A cheaper way to see China + 3 tips

Nov 14th, 2001, 08:21 AM
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A cheaper way to see China + 3 tips

Traveling by train, we visited Beijing, Taiyuan, Xian, Chongqing, took a 7 day Yangtze cruise, and then landed in Shanghai, and continued on to the cities of Hanzhou, Suzhou and Wuxi. Took us 28 days.
One tour guide we had the luck to have with us for two days was a Mrs. Li Min Xue or Shirley. She is a Manager at CITS in Hangzhou, has been a tour guide for 15+ years, has traveled throughout China as well as to America. Her English was fantastic! Anyway, she told us that anyone traveling to China should skip by the agents over here and deal directly with CITS to save a bundle of money. Anyone can email her directly to have her help you set up all your tours, hotels, travel. Try her out and reach her by email at [email protected].

Three Biggest Tips:

1. Forget bringing all that toiletry stuff when you leave home -- China's grocery and department stores have it all.

2. Bring some anti-bacterial / odor killer spray for the toilets. You can find them in small spray bottles and well worth the effort.

3. If you are traveling light and don't want to get your clothes laundered a lot and you'll be on the run yourself, try bringing a small spray bottle of Fabreeze. With all the smokers there, plus all the pollution, your clothes will stink.

I was in China almost 20 years ago now and I would have to say that although it is still a very foreign place to travel, it has lost some of its exotic feel. One of the Chinese jokes we heard was: What's China's national bird - answer, the "crane." Not the bird, the building crane.

If you have any specific questions I can help with please feel free to email me.
Nov 14th, 2001, 08:58 PM
Peter N-H
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Cindy's enthusiastic endorsement of CITS is warming, but booking directly with the company, or the other large state-run travel agency, CTS, has both advantages and disadvantages.

When you book your tour with a big company based in a developed nation, you are in almost all cases in fact booking with CITS or CTS anyway. Your travel company has no choice for now but to book its 'ground handling' from these organisations. There are one or two minor exceptions, and these will grow, but for now bar one or two emerging joint-ventures and small scale specialist operations aside, the big state-run operators put together all the land arrangements for trips arranged from overseas. In most cases, lacking adequate competition, they sell them to the tour companies at the same, heavily marked up prices they would sell them to you. The foreign company, or to a certain extent the overseas office of CITS, should you use them, add their overhead and profit to make the total bill.

So it's right to say that if you book directly with a local CITS office, you'll do better on price, although still a grossly inflated one, and in the context of the pips being squeezed from all other hotels, restaurants, etc. who are party to the package.

But that's not the whole story.

Let's suppose something goes wrong, some promised service fails to appear, or some hotel fails to live up to expectation. When you book with a company based in your own country, you can reasonably expect an honourable response to your complaint, providing it is reasonable. If not you can bring the trading standards and contract law of your country to bear, and win compensation.

If you've booked with an overseas branch of CITS, for instance, you also have a chance of success for the same reasons. But book directly with a Chinese office and your chances are very much reduced--and the stories of poor service, massive overcharging (although this very often goes undetected by the visitor--the very reason why it is almost universally practised) and failure to deliver on promises are legion.

Your best bet for tours is to choose one where you are permanently accompanied by a guide from home. Your best bet for value for money is to do it yourself--a lot easier than you might think--or failing that to shop around for local tour arrangements as you go.

There are endless numbers of people who think that Badaling Great Wall can only be reached on a Y500 tour, and there are those who prefer to do it that way, and hang the cost. There are others who do it on a Y10 comfortable aircon public bus. Such mark-ups of multiples as high as 50 are what separate those who book their travel from overseas and those who do it themselves. The further the distance from which you make your booking (and especially if the Web is involved), the greater your ignorance of local conditions, the less your choice, and the more you pay.

In general the Chinese travel industry is about using foreign visitors' nervousness of the cultural and linguistic barriers between themselves and the Chinese to prevent foreign visitors finding out just how much things really costs, and to separate them from as much money as possible.

Service has long been merely an afterthought, although undoubtedly things have improved over the last few years. Complaints are still commonplace (and occasionally appear on this site), despite many offences going unnoticed by tourists.

Nov 14th, 2001, 09:00 PM
Peter N-H
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...from above.

The restaurants and stores you are taken to are carefully chosen for their agreement to give kick-backs to the travel company or the individual guide, for instance. Restaurants which won't co-operate simply see no tour group business. It's you who suffer as the inflated bill is passed on to be absorbed in the overall tour costs. Hotels are squeezed to provide deep discounts only a fraction of which make their way to you. And you should never shop where your tour guide advises, or take his or her advice on the 'right price', however charming he or she may be. There's a kick-back waiting there, too.

This is a gloomy but accurate picture of the travel industry in China for now, and, WTO or no, for some time to come. By all means use CITS, but be aware what you may be getting yourself into.

Peter N-H
Nov 15th, 2001, 05:27 AM
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I agree with what Peter said. I have travelled independently to China a few years ago but I found there were too much hassles in organising things (buying train tickets can take a few hours). And I speak Mandarin fluently!! My previous trip there two months ago I used the a UK based tour operator. I was relaxed and had enjoyed my trip without worrying about my travel arrangements. Yes, I might have paid more but I know if things go wrong, I have someone to fall back. If you have the time, patience and flexibility, go ahead and do it but I am sure the amount of money saved will not be huge.
Nov 15th, 2001, 06:25 AM
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The problem for travelling in China is no doubt the language barrier. However, I did see foreigners speaking absolutely no Chinese go by without too much trouble. If you speak Chinese, then travelling independently could save you a lot of money. As for transportation arrangement, you can always ask any travel agency to do the work. There are numorous such agencies everywhere. Back in March, I did a four day cruise down the three georges all included with a half day city tour of Chongqing, and first class cabin. I paid about US$130. It is a boat for local Chinese tourists but I did have a few fellow American and European travellers on the boat. No one on the boat spoke English but they were doing all right. The first class cabin was worse than the third class ones on Victoria and the services were poor but it was so much cheaper and to mingle with the locals was lots of fun too. I think those Americans and Europeans really enjoyed their experiences. Some learned and played "ma jiang" on the boat with the locals.

China now has much better consumer protection, including tour business. The competition for tourists among local agencies are fierce and that works in your favor too. But you may not have either the energy or the time to fight for your case if something does go wrong.
Nov 15th, 2001, 01:14 PM
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I travelled to Sichuan, Hubei, Hunan and Guangzhou just last month, and I agree that CITS is a good agency to go with if you like having it arranged. After this experience, I feel that I would much prefer doing everything on my own as I consider that as part of the travel experience also.

For this trip, because many of my friends felt better if hotels and transportation were a travel agency, we went with Traffic Travel in Sichuan (we just happen to walk into this one, and after spending 4 hrs in there we had no time to check with other agencies). We ended up being ripped off in EVERY aspect. The hotels were all supposed to be 3-star, but some has no heat, some has no water (not even cold water), and some has a lower posted rate than what we paid!

Because of this bad experience, we decided to go with CITS for the 3 gorges tour. We were satisfied with the service because our guides always made sure that we were back on the boat after every excursion. Even though it was very chaotic many times, we felt that they would take care of us and didn't feel being desserted to defend on our own. The hotel in Yichang matched our expectation. Whether it was worth the extra premium is another question, at least we didn't feel being ripped off.

The tough part, even though we joined CITS, was that we still had to face the "cultural shock" of fighting with the local people (in the same tour group) to get on a bus, the boat, or for anything. We thought we would automatically be assigned the same cabin since we booked the tour at the same time, but CITS actually had no control over that. We had to fight to get to the window where cabins were assigned and we ended up being split up. We were not used to having no line ups, being shoved and pushed wherever we went, and seeing people threw non-bio-degradable garbage into the river.

I think we find people especially rude because we are all Chinese and understood a little mandarin. One of my friends sprained her ankle and could not walk fast, but people in our lesser three gorges excursion were very impatient. Nobody yields to let her sit down, let alone letting her on the bus/boat first. She was even being pushed aside when she was trying to get off the bus! We ended up always being the last one to board, and people were yelling to the guide to not wait for us! I doubt if they would ever do the same if we were foreigners. But then if I didn't understand what they were saying I would feel so disgusted.

Another catch, as Peter advised, is the shops that the guide takes you to. Our half-day Chongqing tour was basically a shopping trip that we did not appreciate at all. We expected it and so, instead of going into the store, we went to the street and took pictures. The tour guide intervened once but we just ignored her.
Nov 17th, 2001, 05:19 AM
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After reading all the replies I must add to my original post that when we had problems, and there were only three times something happened that I would call a "problem" it was our CITS agent that made things right, not the agent we used in Los Angeles! Yes, there are always situations that one could say "wish we would have...." but I thought if you're heading to China and want the name of a person like Shirley (CITS agent) to see what kind of price comparison you can get as well as having a person in China to deal directly with it might be helpful. I do this because this chat room helped me tremendously in planning my trip and I wanted to give something back. Try this gal....you don't have to use her but at least you see how much the agents outside China are upping the price of your trip. Shirley at [email protected]
Dec 4th, 2001, 07:39 PM
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I am sorry to learn of the problem of your trip. I went to Beijing myself and joined a Great Wall/ Ming Tomb tour like you, I enjoyed the experience, though I agree the tour was shorter than expected and I would rather not go into the shops they took us.

I am very interesed in the Three Gorge Tour, I want to see it before it disappears. Did you arrange for the tour in China? Please advise the details. I am not sure whether I should join a tour in Canada or wait till I arrive at Hong Kong or China.

Thank you in advance,

Dec 11th, 2001, 06:33 PM
Posts: n/a
To:[email protected]
Who did you book your tour with from the UK?
Please advise. Thanks

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