 per person and that included roundtrip train tickets, someone to greet you at midnight at the train station, hotel, ground transportation, and a group tour guide that could speak some English). There are lots of Chinese tour operators in both Beijing and Shanghai. My boyfriend and I met travelers from Singapore and those travelers already knew if they booked their excursions from Singapore it was going to be more than $1000 per person, whereas if they waited to book their trip in Shanghai or Beijing, they can see the same thing for less than $100 per person.

My suggestion for an exciting and inexpensive excursion to China is to use your hotel in China to book your travel arrangments.

I recommend the following places if you are going to China:
SuZhou (2 hours by train from Shanghai)- for temples and gardens. Not too many people are familiar with SuZhou, every American sort of aims for the Great Wall only to be disappointed. I promise you -if you go to SuZhou you will not be disappointed. In fact, a number of Chinese emperors, actually left their position to build their garden in SuZhou. What remains in SuZhou today are those gardens or their estates. They are very special in terms of Chinese architecture.

Shanghai - the Bund to see American architecture, the city to see 30million people at once

Yellow Mountain - the subject of almost all Chinese paintings, the mountain that is claimed to be visited by every Chinese and Chinese emperor, that are even porters that will carry you on their back for $10 if you are unable to make the trip to the top of the mountain yourself

Beijing - the Temple of Heaven. The Temple of Heaven was once closed to the common people and it is where the Emperor of China worshipped.

As for good Chinese food in China, my recommendation is to look for Tea Houses and restaurants with pictures. Tea Houses serve pretty standard Chinese snacks.

Email me at [email protected] if you have more questions.

sbobao is offline  
Sep 12th, 2004, 01:38 PM
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 15
My husband and I did independent travel to China in March,although there were some stressful moments we always managed to get to and from our destination.
Like your experience in the resturant,we were often going on blind faith that the taxi driver was taking us to the right place,we boarded the right train,or got on the right bus etc...
Its important to get the hotel's business card and get the front desk to write out where you want to go.
We found the Chinese people were more than willing to help us if they could and our translation book helped in that endeavor.
We had a wonderful time despite the stressful moments and we will travel independently to China again.
Tours,though more costly,will relieve stress and save time.
There was a CITS office in our hotel and although we never booked a tour from them the information they gave us was very helpful.
I have contact information if you would like it.
brendon is offline  
Feb 8th, 2005, 02:17 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 10
This msg is for sanshe (Sandi) - i would love to hear how your trip went booking through Michelle. We are planning to go to China in Oct and need a competent, reasonable tour guide. [email protected].
chasinasb is offline  
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